I’ve always been drawn to history and the interesting stories of our past. As a boy, it was the dinosaurs that received most my attention. As I grew grew older it was the Revolutionary War and Civil War. I used to love to visit the old battlefields and their museums. And, so it is today with bourbon and whiskey. The stories of the old distilleries and the part whiskey played in the forming of our nation is so interesting to me. What a great treasure it is to have the Oscar Getz Museum of Whiskey History to tell those old stories.
The museum preserves many stories from the past, but it is important to know that both the building and the collection have a story of their own. Spaulding Hall is the largest building in Bardstown Kentucky, except for the distilleries. It began in 1826 as a college and Seminary, holding both classrooms and dormitories for the priests. During the Civil War, the “Sisters of Charity” used the building as a Confederate war hospital, and in the last year of the war, it held both Confederate and Union troops. After the war it served as an orphanage for children displaced by the war. In 1911 it became Saint Jo Prep which was a world renowned boys prep school. The school operated until 1968 when it was forced to close.
Oscar Getz, Owner of Barton Distillery, was an avid collector of whiskey history paraphernalia. He would visit the many distilleries which failed to survive prohibition to collect artifacts for his collection. His extensive collection was on display at the Barton Distillery for all to see.
In 1983 Oscar passed away and his wife Emma, feeling a bit overwhelmed, decided to sell the distillery. Her late husband Oscar loved his collection so much, she couldn’t see her way to sell it. So, in an effort to save the collection, she renovated part of Spaulding Hall to hold his collection. The collection was moved to the location with the understanding that visitors would never be charged to view it. So began the Oscar Getz Museum of Whiskey History and it’s mission of whiskey history education.
Today, the museum operates as a non-profit organization with a Board of Directors. Linda McCloskey currently serves as Executive Director and manages the daily operation of the museum. The building has been fully renovated and serves as a beacon of local area history. Linda sat down with us for an interview about the museum. We were joined by Bill Renn, Lead Bourbon Host at Heaven Hill Distilleries. He poured us all some Henry McKenna Bottled in Bond Bourbon. We also enjoyed some holiday drinks like Heaven Hill’s Egg Nog and some home made bourbon cream and coffee. This all seemed like a nice touch since the museum was so dressed up for the holidays. Be sure to listen to the podcast episode (link above).
A visitor to the museum can view a 50 year collection of rare artifacts and documents concerning the American whiskey industry dating from pre-Colonial days to post-Prohibition years. The museum includes exhibits on President Washington, Abraham Lincoln, authentic moonshine stills, antique bottles and jugs, medicinal whiskey bottles, unique advertising art, novelty whiskey containers, and much more.
Each of the area’s distilleries is represented in the museum with artifacts and stories related to their history. Many old bottles, most of which are still sealed, hold the original whiskey they were filled with. Some of the old bottles date back to the 1800’s. Some of the bottles even have old hand written labels. The collection is extensive with over 800 bottles on display and many more in storage.
The museum has a number of themed rooms to educate visitors on both the history as well as the business of making whiskey. There are old stills, bottling lines, a speakeasy and much more. It is as real treat to spend an hour or so viewing their collection.
Be sure to visit the museum next time you are in Bardstown Kentucky, It is very close to the center of town and near the areas distilleries. They have a wonderful gift shop to pick up that special gift for someone. There is also the “Rickhouse” restaurant if you want to have lunch during your visit. And remember, the museum in free of charge, but they always appreciate donations.