Keene Springs Inn enjoys rich history

Keene Springs Inn - Keene, Ky.
The restaurant operated by Debbie Wheeler in the old Keene Springs Inn was recently profiled in the Jessamine Journal. And while my mouth watered for some of Wheeler’s fried chicken and green beans, I thought more of the history behind this grand locale.

By 1794, Manoah Singleton had established a grist mill near the crossing of a buffalo trace known as Shawnee Run Road and the Cave Spring Fork of Clear Creek.

At that time, Shawnee Run Road was considered the most direct route between Lexington and Harrodsburg; it is now known in the county as Keene-Troy Pike.

The community of Keene was laid out in 1813, though it was known first as Liberty. Patriotic fervor in the first decades of the 19th century created a laundry list of communities bearing that name. The result was confusion.

The original and extant Liberty, Ky., is the seat of Casey County. It was founded in 1806.

When Jessamine County laid out its Liberty, it must have soon become apparent that Casey County already had a town bearing the name so the people here renamed their community North Liberty.

Quite appropriate given the geographic bearings of Jessamine and Casey counties.

But along came those in Pike County who in 1822 debated whether their seat should be Piketon, now known as Pikeville, or Liberty.

As the debate raged in Pike County, those in Morgan County thought ‘Liberty’ would be a fitting name for a city.

Those in Morgan County believed Pike Countians would use Liberty, so they established West Liberty which remains the county seat. Pike County opted for Piketon and the end result was a geographic conundrum.

The town of West Liberty (located in Morgan County) lies approximately 100 miles east of Liberty (located in Casey County).

Fortunately, Jessamine County stayed out of the fray. So much so that when a post office was to be established in North Liberty in 1830, we got out of the ‘Liberty’ business altogether. Postmaster Ephraim Carter named his new post office after his hometown of Keene, N.H.

The state legislature authorized Keene’s incorporation in 1844. Four years later, white sulphur water was discovered in the nearby springs.

Of the water, the dean of Transylvania Medical College, Dr. Robert Peter, said it was “incomparably the best medical water on this continent ... eminently adapted to the cure of every species of Indigestion, Liver Complaint, Scrofula, Cutaneous Affections, Mercurial Disease, a variety of nervous diseases and nearly all diseases that are usually denominated chronic.”

It is no wonder, then, that when the cholera epidemic hit Lexington in 1849 that those able to flee the city did so. And they came to and stayed at the Keene Springs Hotel.

Wrote Bennett H. Young in his 1898 History of Jessamine County, Kentucky, “during the prevalence of cholera, in Lexington, about this time, a large number of people came to Keene and lived during the panic, occasioned by this disease in Lexington and surrounding towns” staying in “a very nice hotel.”

A very nice hotel indeed. In fact, it was owned by Mason Singleton who was the grandson of the pioneer who first settled the community.

Popularity for the hotel, however, declined and Singleton was forced to sell by 1857. It was purchased by Alfred McTyre who operated the facility for a decade before selling it to Fielding S. Wilson in 1868.

And for 145 years, the historic property has remained in the hands of the Wilson family.

This column originally appeared in the Jessamine Journal
It should not be republished without permission.
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