My Old Kentucky Home State Park
My Old Kentucky Home
Federal Hill Mansion
|Area||235 acres (0.951 km2)|
|Architectural style||Greek Revival|
|NRHP Reference #||71000354|
|Added to NRHP||March 11, 1971|
My Old Kentucky Home State Park is a state park located in Bardstown, Kentucky. The park's centerpiece is Federal Hill, a former plantation built by United States Senator John Rowan in 1795. During Rowan's life, the mansion became a meeting place for local politicians and hosted several visiting dignitaries. Tradition holds that songwriter Stephen Foster, who was a cousin of Senator Rowan, was inspired to write "My Old Kentucky Home" after a visit to Federal Hill in 1852, although some scholars believe Foster never visited the mansion. My Old Kentucky Home was designated the state song of Kentucky in 1928. The Federal Hill mansion was featured on a U.S. postage stamp in 1992, and it is one of the symbols featured on the reverse of the Kentucky state quarter issued in 2002.
The Federal Hill mansion was sold to the My Old Kentucky Home Commission in 1920 and donated to the state for use as a state park two years later. It was originally designated a state historic site, but was transferred to the Division of State Parks in 1936 and became a state park at that time. In addition to tours of the mansion, the state park's amenities include a gift shop, camp site, and an 18-hole golf course. An amphitheater on the grounds features dramatic performances, including Stephen Foster — The Musical.
Federal Hill, commonly called "My Old Kentucky Home", is a historic Federal-style home. The mansion was built by Judge John Rowan, constructing the back side in 1795, additional space from 1799–1802, and making it the stately mansion it is today from 1808 to 1818, using slave labor and bricks made on site. Rowan directed the brick making himself. The windowsills and mantels on the fireplace were exquisitely carved by a free black craftsman. Three quarters of the furniture exhibited inside the mansion was owned by the Rowan family. The Rowan family coin silver is also exhibited there. With Rowan in residence, Federal Hill was a local power center in the realms of legal, political, and social events. Prominent visitors to the home included Marquis de Lafayette and Henry Clay.
In 1839, the house suffered fire damage. Alexander Moore was hired to repair the damage, as he had worked on the design elements and woodwork in 1818. Upon the Judge's death in 1843, the house passed to his son, John Rowan, Jr. When John, Jr. died in 1855, his widow, Rebecca Carnes Rowan, inherited the house and lived in it until 1897. The house then passed to their daughter, Madge (Rowan) Frost.
Federal Hill is often cited as the inspiration for Judge Rowan's cousin Stephen Foster, who wrote a ballad called "My Old Kentucky Home," now the official Kentucky state song. Tradition recounts that Foster wrote it while staying at Federal Hill in March 1852. The history is murky, and some historians suggest the tradition was manufactured to encourage tourism in Bardstown, especially after Foster became famous. By 1900, a statue of him was displayed in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. By then, Rebecca Rowan had been dead for three years. The Rowans' daughter Madge Frost was said to love being a "Southern belle", and encouraged the story about Foster. It helped her sell the mansion and the accompanying 235 acres (0.951 km2) to the "My Old Kentucky Home Commission" at a high price ($65,000) in 1920. The Commission renovated the property and gave the plantation to the state of Kentucky in 1922 for use as a state park, with the official dedication on July 4, 1923. Many of those who do not think Federal Hill the inspiration for Foster's song think he was inspired by the novel Uncle Tom's Cabin.
Federal Hill is made of stone and brick native to the surrounding countryside, with its laywork being of Flemish bond. It is mostly in the Georgian style, but defers by having a service court instead of the typical Georgian west side rear room. Federal Hill has two floors and a small attic. The first floor's main rooms are a dining room and parlor, behind which is a small bedroom. The second floor consists of three bedrooms similarly spaced to the rooms below.
There are contributing structures outside Federal Hill. One is the restored law office for Judge Rowan, a wooden structure built on the site of the original springhouse. To the rear of the home the oldest section of residence can be seen. The ell consists of four rooms, two that are currently not open to the public as well as the kitchen and smokehouse. The smokehouse is interesting in that was built as part of an existing structure, and not free standing as is most often seen. This structure served as the first residence for the family while the primary residence was constructed. To the east of the house is the family burial ground. Behind the house is a flower garden. The slave cemetery lies beyond the flower garden.
The property was originally a State Historic Site, but it was passed to the Division of State Parks in 1936, making it a state park. The house was renovated in 1977 and in 2006. The 2006 renovation was a larger affair, and was paid for by an anonymous donor. It used floor coverings, fancy wallpapers, and window treatments to restore the house to how it may have looked like when Foster was alleged to have visited the mansion. The use of family letters and photos from the 1920s and 1950s helped in the restoration. The 2006 renovation cost nearly $1,000,000. In 2000, the basement of the home faced a termite infestation. Special Christmas candlelight tours are offered during the holiday season each year in which tour guides dress in elaborate period holiday costumes and Federal Hill is decorated in a 19th century holiday fashion, and a children's story time hour in the bedroom of the Rowan's twin daughters. The goal of the park manager was for Federal Hill to look like a "Currier and Ives print".
A gift shop lies between the main parking lot and Federal Hill. Items concerning the park and the state of Kentucky, especially books by Kentucky authors and Kentucky Derby items, are available for sale. The park also features the Kenny Rapier Golf Course, a regulation 18-hole golf course named for a previous Kentucky Commissioner of Parks and Bardstown native, that also features a fully equipped pro shop. The 39-site campground is available mid-March to mid-November. Different meeting facilities are available, and allow weddings to take place.
On June 1, 1992, a 29-cent stamp was issued honoring the park. The Federal Hill mansion was also chosen to be one of the icons featured on the Kentucky State Quarter. To the right of the stately mansion, an inscription on the coin reads "My Old Kentucky Home." It was the 15th state quarter, released on October 18, 2001, denoting the fact that Kentucky was the 15th state to join the United States. The official ceremony revealing the quarter was held in the park, and was said by then-governor Paul E. Patton that the mansion and the accompanying thoroughbred were: "...the two most visible, beloved symbols in Kentucky."
The park features an amphitheater that is home to the long-running outdoor musical, Stephen Foster — The Musical, which is staged during the summer. It is the longest running outdoor drama in the state of Kentucky, having started in 1959. It was written by playwright Paul Green. Matinees are performed in an indoor theater with air-conditioning. Many Foster songs are performed, with the actors dancing in period dress, in a retelling of Foster's life. The play has seen revisions from Green's original version, either lengthening it, shortening it, removing antiquated dialogue, or redoing the references to slavery to make it easier for modern audiences to enjoy the presentation.
Recently, the theatre has begun doing other musicals in addition to Stephen Foster. In 2008, the theatre produced The Civil War in celebration of the Lincoln Bicentennial. In 2009, a second musical, Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, was staged on Tuesday and Saturday nights in July and August, alternating with Stephen Foster. In addition, the amphitheater hosts a summer concert series.
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