Kentucky is known for its bourbon and horses, but visitors to the Bluegrass State rarely experience those quintessential Kentucky features in such an immersive way as they can when they stay at the esteemed Hermitage Farm. This large horse farm located right outside Louisville, with its signature black and red fences and outbuildings, has been completely private and remained a bit of a mystery. Home to thoroughbred royalty, Hermitage has only been visited by a few select people, either at a celebrity-soaked Derby party or by private invitation. The Queen of England has been to Hermitage, eating lunch there while on an area tour back in 1986. Yet all of this has been out of public scope, until recently.
The Hermitage is now open to the public for event rentals and accommodations at the Main House. Surrounded by thoroughbred horses and bluegrass, Hermitage is an authentic Kentucky experience.
This farm, which dates back to the 19th century, sits on 700 acres in Goshen, Kentucky, located right outside Louisville. The homestead was built in 1835 by the Henshaw family of Virginia, who lived in the home until 1936, when they sold it to Warner Jones. Warner Jones and his family made Hermitage one of the most famous thoroughbred farms in the nation, producing Derby, Oaks and Breeder’s Cup winners, along with many other stakes winners as well. After Warner Jones’ death, the farm was purchased by fellow horseman Carl Pollard, who maintained the reputation of equine excellence and tradition of Hermitage.
Steve Wilson and Laura Lee Brown, founders of 21c Museum Hotels, purchased the farm in 2010. Though they have never lived there (they live down the road at Woodland Farm), they purchased Hermitage intending to preserve the green space, history and tradition of the farm. Their vision for the property was always to restore the main house and make it available for rentals and events while continuing to honor Hermitage’s remarkable equine tradition.
The main house was in good condition when the Wilsons purchased it, but they enlisted the help of Douglas Riddle at Bittners to redecorate the inside. “The house was in pretty good condition when we bought it. Outside of a leak in the roof and a drainage problem in the basement, the structure was sound,” shares owner Steve Wilson. “We took out an old swimming pool and did some landscaping, but the interior was completely redone.”
Douglas Riddle wanted to highlight the Wilson’s renowned art collection, so he kept the home’s palette in neutrals and white. “Douglas and I are good friends, and he understood our goal to rent Hermitage for special events,” states Steve. “He also knows how much we love the art we live with, so he decided to make sure the rooms at Hermitage were designed in a way that really makes the art stand out. Douglas did the entire project and gave Laura Lee and me opportunities to approve along the way.”
The house, which sleeps 14, is rented out frequently for groups ranging from small retreats to couples hosting their weddings at the farm. It’s a working farm, so a visit to Hermitage gives visitors an authentic Kentucky experience, complete with horses!
We recently stayed at Hermitage with four other couples — there were 10 of us total. We all live nearby, but we spent one night for a mini staycation. We all agreed we had never felt so relaxed and “out of town” for being just a short drive away from our actual homes. The accommodations are gorgeous yet comfortable, and for being surrounded by museum quality art, the space is in no way stuffy or sterile.
Hermitage offers an impressive list of luxury amenities, which include original art, gourmet kitchen, a gorgeous reclaimed barn wood dining table that seats 20, luxury bedding, plush robes, flatscreen TVs and so much more. We took advantage of EVERY single one! We also made it a point to sit and gather in each and every room looking up every piece of art in the art catalogue that is available for guests’ reference.
The Main House
The home is three floors, including a walk-out basement. The smokehouse located just behind the main house is also available for guests to stay.
The main house features two front entrances. When asked why there are two front doors, Steve replies, “There are many theories about why homes during this period had two front doors; we believe that one of the front doors led to guest quarters. When the main house at Hermitage was built, Highway 42 was the primary road from Cincinnati to Louisville. When travelers were making the trip, they would stop for the night along the way. While one front door leads to the family residence, the other would open up to a guest room that they could offer to travelers; this room has a fireplace and its own entrance and exit without (at the time) having access to the rest of the home.”
Steve continues, “Other theories suggest that the second front door was the pastor’s entrance, or that one front door was for everyday and the other was for formal events only. While it was common for homes during this period in Oldham County to have two front doors, it was not common for the more elaborate houses in the county to have them, making this a unique feature of the Hermitage home.”
The home, as mentioned, has three levels. The first floor has two living rooms, a sitting room, a large dining room, a powder room and a gourmet kitchen. The walk-out basement features a billiards/TV room as well as a sunroom, mudroom, bar, two bedrooms and two bathrooms. Finally, on the second floor, there are two bedrooms and a master suite. There is also access to a large second floor porch, which was used as a sleeping porch during warmer weather.
Let’s take a look …
PLANNING YOUR TRIP
We asked Steve Wilson some questions on behalf of out-of-town guests to ensure they get the most out of a Kentucky visit. Here’s what he had to say:
Kentucky has so much to offer to out-of-town guests. When staying at Hermitage, guests can experience the beauty and history of Oldham County’s farmland while also being in close proximity to both Louisville and the Bourbon Trail.
We definitely recommend taking time to tour Hermitage’s thoroughbred operation. Hermitage has such a rich history in the thoroughbred industry, and learning about that history while you are staying on the grounds of an authentic, working thoroughbred horse farm is the ultimate Kentucky experience! Other attractions near Hermitage include Yew Dell Botanical Gardens and Creasey Mahan Nature Preserve.
In Louisville, there are endless things to do.
It was the fastest 24 hours I have ever experienced. We could have all moved into this beautiful home permanently, but alas, we have families and jobs we had to get back to. We’ll be back, though, because beginning in 2018, guests will be able to dine at Hermitage’s own restaurant located in one of the renovated barns.
If you’re interested in experiencing authentic Kentucky for yourself, email Ashleigh McLean or call (502) 228-1426.
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