Throwback Thursday – Bell’s Tavern

Throwback Thursday this week takes viewers on a road trip to what was once a busy stagecoach stop on the way to Mammoth Cave. Now in ruins on the side of the Dixie Highway in Park City, this is the story of Bell’s Tavern.

Much of this story is attributed to the 1939 book, Kentucky: A Guide to the Bluegrass State. The story begins 200 years ago in the 1820s. All that remains is a stony skeleton, so we ask viewers to use their imaginations to envision the beauty of what once was. 

The only way to travel by land back then was on horseback, in a covered wagon, or by stagecoach. Three major land routes converged in Barren County on the property of Revolutionary War veteran Colonel William Bell. The colonel built a small inn and tavern, calling the Three Forks crossroads Bell’s Station. The hub grew with a store and saloon, becoming one of the most popular way-lays for tourists. 

Colonel Bell was known for his lavish taste and hospitality, serving guests a popular homemade peach brandy with honey. The wooden inn was added onto as staying overnight on the way to Mammoth Cave, just over eight miles away, was popular for 30 years. Tragedy struck when the inn was destroyed by fire in late 1859, leaving the colonel’s son and daughter-in-law with hopes to rebuild. The new Bell’s Tavern would be a marvelous stone building, more grand than the original. 

About 15 feet of stone walls were laid before the onset of the Civil War. Confederate troops assumed the open structure as an encampment and munitions dump. After the war ended and Louisville-Nashville railroad line was completed, there was no longer a need for the Dixie Highway stops. They became ghost towns. Bell’s Tavern was never completed. Its overgrown vine-covered ruins still stand as a testament to what could have been.