When it comes to traveling in the U.S., Disney World, Las Vegas and the Big Apple will always have their fans, but today’s travelers are increasingly seeking a more authentic experience. That means that other destinations which offer a slightly less frenetic slice of American life are gaining in popularity.
Lawrenceburg, nestled in the rolling hills of Kentucky’s Bluegrass Region, is such a destination. With a picturesque setting and history galore, Lawrenceburg offers a wide spectrum of varying activities for the curious traveler.
The town has Bourbon, Boos (paranormal experiences), Burgoos (hearty Kentucky stews), Bungee Jumping (off a 1800s-era historic bridge) and BigFoot (yes, really). Come and see for yourself.
A portion of Kentucky’s famed Bourbon Trail™ runs right through Lawrenceburg with two of the commonwealth’s most famous distilleries.
Four Roses Distillery, with its impossibly romantic history, and Wild Turkey, with the ever-charming Matthew McConaughey among its fans, are two of the industry’s giants. Come visit as both distilleries are open for tours and tastings Wednesday through Sunday.
Wild Turkey’s name dates back to 1940 when a distillery executive brought a private supply of Bourbon along to enjoy with his friends on their annual wild turkey hunt. His friends liked it so much that the following year they requested that the exec bring along some of that “wild turkey” Bourbon.
The rest is history, and what a history. Wild Turkey has the only active father/son Master Distillers in the business in Jimmy and Eddie Russell.
In Kentucky, Master Distillers are rock stars, and the Russells have both been inducted into the Kentucky Bourbon Hall of Fame®. One sip of their Wild Turkey 101 or Russell’s Reserve will tell you why.
Four Roses Distillery, nestled on the banks of the scenic Salt River, features a Spanish mission style of architecture rarely seen in Kentucky.
The distillery’s romantic name came about when the founder of the distillery became enamored of a beautiful Southern belle and proposed marriage to her. The coy miss replied that if her answer was “yes” she would wear a corsage of roses the night of an upcoming ball.
On the appointed evening, the young woman arrived wearing a corsage of four perfect red roses. So delighted was the prospective bridegroom that he named his Bourbon Four Roses.
While Wild Turkey and Four Roses distilleries today are Lawrenceburg’s claim to Bourbon fame, prior to Prohibition, the area had 14 distilleries whose yeasty perfume permeated the air. All are long gone, but while the barrelhouses may be a thing of the past, remnants of that past remain.
Before it was Wild Turkey, the distillery site was home to the Ripy Brothers Distillery. At one time, it was the largest sour mash distillery in the world, with a single warehouse alone – Warehouse A – containing 50,000 barrels. The warehouse is still standing, and the palatial T.B. Ripy Mansion is open to the public for tours and events.
More good news for Bourbon aficionados: as of 2022, Lawrenceburg has its own namesake Bourbon.
The Lawrenceburg Bourbon Company has released a limited edition of Bourbon and rye under its own label, offering consumers a taste of Lawrenceburg.But we’re still not done. The S.O. Hackley/Hoffman Distillery, dating back to 1880, will re-open in the fall of 2023 under the name Old Commonwealth Distillers, offering yet another opportunity to sample America’s only native spirit.
BOOS (IN THE NIGHT)
Who doesn’t love a good ghost story? When thinking about America’s most haunted cities, what comes to mind – New Orleans, Savannah, Salem, Massachusetts…Lawrenceburg? The first three seem obvious, but Lawrenceburg?
A walk down the town’s Main Street seems a peaceful enough activity, with the charming shops and cozy restaurants. But one structure is anything but charming and cozy.
The Anderson Hotel hasn’t checked in a guest since 1987 when it closed its doors permanently. But if no one has checked in, many have failed to check out. As it opened in the early part of the 20th century, that’s a lot of ghosts.
So, how did this seemingly ordinary looking two-story building become a hotbed of haunts?
That’s a question that numerous paranormal investigators have attempted to answer. The ghoulish goings-on at the Anderson Hotel have been featured on television (Season 1 of TLC’s Paranormal Lockdown).
In 2016, the show’s investigators Nick Groff and Katrina Weidman, spent 72 hours at the hotel, concluding that when it came to the supernatural, the Anderson had negative energy to spare.
That conclusion was reinforced in an episode of the podcast, The Grave Talks, on their YouTube channel.
The podcast documented reports from paranormal investigators claiming to have seen bloodstains in the bath tubs; experiencing bite marks from invisible teeth and witnessing numerous apparitions gliding through the Anderson’s rooms.
What was the reason behind all this mayhem? Over the years, the hotel gradually faded from respectability and became a flophouse for transients. During this time several murders and suicides occurred, one of the more grisly being the teenage-aged runaway whose mattress still shows blood stains. Was it murder or suicide?
While the Anderson remains shuttered as a hotel, the ground floor bakery/deli, Heavens to Betsy, is open for lunch and dinner Monday through Saturday. It also offers special events in a nod to the building’s notorious past, such as the recent dinner theater production, “Death by Cupcake.”
Visitors also may accompany local amateur historian and ghosthunter Jeff Waldridge on his tours of the Anderson Hotel during the Halloween season. Just be forewarned – you may hear a few boos in the night.
If you think ghostly encounters are scary, you haven’t tried bungee jumping. There’s something about plunging from a structure – natural or artificial – with only a thick elastic cord to prevent contact with an unwanted surface that strikes terror in the hearts of many.
Still, there are those daredevils who consider it a great way to have fun. If you are in the latter category, you’ll “jump” at the chance to visit Lawrenceburg.
If taking a header from great heights gives you a thrill, check out the bungee operation at Young’s High Bridge, a one-time railroad bridge spanning the Kentucky River next to Wild Turkey Distillery.
The bridge is also adjacent to the famed S-shaped Tyrone Bridge, the only one of its kind in the U.S.
The cantilever-style High Bridge, once the crossing for the Louisville Southern Railroad, is now devoted full time to bungee enthusiasts thanks to four long-time friends who purchased the bridge and established Vertigo Bungee.
The jump into the river below is thought to be the only one of its kind in the eastern United States. And that plunge of 240 feet is believed to make Young’s High Bridge the highest platform bridge jump in North America.
That’s a lot of “only one of its kinds” for Lawrenceburg which once again made the airwaves. Bungee jumping with the Vertigo crew has been featured on the Emmy-winning PBS travel adventure show Liquid Kentucky.
As jumps are only offered one weekend a month from May through October, it’s necessary to book in advance at vertigobungee.net.
One advantage to doing your jump here over say…anywhere else, is that after you’re done, if you are still shaking with fear and not excitement, a tasting at Wild Turkey might be just what you need to calm your nerves.
Those from outside the “burgoo belt” meaning the Commonwealth of Kentucky (okay, we should include West Virginia, Illinois and Indiana as well), and especially if they haven’t been to Churchill Downs on Derby Day might be forgiven for not knowing about burgoo.
So, just what is burgoo?
Despite its exotic name, it’s a stew dating back to the early settlers, and traditionally cooked for hours in large kettles using meats such as wild game, mutton, chicken, and even pigeons and squirrels. Burgoo cookings, in fact, may have been the first example of potluck dinners, with everyone contributing to the pot’s contents.
Since these 18th century settlers were reduced to making do with what they had available, which was vegetables and game they either shot or found already shot, burgoo gained the unappetizing nickname of “roadkill stew.” Don’t worry – it’s far more appetizing these days.
There are many contenders for the burgoo throne – Owensboro and Franklin, Illinois being just two of them. But one visit to the Anderson County Burgoo Festival held every September should be enough to convince anyone that the title rightly belongs here in Lawrenceburg. Even Louisville can claim to be the “Burgoo Capital of the World” for one day a year – the first Saturday in May – but for the other 364 days, that title belongs to Lawrenceburg.
According to Diane Wells, a past president of the festival, the town’s signature burgoo is a thick, tasty stew of beef, potatoes, lima beans, carrots and onions.
And if you think you’re going to spend the entire time eating burgoo, think again. Past festivals have encouraged visitors to take part in a burgoo cook-off or a burgoo eat-off, as well as make their vote count in a beauty pageant or an ugly lamp contest. Similar activities will no doubt be on the agenda for the 2023 festival (slated for Sept. 22-24), along with live music, arts & crafts, carnival rides and a talent contest.
Since the Burgoo Festival is still months away, here’s a recipe to help your taste buds get in shape.
The Warford family’s Famous Anderson County Burgoo recipe, as seen in a Kentucky Educational Television (KET) documentary:
50 lbs. Stew beef
5 gal. Tomato juice
15 lbs. Taters
15 lbs. White northern beans
25 lbs. Onions
4 cans (#16) White corn
1 box Salt
1 box Pepper
Add all ingredients in a 35-40 gallon kettle. Simmer over open fire for approximately 7-8 hours. Stir continually adding water as it cooks down.
Now, you can try to figure out how to pare that recipe down to fit your family, or simply invite all your friends over and have your own Burgoo Festival.
Scandinavia has the Kraken; Ireland has the banshee; Scotland has the Loch Ness Monster; Lawrenceburg has Bigfoot.
Yes, you heard right. The hairy ape-like creature has famously been spotted in the pine forests of the Northwest, the snow-capped mountains of Colorado, the marshy Everglades of Florida, and the rugged coast of Oregon.
But it appears that the well-traveled mythical mister also has a fondness for the Bluegrass of Kentucky, Lawrenceburg in particular. Anderson County is reported to have more Bigfoot sightings than any other Kentucky county.
The first sightings allegedly occurred in the 1700s with the Frazier family who were among the first settlers in the area. Now, since the Fraziers were early distillers, you might think they had been nipping from their own still, or it just might be that they actually did spot the American cousin of the yeti, a creature said to inhabit Asia’s Himalayan mountains.
Whatever the case and despite his fearsome appearance, Bigfoot isn’t exactly an unwelcome visitor to the commonwealth.
Lawrenceburg rolls out the red carpet every summer when the Wildman Days Street Festival is held in his honor (it will return in early summer, 2024, “bigger” than ever following a pandemic respite).
With a full slate of activities – food and craft vendors, live music, and contest competition for the best beard, biggest foot and best Bigfoot calling – it would be hard for even Bigfoot to stay away.
The festival will be followed in the fall of 2024 (September 21st) by the Wildman Triathlon. The high-level event is expected to attract up to a thousand racers from as far afield as Chicago, Columbus, Indianapolis, Memphis, Atlanta and Nashville, in addition to local enthusiasts who will make their way through stunning vistas of lakes and valleys before ending in Lawrenceburg.
The Triathlon will be broken down by distance in miles. The Half-Triathlon will feature a 1.2-mile swim; a 56-mile bike ride and a 13.1-mile run, while the Olympic Triathlon will offer a .93-mile swim; a 24.8-mile bike ride, and a 6.2-mile run.
Junior triathletes won’t be forgotten either. The night before the race, a Kid’s Duathlon (bike ride and run only) will be held. Small fry participants will take part in a 5-mile ride and a 1-mile run throughout the town.
And everyone will have a chance to see if they can spot Lawrenceburg’s hairy mascot.
So, stock up on your Bourbon and burgoo, and come to Lawrenceburg to experience – if you’re brave enough – bungee jumping, boos and Bigfoot.
For more information about the Five B’s and Lawrenceburg’s other attractions, go to visitlawrenceburgky.com