The modern preservationist in central Kentucky began in Lexington in 1955. Much progress has been made, but that falls on deaf ears to one property owner.
The modern preservation movement in central Kentucky, more specifically Lexington, began in 1955 by a group of concerned citizens who were fighting a development plan that would level the John Wesley Hunt house in Gratz Park. The plan called for the property, at the corner of North Mill and West 2nd street, to be leveled for a surface parking lot. But the group managed to raise funds to purchase and restore the property, and formed the Bluegrass Trust for Historic Preservation. The success of what is now referred to as the Hunt-Morgan House began the preservation movement that helped encourage Preservation Louisville, Preservation Kentucky and the Miami Purchase Association for Historic Preservation (now the Cincinnati Preservation Association) to form.
In the instance of the Bluegrass Trust, over 800 structures were designated historic, sparing the destruction of significant buildings, including residences, commercial buildings and distilleries. Many have been re-adapted into other uses; some have become lofts, while others hold restaurants and storefronts.
But the same cannot be said for one endangered property: Old Taylor Distillery. It’s one that hasn’t been written about much, or photographed, or made prominent in any preservation magazine or web-site. It’s located in rural Franklin County, south of Frankfort, tucked within the Kentucky River valley and generally inaccessible due to a lack of adequate infrastructure.
To give an idea of how long Old Taylor has been closed for, it last bottled in 1972. The barrel houses were then used by Jim Beam for storage for their production plant along U.S. Route 421 in Frankfort until 1994. It wasn’t soon after Jim Beam vacated the property that Cecil Withrow, a former employee of Old Taylor, and his business partner, Robert Sims, purchased the buildings for a total of $400,000, and attempted renovations in late-1996. An arts and craft mall opened in the former bottling house, and reuse plans called for a natural bottling operation to begin on the adjacent Bird’s Eye Limestone Spring, and a whiskey distilling business that would have resumed in the “castle” by 1999. Unfortunately, financial issues shelved those plans, and the arts and craft mall closed.
For six years, Old Taylor weathered alongside Glenn’s Creek. For whatever reason, much of the property remained intact and un-vandalized. Save for the familiar broken windows, there wasn’t an ounce of graffiti on the distillery buildings. The property was sold to Scott Brady, who then began selectively dismantling several warehouses for the wood – marketed under Heart Pine Reserve. Under their project web-site, the plan called for the dismantling of the barrel houses for the wood, and the restoration of the spring house and grounds, and the famous “castle.”
But this may be nothing more than a smokescreen.
I wanted to follow up with Scott Brady, manager or owner of the property, to check in on the current condition of the distillery and what is being done to preserve it.
Nothing was what I received after a 20 minute dialogue. Mr. Brady, who went on to rail preservationists as the fringe lunatics who were hell-bent on taking away property rights of individual Americans, noted that there were no plans in the works to save any further structures – or to salvage any other buildings in the short-term. He also went on to comment that he was “not appreciative” of how Old Taylor was depicted on the Internet or on various forums where preservation is often discussed – stating that it made the properties appear to be nothing more than whorehouses for urban explorers, graffiti artists and vandals.
But the real story is how opportunistic individuals such as Mr. Brady can attempt to salvage historic properties in the name of preservation. It is understandable if some of the profits from the barrel house salvage would be used to stabilize other Old Taylor buildings or to clean up the decrepit grounds, but there has been ill maintenance. It is also understandable that the likelihood Old Taylor would ever become another distillery operation would be slim, especially as it has been vacant for quite a few years, but other miracles have happened. The Labrot & Graham’s Old Oscar Pepper Distillery, located just up the road from Old Taylor, was mothballed in 1971 and restored in 1993 that now produces Woodford Reserve!
What a shame. The only fringe lunatics are the fabricators of false hope and to those who convey false pretenses, who purchase properties and promise change, only to resolve that their heart is set not in maintaining a Franklin County landmark but in returning short-term profits. That’s what has happened here, and without the county exhibiting pressure to at least have the grounds mowed and the buildings stabilized, then Old Taylor will continue to fall from grace.