My Old Kentucky Home - Federal Hill, Bardstown, Kentucky
Federal Hill Mansion
In honor of October being the month of Halloween - and other things spooky - all of my blogs this month have dealt with a haunted location and the cemetery that ties into the story.~
Just east of Bardstown, Kentucky is the former plantation of U.S. Senator John Rowan. Rowan and his wife, Ann Lytle, began building their mansion in 1795 and named it ‘Federal Hill’ after Rowan’s political views as a Federalist. ‘Federal Hill’ was designed in true Federalist style. There are thirteen windows across the front of the house, the ceilings are thirteen feet high and the walls are 13 inches thick. Each staircase has 13 steps.
But the number 13 may have proven to be unlucky for Rowan. In 1801, Rowan was playing cards with Dr. James Chambers when harsh words were exchanged and led to the challenge of a duel between the two. Rowan apologized for his comments but Chambers insisted that the duel be held. Rowan survived, but his promising political career almost didn’t. He was tried for the murder of Chambers, but the judge found insufficient evidence to convict him. It was over a year later, before Rowan was appointed to serve in the Kentucky House of Representatives.
John RowanThroughout his life, Rowan served in many state and national offices. He served as a Kentucky state judge, Chief Justice for the Court of Appeals, Kentucky Secretary of State, as a representative in the U.S. House and as a U.S. Senator. In all, he served for forty years in political life.
EpitaphRowan loved Federal Hill and felt that the mansion stood as a monument and testament to his ideas and beliefs. He stated in his will, he did not want a monument or any type of marker on his grave. He said that since his parents did not have a marker, he did not want to be honored above them by having one. On July 13, 1843, Rowan died and was buried at Federal Hill Cemetery near his home. Friends and family did not adhere to his wishes for an unmarked grave. A tall obelisk monument with a lengthy and glowing epitaph was placed at his gravesite.
Rowan's MonumentBut by autumn, the stone had fallen over. Stonemasons were called to repair the monument and return it to its base. Again and again, the obelisk fell to the ground. The toppling of the monument became so common that worker refused to assist in setting it back in place, fearing that Rowan was indeed displeased by the large monument.
Rumor has it that the stone is still known to tip over without provocation, and is just as quietly put back in place. It appears that John Rowan meant what he said almost 170 years ago – his home was the only monument he wanted to be remembered by.
But what is Federal Hill truly remembered for?
Stephen FosterOriginal Sheet MusicIt was in 1852, almost ten years after John Rowan died that his cousin; Stephen Foster paid a visit to Federal Hill. It was rumored that during this visit, Foster was inspired to write the minstrel song, “My Old Kentucky Home, Good Night.” It was published in 1853 and performed by Christy’s Minstrels. Although many of the songs that Foster wrote had Southern themes, he never lived in the South and only visited the area once.Sheet Music
“My Old Kentucky Home” was adopted as the state song of Kentucky in 1928. It was in 1986 when Kentucky Representative Carl Hines sponsored a bill to revise the lyrics, changing the word ‘darkies’ to ‘people.’Federal Hill in the Twenties
Federal Hill was sold to the state of Kentucky in 1920 and was called “My Old Kentucky Home.” In 1936 it was transferred to the Division of State Parks where it became known as “My Old Kentucky Home State Park.”
The longest running outdoor musical, “Stephen Foster- The Musical” plays during the summer months at the state park amphitheater. Started in 1959, the show runs from June through August each year.
Federal Hill was featured on a 29 cent U.S. postage stamp in 1992, and is now depicted on the back of the Kentucky state quarter, released in 2002.
The Federal Hill Mansion and Cemetery are open to the public. Please check their website for days and times. http://www.parks.ky.gov/parks/recreationparks/old-ky-home/default.aspx