The story behind the abandoned ruins of Bell’s Tavern

You know Sweetums and I love to explore ruins (although we are always safe and never trespass). When we came across the interesting remains of an old stone building in Park City, Kentucky, we stopped to take photos.

It turns out we had stumbled upon some of the most famous ruins in Kentucky: the stone walls of Bell’s Tavern, which was actually a 19th century stagecoach inn and tavern. The site is now maintained by the National Park Service and signs warn people not to climb on the stones.

It reminded me of the ruins of the old stone tavern atop Monte Sano Mountain in Huntsville, Alabama. In 1947, the interior of the tavern was destroyed by fire, leaving ruins of the stone walls and fireplaces for hikers to explore for the next 55 years in the center of Monte Sano State Park. In 2003, the tavern was rebuilt using the existing ruins. I took many photos of Baby Girl there before a new building was constructed. Read more about Alabama taverns and stagecoach inns by clicking here.

Kentucky’s Bell’s Tavern

According to a historic marker on the site of the ruins of Bell’s Tavern, the original tavern was built in 1830 by Col. William Bell. It was a stagecoach stop for people traveling to see the famed Mammoth Cave.

The tavern became just as renowned as the cave. The marker said it was: “Famed in U.S. and Europe for elite patrons, cuisine and magic peach and honey brandy for ‘Joy before the journey’s end.’” Bell, a Revolutionary War veteran, originally built a wooden structure on the site.


The NPS site said Bell was called “The Napoleon of Tavern Keepers.” A story published in 1876 in the publication Times Long Ago described the tavern as:

a great attraction, it had no superior, and was universally known in America and Europe. [Bell’s Tavern] was near the Mammoth Cave, and during Mr. Bell’s life was the stopping place for all visitors going to or returning from the cave. Mr. Bell was a perfect gentleman in manners and address, yea, in every respect. He was gifted with a perfect talent of knowing and anticipating persons’ wants at a glance. He knew, althougt he may not have ever seen his guest before, whether he wanted or not a glass of his peach and honey; and he knew exactly what other refreshments he desired, whether venison or beef steak, quail or ham and eggs. His object was to please and satisfy all. His peach brandy and honey was almost as well known as his house, for he had no equal in the preparation of it, and his famous flapjacks.

For an idea of tavern operations in the 1820 and 1830s, the National Park Service liste these prices: the famous peach and honey brandy would have cost about 12.5 cents for a half pint. The same amount would buy patrons a quart of cider or beer, or pay for lodging for one night.

DSC09036Death of Bell’s Tavern

Colonel Bell died in 1853. His daughter-in-law Maria Bell Proctor, widow of Bell’s son Robert, continued to operate the inn and tavern until it burned ca. 1858-1860. Maria was determined to rebuild the famous tavern and make it bigger and better.

She designed a stone structure impervious to fire with proportions that were astounding for the time: it would be 105 feet in length and 60 feet wide. Construction began but before long was halted by the Civil War.





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