By Kathy Witt
Land of legendary attractions and little-known treasures, world-class events and local pleasures. Incorporated in 1815, Lebanon is where bourbon giant Maker’s Mark looms large on a horizon dotted with more obscure delights like Gorley Trail, a gorgeous pocket of nature encircling Fagan Branch Reservoir and hidden away behind a screen of oak, pine, poplar, maple, bald cypress and flowering dogwood trees.
A tiny burg of just over 5,500 residents, Lebanon throws down a big welcome mat to host the world’s largest remote control jet show every summer: the weeklong Jets Over Kentucky. But Lebanon also knows that some of the best experiences come in small packages.
Like enjoying farm-to-table deliciousness or a flight of fine Kentucky bourbon while listening to local musicians at the County Seat Kitchen & Bar. Fishing for largemouth and smallmouth bass, catfish or crappie on a peaceful morning at Sportsman’s Lake. Marveling at a hot-air balloon glow at sunset or cheering on a parade honoring the humble pig during Marion County Country Ham Days in September.
Artistic & Culinary Delights
Visitors here discover a downtown historic district that is on the National Register of Historic Places and home to a small but mighty arts scene anchored by Kentucky Classic Arts. Based at beautiful Angelic Hall and Centre Square, KCA produces events throughout the year, including concerts, musicals, plays and more. Before catching a show, stop by Marion County Heritage Center to see the largest collection of horns in the U.S. made by the J.W. Pepper Company. Amassed by Don Johnson – artistic director of Stephen Spielberg’s 2012 biopic, “Lincoln” – the collection also boasts the red uniforms seen in this Oscar-winning movie.
Lebanon’s charm extends right into its restaurants. In fact, there are more than 40 places to eat, many locally owned and dishing up a menu of down-home deliciousness. Twirl up forkfuls of authentic Italian pasta at Ragetti’s. Dig into pub grub the locals love at Rosewood Bar & Grill. Go retro and grab a seat (and a cherry soda!) at Adam’s Pharmacy’s old-fashioned soda fountain. Or head to Jesters for a tasting of this winery’s dry European-inspired, bourbon barrel or spiced harvest wines.
Bourbon at its Source
But back to Maker’s Mark, which happens to be the only operating distillery designated a National Historic Landmark. It is a showplace not only for one of the world’s most beloved bourbons, but also for a Dale Chihuly-designed ceiling – the glass art blazing with color above the tasting room – and The Cellar, a natural limestone cave that provides a place to finish the coveted Marker’s 46.
As if that weren’t enough, Maker’s Mark’s Water Tower features the world’s longest bourbon pour – at one of Kentucky’s most popular selfie stops – showing the world that you are at the very heart of Kentucky Bourbon Country. An Official Trailhead of the famed Kentucky Bourbon Trail®, Lebanon is the only place where you can witness the crafting process of both bourbon and bourbon barrels. Tour Kentucky Cooperage Company and watch casks built from a handful of wood staves to fired-and-finished barrels. At Maker’s Mark and Limestone Branch Distillery, see water, grain and yeast transform into America’s only Native Spirit.
A Divine Destination
Some may be surprised that all of this bourbon activity takes place in a town that is also part of Kentucky’s Holy Land. Take a pilgrimage to the Sisters of Loretto Motherhouse and walk through the Stations of the Seven Dolors, visit a working artist’s studio or catch a free concert. See the first Catholic church built in Kentucky at Holy Cross Church, site of the first mass west of the Allegheny Mountains. Visit Centennial Memorial in downtown Lebanon, which pays tribute to the Ursuline Sisters of Mount Saint Joseph.
Winding through Lebanon and the surrounding county is the Marion County Quilt Trail, a segment of the “Clothesline of Quilts” trail and that features about 70 quilt blocks on the sides of weathered tobacco barns and other structures. They perfectly reflect Lebanon’s cache of treasures big and small, the larger-than-life designs tucked throughout the countryside catching visitors by surprise around every bend in the road.
Plan a trip filled with surprises to Lebanon, a small town that always has its welcome mat out to help you create big memories. For more information, call 270-692-0021 or visit www.visitlebanonky.com