Bardstown is the second oldest city in Kentucky. In 1780, Virginia governor Patrick Henry granted 1,000 acres to John Owings and David Bard in northern Kentucky. The land was to be called Salem but when David Bard’s brother, William donated two acres for a courthouse the town name was changed to Bardstown in honor of the brothers. A stone courthouse was built in 1790 and served as the center of the town until a new modern building was built in 1892.
Race relations have also been a very controversial topic in Bardstown during the 19th century. When the Civil War began, Kentucky was neutral until Confederate General Leonidas Polk tried to seize Columbus, Kentucky. After this act of hostility, Kentucky lobbied the Federal Government for protection thus began their affiliation with the Union. Even though they were aligned with the North, a lot of people in the Commonwealth sided with the Confederacy and owned slaves. When the fighting stopped in 1865, African-American troops that came to Kentucky weren’t always welcomed and were seen as a threat by some who had always seen African-Americans as slaves. The Southern Homestead Act of 1866 gave free land to white or black Americans, and this also didn’t sit well with some. Resentment got so bad that a black Civil War veteran was lynched and mutilated by several Bardstown residents at the courthouse. As the soldier fought them off and tried to escape, he was shot a few blocks away. A few years later in 1893, an African-American woman was hanged with her daughter and granddaughter in front of the Old Courthouse.
A series of caves run under downtown Bardstown and according to locals it also goes under the Old Courthouse. Back in the 1940s, a drifter was passing through town and needed a place to stay on a rainy night. With no money, he asked some locals if he could stay with them. Everyone told him no, but someone suggested he spend the night in the cave. The local told him would bring him some food the next morning. The next morning, the local brought some fresh biscuits to the drifter, but when he entered the cave, the man was nowhere to be found. All that was left was some clothes and a few of his belongings. No one knows what happened to the man but ever since he disappeared locals tell stories of hearing whistling or a man’s voice in the cave. According to legend, if you go down to the basement of the Old Courthouse late at night, you can hear the drifter whistling.
For more about the old courthouse and other haunted places in Bardstown check out the Louisville Ghost Map. With over 60 haunted locations to explore you can take your own ghost tour of Bardstown.