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

8 Wild and Beautiful State Parks

Discover these lesser-known natural wonders

America’s state parks may keep a lower profile than the renowned national parks but that doesn’t mean they’re any less of a worthwhile destination. With 8,565 designated areas spanning over 18 million acres of land, there’s an incredible range of outdoor experiences to explore—including some real standouts that deserve to be on your RV travel radar.

Dead Horse Point State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

Dead Horse Point State Park, Utah

This state park in southeast Utah has drawn comparisons to the Grand Canyon and Horseshoe Bend. With breathtaking views into Canyonlands National Park and the Colorado River 2,000 feet below, Dead Horse Point is a highlight for hikers and photographers exploring canyon country.

Catalina State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

Catalina State Park, Arizona

Catalina State Park sits at the base of the majestic Santa Catalina Mountains. The park is a haven for desert plants and wildlife and nearly 5,000 saguaros. The 5,500 acres of foothills, canyons, and streams invites camping, picnicking, and bird watching—more than 150 species of birds call the park home. Commonly encountered species of wildlife include javelin, coyote, mule deer, bighorn sheep, and various reptiles.

Lackawanna State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

Lackawanna State Park, Pennsylvania

The 1,445-acre Lackawanna State Park is in northeastern Pennsylvania, ten miles north of Scranton. The centerpiece of the park, the 198-acre Lackawanna Lake, is surrounded by picnic areas and multi-use trails winding through forest. Boating, camping, fishing, mountain biking, and swimming are popular activities. The campground is within walking distance of the lake and swimming pool, and features forested sites with electric hook-ups and walk-in tent sites. Rustic, modern, and full service sites are available.

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

My Old Kentucky Home State Park, Kentucky

“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 was the home of Judge John Rowan. Just outside Bardstown, the house and estate had been the home of the Rowan family for three generations, spanning a period of 120 years.

Hunting Island State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

Hunting Island State Park, South Carolina

Boasting South Carolina’s only publicly accessible lighthouse, Hunting Island is a popular stop on the coast. It has five miles of beaches, a saltwater lagoon, and 5,000 acres of marshland and maritime forest, plus one hundred campsites. Local wildlife includes loggerhead turtles, which nest in the summer, alligators, and hundreds of bird species.

Custer State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

Custer State Park, South Dakota

Custer State Park in the beautiful Black Hills of western South Dakota is full of lush forests, quiet and serene meadows, and majestic mountains. Few truly wild places remain in this country. Custer State Park is one of them. Nearly 1,300 bison wander the park’s 71,000 acres of mountains, hills, and prairie, which they share with a wealth of wildlife including pronghorn antelope, elk, white-tailed and mule deer, big horn sheep, mountain goats, coyotes, wild turkeys, a band of burros, and whole towns of adorable prairie dogs.

Anza-Borrego Desert State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

Anza-Borrego Desert State Park, California

The largest state park in the contiguous United States, Anza-Borrego is flanked by rugged mountains on three sides and the Salton Sea to the east. Its 650,000 acres contain spectacular desert vistas, a variety of plant and animal life, and numerous archaeological, cultural, and historic sites. Lush oases with graceful palm trees lie hidden in valleys where water bubbles close to the surface.

Myakka River State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

Myakka River State Park, Florida

Myakka River State Park offers a variety of experiences: Day-trippers come for the airboat ride, tram ride, canopy walkway, and stop at the water-front café. Adventurers head for the 39 miles of hiking trails, excellent paved and unpaved biking trails, or kayaking on the scenic river. Given you need ample time to see and do it all, you can camp in one of 80 camping sites.

Worth Pondering…

Don’t live the same year 75 times and call it a life.
—Robin Sharma