While there is a plethora of historic homes in Bardstown, Kentucky, Wickland has a pretty impressive past-it’s been the home of three state governors, two for Kentucky and one in Louisiana.
I first learned about Wickland in a tourist brochure for Bardstown. Although I had hoped to visit Ashland, the home of the great compromiser Henry Clay, in Lexington, we had run out of time. I was anxious for my visit to the Bluegrass state to include a visit to at least one historic house since there are so many there and Wickland seemed like an ideal fit as it was literally down the road from the bed and breakfast we stayed at.
Wickland is a three-story mansion and is a prime example of Federal-style architecture. It was built between 1813 and 1817 for Charles A. Wickliffe, a Whig member of the Kentucky House of Representatives. He would go on to serve as the governor of Kentucky, his son would serve as governor of Louisiana, and his grandson would also go on to serve as governor of Kentucky.
Unlike other historic houses, Wickland is the “bare bones minimum” as in there is no period furniture gracing its rooms. A few what looked to be historic articles were found in the rooms but otherwise they were mostly bare. However, this didn’t detract from the visit. If anything it added more to it, imagining this striking home in all its glory. Sometimes when I visit a historic house “all done up” I feel too detached from it to ever think a real life family, a real life person ever lived in it. But with the empty rooms and the front and back doors open to the rural fields outside (the morning we visited the power had gone out in the area), it was easier to envision its occupants.
My favorite part of the home was probably the staircase which connects all three floors and is cantilevered from the walls, with no visible support. Staircases today are just drab in comparison I feel.
What made our visit so worthwhile was being able to talk with Dixie Hibbs who is the manager and curator of Wickland as well as Bardstown’s chief historian. She shared one particularly interesting story about the family living there during the time of the Civil War. As Kentucky was a border state meaning there was support for both the North and the South, the family itself was divided. The father was a Unionist, meaning he supported the preservation of the Union. However, one of the sons joined the Confederate Army which resulted in the father refusing to speak to him. Towards the end of the war, a Confederate messenger came to the house with a message from the son. The mother answered the door. Moments later there was a knock of the front door (the Confederate messenger had come to a side door), this time Union soldiers were there. They asked if the mother had spoken to a Confederate solider as one had been reported and she of course denied it. We were the only people in the house when Dixie was telling us the story and gazing between the two doors as she was telling the story, it was so easy to see the story play before my eyes.
Some people may say you’ve seen one historic house you’ve seen them all, but that’s not true. Every historic house has a unique history behind it just waiting to be discovered.
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