Colonial Williamsburg: World’s Largest Living History Museum

Colonial Williamsburg is the world’s largest living history museum with 301 acres featuring iconic sites, working trades people, historic taverns, and two world-class art museums

The Colonial Williamsburg Foundation operates the world’s largest living history museum in Williamsburg, Virginia—the restored 18th-century capital of Britain’s largest, wealthiest, and most populous settlement in the New World.

Meet a Nation Builder like George Washington or Edith Cumbo and admire the craftsmanship of some of the best artisans in the world. Connect with your family over a horse-drawn carriage ride, world-class dining, and a Haunted Williamsburg ghost tour.

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History of Williamsburg

The city was founded as the capital of the Virginia Colony in 1699 and it was here that the basic concepts of the United States of America were formed under the leadership of George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, George Mason, and many others.

Named Williamsburg in honor of England’s reigning monarch at the time, King William III, the colonial mecca also became a center of learning. The College of William and Mary founded in 1693 counts political leaders such as Presidents Thomas Jefferson, James Monroe, and John Tyler as graduates.

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During its time as the capital of Virginia, Williamsburg flourished as the hub of religious, economic, and social life in the state. A palatial Governor’s Palace was built as were markets, taverns, a theatre, a church (those living in the New World were required by law to worship in the Church of England), and countless homes. Market Square was the site of celebrations, festivals, fairs, contests, and even puppet shows; tradesmen, such as wig makers, tailors, blacksmiths, and cabinetmakers, practiced their craft along Duke of Gloucester Street. Restaurants and taverns offered onion soup, ham, carrot and chicken dishes, pudding, and pie.

Related article: Historic Triangle: 400 Years & Counting

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What to see and do in Colonial Williamsburg

Here is an overview of the essentials for a visit to Williamsburg.

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Governor’s Palace: Experience the grandeur of royal authority in Virginia just before its collapse in the Revolution. The Governor’s Palace, home to seven royal governors and the first two elected governors in Virginia was built to impress visitors with a display of authority and wealth. Tours every 7-15 minutes

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Raleigh Tavern: The Raleigh Tavern served as a critical stage for Virginia’s political ambitions amid intensifying debate about liberty, ultimately leading to our nation’s independence. Learn about different perspectives on the extraordinary events that took place here on tours offered every 20 minutes.

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Wetherburn’s Tavern: Merriment and conviviality were specialties of the house at Wetherburn’s Tavern. Get a glimpse into the private lives of Henry Wetherburn, his family, and his slaves who made the tavern one of the most successful of the 1750s. The tavern and the dairy out back are both original buildings.

Related article: 8 U.S. Towns Stuck in Time

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Everard House: Visit the home of Thomas Everard, a wealthy planter and civic leader. One of the oldest houses in Williamsburg, the Everard House is furnished with 18th-century antiques and was meticulously restored to its early appearance.

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R. Charlton’s Coffeehouse: Step back into the time of the Stamp Act and learn about the fashionable world of the coffeehouse where Williamsburg’s citizens and visitors met to share news, transact business, and debate politics. Meet people of the past and converse over coffee, tea, or velvety chocolate prepared in the 18th-century style. Tours offered every 15-20 minutes.

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Anderson Blacksmith Shop: The Revolutionary War wasn’t won through battles alone. Virginia desperately needed a new armory to keep pace with the might of British industry. Watch blacksmiths take red-hot iron from the fires of their forges and hammer it into a variety of tools, hardware, and weapons.

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Brickyard: Discover the process of making bricks that will be used in building projects around town. During the summer, brickmakers mold and dry thousands of bricks. In the autumn, the bricks are baked in a giant wood-fired oven. Keep an eye out, too, for masons using these bricks in all sorts of projects around town.

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Foundry: The Geddy family included gunsmiths, cutlers, founders, and silversmiths. On the site of their home and shop, watch founders cast and finish buckles, knobs, bells, spoons, and other objects in bronze, brass, pewter, and silver.

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Guardhouse: The Magazine stands as a symbol of the Crown’s commitment to the common defense and the expansion of its empire. Visit the Guardhouse and discover how this military storehouse and Virginia’s diverse peoples shaped an empire and defined a new nation.

Related article: 10 Towns Older Than America

Gunsmith Shop: See how gunsmiths made rifles, pistols, and fowling pieces using the tools and techniques of their 18th-century predecessors and uniting many skills from forging iron to working wood.

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Presbyterian Meetinghouse: In a time when only the Anglican Church was Virginia’s official religion, what did everyone else do on Sunday? Although Catholics and other non-Protestants were denied religious freedom, the government allowed many dissenting Protestants to worship in meetinghouses like this one.

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Public Gaol: Thieves, runaway slaves, debtors, and political prisoners once paced the cells of the Public Gaol as they waited to be tried—or hanged. Perhaps its most notorious inmates were several pirates who had served under Blackbeard and were captured with him in 1718. Self-guided exploration of the cells where prisoners were held as they awaited trial and punishment.

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Arboretum & Gardens: More than 30 maintained gardens dot the 301-acre living history museum. The collection features 25-period species of oak trees. The Arboretum is home to 20 Virginia state champion trees and two national champion trees—the jujube and the Paper Mulberry.

America’s Historic Triangle

A visit to Colonial Williamsburg isn’t complete without visiting all the historic sites the area is known for. Must-sees include the American Revolution Museum at Yorktown and Yorktown Battlefield (where the American Revolution was won), and Jamestown Settlement (where America’s first permanent English colony came to life).

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Details

Colonial Williamsburg is open 365 days a year. Most Historic Trades and Sites are open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. After hours, check out Evening Programs which run well into the evening. The Art Museums of Colonial Williamsburg are open daily from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Restaurant and store hours vary.

Admission tickets are required to enter buildings and experience programming in the Historic Area. With your ticket, enjoy interpreter-guided tours of the most iconic sites including the Capitol, Governor’s Palace, and Courthouse. Tradespeople work and share their craft in workspaces, gardens, yards, and at the Art Museums of Colonial Williamsburg.

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Your admission ticket also grants you access to multiple programs throughout the day on the Charlton and Play House stages as well as the newly expanded and updated Art Museums of Colonial Williamsburg including stage programs and performances twice a day in the Hennage Auditorium. You’ll also be able to take advantage of a complimentary shuttle service and get seasonal discounts on carriage rides. Check the events calendar and seasonal activities pages to see what’s open and happening during your visit.

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Colonial Williamsburg offers several admission options and special offers to customize your visit. Tickets and passes currently available include:

  • Single-day ticket ($46.99)
  • Multiday ticket ($56.99)
  • Annual pass ($74.99)
  • Art museums single-day ticket ($14.99)
  • America’s Historic Triangle ticket ($109.90)

Worth Pondering…

The truth is, I love history and studied it in college with a particular focus on early American history. My love is so deep, in fact, I went to school at The College of William & Mary in Colonial Williamsburg.

—Alexandra Bracken

Boston Freedom Trail

The famous Freedom Trail is a 2.5 mile red-brick trail through Boston’s historic neighborhoods that tells the story of the American Revolution

Boston, a large, metropolitan city packed with revolutionary history, cultural venues, and sophisticated shopping and dining opportunities. A jaunt around “town” is like opening an American history textbook.

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Boston has some of the worst driving and parking on the East Coast; its winding, angled roads meandering like the old cow paths they originally followed. But, don’t let this deter you; you will be rewarded many times over.

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Boston had been a thriving city long before the United States itself existed. Founded in the 17th century, Boston has been the center of attention in New England since the colonial period. Today, Boston continues to boast some of the best attractions to be found in the Northeastern US. As the “Cradle of the Revolution”, Boston is full of history like no other city in America. For over 350 years, some of the world’s greatest patriots, writers, thinkers, athletes, and artists have called Boston their home, leaving an indelible mark on this incredible city in the process.

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A trip to Boston is necessarily a trip into American history. Boston was the center of the revolutionary movement in the 1770s, and the monuments to those glorious times still stand.

Faneuil Hall (1742) was a meeting place for revolutionary leaders, and it now houses dozens of shops and restaurants. Built by wealthy merchant Peter Faneuil in 1741, this imposing structure is the place where the Sons of Liberty proclaimed their dissent against Royal oppression.

Old State House, The Freedom Trail © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Old State House (1713) was the site of the colonial government and is open for tours.

The oldest remaining structure in downtown Boston, the Paul Revere House (1680) today serves as a museum.

Paul Revere House, The Freedom Trail © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The oldest church in the city of Boston, the Old North Church (1723), and its famous signal lanterns are still in use.

The site of the Boston Massacre where five colonists died in 1770 has been preserved.

The First Public School was in Boston; some of its graduates include Sam Adams and Benjamin Franklin.

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Built as a Puritan house of worship, the Old South Meeting House (1729) was the largest building in colonial Boston. No tax on tea! This was the decision on December 16, 1773, when 5,000 angry colonists gathered here to protest a tax…and started a revolution with the Boston Tea Party.

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Adjacent to King’s Chapel (1688), the first non-Puritan church in the colonies, the Granary Burying Ground has the graves of patriots John Hancock, Paul Revere, and Mary Chilton, the first woman to step off the Mayflower.

USS Constitution (Old Ironside), The Freedom Trail © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Even the Boston Tea Party is commemorated in a floating ship museum, not far from the floating museum aboard the USS Constitution, America’s first great warship. Launched in Boston in 1797, America’s Ship of State earned her nickname “Old Ironsides” during the War of 1812 when she fought the British frigate HMS Guerriere.

The Freedom Trail © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

On our National Park ranger-led tour, we visited sites along the Freedom Trail and heard about the American Revolutionary story, the people who lived here, their courage, and what they risked striving for freedom.

State House, The Freedom Trail © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Freedom Trail, the red-brick line through the city takes us on a tour of 16 sites in Boston’s history for two and a half miles, including Boston Common, the State House, the Park Street Church, Granary Burying Ground, King’s Chapel, the site of the first public school, Old South Meeting House, the Old Statehouse, the Boston Massacre Site, Paul Revere’s House, the Old North Church, Copp’s Hill Burying Ground, the USS Constitution and Bunker Hill Monument.

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The Freedom Trail was created in 1951 to set recognize and set aside a cluster of historically significant building and locations in downtown Boston.

We began our 90-minute ranger-led tour at the Old State House and concluded at the Old North Church, five sites along the Freedom trail that highlights Boston’s role in the American Revolution. The other sites, prior to and following our ranger-led tour, were on our own.

The Freedom Trail © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

And that my friends, is the subject of another post.

Worth Pondering…

Among the natural rights of the colonists are these: First a right to life, secondly to liberty, and thirdly to property; together with the right to defend them in the best manner they can.

—Samuel Adams

Charleston: Deep South Charm

With a rich 300 year history, Charleston is America’s most beautifully preserved architectural and historical treasure

If you’re a history buff, you’ll love Charleston. Avid tourist? Charleston is the city for you. Lover of good food and charming scenery? Charleston has your number.

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Charleston is home to one of America’s most intact historic districts. Nestled along a narrow peninsula—where the Ashley and Cooper rivers meet and empty into the Atlantic Ocean—it exudes deep South charm. With very few tall buildings, Charleston instead offers quaint cobblestone roads, colonial structures, a unique culture, and gobs of history.

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Known as the Holy City, it was one of the most religiously tolerant cities in the New World—the results of which can be seen in the many striking church steeples that rise majestically over the city’s skyline.

Charleston © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Charleston also has a collection of some of the oldest and most impressive churches in America, including the French Protestant (Huguenot) Church, The Old Bethel Methodist Church, St. John’s Lutheran Church, St. Mary’s Roman Catholic Church, and the Mt. Zion A.M.E. Church.

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More than 300 years ago, Charleston was originally named in honor of King Charles II of England. Charles Towne, as it was known, was founded in 1670 at Albmarle Point, a spot just across the Ashley River. Since that time it has played host to some of the most historic events in US history, including the first major battle of the American Revolution, and the start of the Civil War.

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Perhaps the best known Charleston landmark is Fort Sumter, where the Civil War began on April 12, 1861. At that time, Union forces occupied the strategic Fort at the entrance of Charleston harbor. The South demanded that Fort Sumter be vacated, the Union army refused, and the rest is history. After a two-day bombardment, the North surrendered the Fort to the South. Nearby, visitors can also tour Fort Moultrie, which also played heavily in Civil War significance.

Charleston © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Perhaps the best way to see this town is by foot. Around every corner visitors can discover another hidden garden, great restaurants, historic houses, quaint shops, and friendly people.

Charleston © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

A walk down any of Charleston’s quaint avenues, especially in the area designated as The Battery, is a walk back in time. Many houses date from the 1700s and 1800s, and a large number of these are listed in the National Register of Historic Places. Visitors can tour more than a dozen of these homes, including the Heyward-Washington House, built in 1772. This house was owned by Thomas Heyward Jr., a Revolutionary patriot and signer of the Declaration of Independence. It was also George Washington’s temporary residence during his Southern Tour of 1791.

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Other houses of note that visitors can tour in Charleston include the Aiken Rhett House, one of the most intact building complexes showcasing urban life in Antebellum Charleston; the Joseph Manigault House, a premier example of neo-classical architecture built in 1803; and the Nathaniel Russell House, a neoclassical mansion considered one of America’s premier Federal townhouses.

Charleston © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Just outside of town, you can visit a number of Southern plantations, including Boone Hall and Drayton Hall. Boone Hall’s world-famous Avenue of Oaks leads to the Plantation house and gardens, and its original slave street and slave quarters. Located a stone’s throw from Boone Hall is the Charles Pinckney National Historic Site and historic Snee Farms. Pinckney was an original signer of the US Constitution, and was very influential in the document’s language. Drayton Hall, built between 1738 and 1742, is the oldest preserved plantation house in America.

Magnolia Plantation © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

While touring Charleston the campground at James Island County Park served as our home base. An ideal location amidst scenic beauty and an amazing drive-through display of Christmas lights, the 643-acre park is convenient to downtown Charleston and the South Carolina Lowcountry, and the campground provides a round-trip shuttle service to the city’s visitor center.

Middleton Place © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The park itself makes a fun destination. Miles of paved trails wind through forests and Palmetto trees and skirt by marshes and tidal creeks. Bicycle rentals are available, as are pedal boats and kayak rentals for its 16 acres of lakes.

James Island County Park Christmas Lights Display © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Worth Pondering…

If you lead a good life,

go to church,

and say your prayers,

you’ll go to Charleston

when you die.

—old South Carolina saying

Savannah: Southern Charm, History & Spanish Moss

This Isn’t Ordinary. This is Savannah.

If you’re heading to Savannah, Georgia, there are several things you should keep in mind: you’re going to walk more than you’re used to and you’re going to fall in love.

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Even if you haven’t been to Savannah, you’ve probably heard the rumors of a history so deep you can practically feel it dropping off of every building. This is the very real aspect of the 286-year-old city.

Chippewa Square © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Visitors to Savannah encounter Southern-style warmth and hospitality, akin to spending time with an old friend. The distinctive Spanish Moss-draped trees, antebellum homes, and horse-drawn carriages help to give one the relaxed and comfortable impression that there’s no rush here. Evidence of the city’s rich history is everywhere. Take time to explore and learn more about some of the people and the events that shaped Georgia’s oldest city.

Madison Square © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Walk down the cobblestone streets of Georgia’s first city, a place filled with southern charm. Steeped in history and architectural treasures, Savannah begs to be explored by trolley and on foot. Much of Savannah’s charm lies in meandering through the Historic District’s lovely shaded squares draped in feathery Spanish moss—all 22 of them.

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The Southern live oak is the state tree of Georgia and a common and most striking tree throughout Savannah. Because it never drops all of its leaves at the same time, it looks the same in January and July. The Spanish moss draping hundreds of live oaks in Savannah is not a parasitic plant and does not damage its host trees. It just uses the tree for support.

First Baptist Church © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Along the way, you’ll happen upon numerous historic homes like the Mercer Williams House and the home of Juliette Gordon Low who founded the Girl Scouts. Singer-songwriter Johnny Mercer, a native of Savannah, wrote more than 1,100 songs and won four Academy Awards during his career. The Mercer-Williams House, site of the shooting in the book Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil, was built by his great-grandfather.

From the movie, Forrest Gump, as shown at the Georgia Visitor Center © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

More than 100 movies and TV shows have used Savannah as a filming location including Cape Fear, The Last Song, The Legend of Bagger Vance, Glory, Something to Talk About, Forrest Gump, and the TV miniseries Roots.

City Market © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

In 1732, British General James Oglethorpe, a member of Parliament and an advocate of prison reform in England, laid out Savannah a year before King George II sent him to the New World to create a military buffer between Spanish Florida and British colonists in South Carolina. Oglethorpe’s blueprint for Savannah was based on a pattern of 24 “squares”—parks, gardens, cemeteries, and other pedestrian green space—of which 22 survive today.

Cathedral of St. John the Baptist © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The 2.2-square-mile original town is now the largest National Historic Districts in the United States. Each square has its own monument or fountain in the center. Homes, churches, and other structures featuring a wide variety of architectural styles line the streets on all four sides of each square.

Our Old Town Trolley Tour prior to boarding at the Savannah Visitor Center © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Several historical tours are offered. The Old Town Trolley Tour offers a narrated loop tour that lasts an hour and 30 minutes. Do it all at once, or hop off at your choice of 15 locations within the Savannah Historic District. The trolleys run constantly and allow ticketholders to get on and off at will. The trolley pass can last for one or two days.

Historic River Street, Old Savannah Cotton Exchange © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Our guide explained that three different periods of history are represented in Savannah: Colonial, pre-Civil War, and Victorian. It’s interesting and informative to hear the stories that go along with each of those time periods. 

Historic River Street © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

As with most cities, it is best not to tour Savannah via RV. Drive your toad into town, and pick up a map of the historic district. One place to do that is the Visitors Information Center located inside the old railway passenger station at 301 Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd. This is a good starting point to catch a trolley tour into the historic district. Visitors also can choose to drive into the historic district and tour on their own. 

Historic River Street, The Waving Girl statue © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

With so much to see and do in and around Savannah, one visit simply isn’t enough. Fortunately, that same Southern hospitality is ready to welcome visitors back again and again.

Creek Fire RV Resort, our home base while touring Savannah © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Worth Pondering…

Savannah is a lovely pastel dream of tight cobbled streets. There are legendary scenes to rival any dreamed up by Tennessee Williams.

—Rosemary Daniell

Step Back Into Time at My Old Kentucky Home

“We will sing one song for the old Kentucky Home, for the old Kentucky Home far away.”

Federal Hill is the centerpiece of My Old Kentucky Home State Park. The house has been restored to its mid-19th century appearance and young women guides dressed like Scarlett O’Hara, lead tours.

Built between 1795 and 1818, Federal Hill, the home of Judge John Rowan, became a part of the Kentucky State Parks System on February 26, 1936.

My Old Kentucky Home State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Just outside Bardstown, the house and estate had been the home of the Rowan family for three generations, spanning a period of 120 years. In 1922 Madge Rowan Frost, the last Rowan family descendent sold her ancestral home and 235-acres to the Commonwealth of Kentucky.

My Old Kentucky Home State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Federal Hill is a Georgian style mansion that originally had 13 rooms. The number 13 is repeated throughout the house, supposedly to honor the 13 colonies at the time of America’s independence from Great Britain. The front of the home has 13 windows, and there are 13 steps to each floor of the house.

My Old Kentucky Home State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Completed in 1796, the rear wing of the house contains a kitchen, two bedrooms, and a smokehouse. The first floor has a dining room, parlor, and library. The second floor has bedrooms, and the third floor contained the nursery. The house is built of brick and has six large rooms that are 22 feet square. Ceilings are 13½-feet high. The floors are made of yellow poplar and the walls are 13 inches thick.

My Old Kentucky Home State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Madge Rowan Frost sold Federal Hill with the express wish and condition that the Commonwealth of Kentucky preserves the estate as a state shrine or historic site. Frost also gave the state the Rowan family heirlooms in perpetuity to help furnish authentically the home. The furnishings are some of the best examples of American furniture in the nation.

My Old Kentucky Home State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

John Rowan (1773-1843), who built Federal Hill, was born in York, Pennsylvania, and in 1790 moved to Bardstown. He studied law in Lexington under the tutelage of George Nicholas, Kentucky’s first attorney general. He soon became one of Kentucky’s foremost defense lawyers. Rowan is also remembered for killing Dr. James Chambers in an 1801 duel fought over a disagreement as to who was the expert in classical languages.

My Old Kentucky Home State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Rowan served as secretary of state in 1804, and was elected to Congress (1807-1809). He served in the Kentucky General Assembly, the Kentucky Court of Appeals, and as United States Senator (1825-1831). He married Anne Lytle in 1794.

My Old Kentucky Home State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Rowan home hosted many famous individuals. Aaron Burr, Henry Clay, and other important political and social figures enjoyed the hospitality of the Rowan mansion.

My Old Kentucky Home State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Stephen Collins Foster (1826-1864) of Pennsylvania, a Rowan family relative, is credited with immortalizing Federal Hill in his hauntingly beautiful song “My Old Kentucky Home Good Night.”

My Old Kentucky Home State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Written in 1853, the words and music have touched the hearts of generations of Kentuckians. The song did not become associated with Federal Hill until the Civil War. Soldiers who saw the house and knew the song began to refer to Federal Hill as “My Old Kentucky Home.” Soon other people began referring to the mansion as the house that inspired one of Foster’s most beloved melodies.

My Old Kentucky Home State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Federal Hill’s popularity as a state park grew quickly. In 1957 the citizens of Bardstown and Nelson County formed the non-profit Stephen Foster Drama Association to produce an outdoor musical based on the life of the composer and as a tribute to “My Old Kentucky Home.”

My Old Kentucky Home State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Author Paul Green wrote the play and on June 26, 1959 the Stephen Foster Story opened in a newly constructed outdoor amphitheatre. The first season of the production was an unqualified success with over 70,000 people attending.

My Old Kentucky Home State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Kentucky’s longest-running outdoor drama features colorful period costumes, lively choreography, and more than 50 Foster songs, including his most famous ballad, My Old Kentucky Home.

The park has a visitor center and gift shop where you can purchase home tour tickets. Admission is $14 for adults and $12 for seniors.

My Old Kentucky Home State Park Campground © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Where to Stay: My Old Kentucky Home State Park Campground offers 39 sites with utility hookups, a central service building housing showers and rest rooms, and a dump station. Closed for season from November 13 to March 15.

My Old Kentucky Home State Park Campground © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Worth Pondering…

The sun shines bright in the old Kentucky home,

Weep no more, my lady,

Oh! Weep no more to-day!

We will sing one song for the old Kentucky Home,

For the old Kentucky Home far away.

—Words and music by Stephen Collins Foster, 1853