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Thursday, May 2, 2019

Berea, Kentucky – A Step Back in Time (part 3/3)

Part 3 - Boone Tavern Hotel & Restaurant 

By Laura A. Hobson

O’Neil Arnold, Berea alumnus and commercial photographer based in Louisville, is photographer for Boone Tavern

“There’s nothing like Berea,” said Patrick Huston, director of sales, at Boone Tavern Hotel & Restaurant.

To expand the trip to Berea means a necessary stay at Boone Tavern Hotel & Restaurant, owned by Berea College and located at 100 Main St. North. Opened in 1909 at the suggestion of Nellie Frost, wife of college president William G. Frost, the hotel is named after Appalachian hero Daniel Boone, who achieved his major exploits in the immediate vicinity.  It is also called a tavern after the historic definition that refers to a public inn for travelers.

Built on Berea College’s square, Boone Tavern Hotel & Restaurant was designed by New York architectural firm of Cady & See at the cost of $20,000.  Students made the bricks.  The Woodworking Department constructed the building. 

Boone Tavern in Berea, Kentucky
Originally 25 rooms and two stories, Boone Tavern added a third story in the 1930s.  It now has 63 rooms with private baths. Throughout its history, Boone Tavern has seen many renovations and expansions.  Its success has something to do with its location in the heart of Berea.  It was built on the old Dixie Highway that led from Cincinnati into the deep south.  

Twenty percent of the staff are Berea College students. I saw them at the front desk, as valet parking attendants and as restaurant servers.

Huston said the inn continuously makes upgrades and noted  Boone now does several million dollars of sales after many unprofitable years.  The revenue goes back to Berea College or into upgrades.  “It keeps us sustainable,” Huston said.  

Boone is a member of the Historic Hotels of America, named in 1993.  To be nominated and selected for membership into this program, a hotel must be at least 50 years old; designated by the U.S. Secretary of the Interior as a National Historic Landmark or listed in or eligible for listing in the National Register of Historic Places.

Built in Colonial Revival style, Boone Tavern Hotel was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1995.  

Dining room at Boone Tavern
The inn’s namesake has a history.  According to Huston, “Boone (1734 – 1820) was an American pioneer, explorer and frontiersman whose adventures made him one of the first folk heroes of the United States.  He is most famous for his exploration and settlement of what is now the Commonwealth of Kentucky.”

Boone Trace was the first road opened into what was to become Kentucky.  “Carved out by Daniel Boone, the route was created for the specific purpose of introducing settlers to new western lands. It is important to the founding of Kentucky and the opening of the early American West.  Five Kentucky counties eventually encompassed Boone Trace:  Madison (where Berea is located), Bell, Knox, Laurel and Rockcastle,” said Huston.

Richard T. Hougen was general manager for 36 years at Boone.  James Smock became general manager in May 2018.  CUSA currently runs the hotel, but Berea College still owns Boone.
Huston joined Boone in 2015.  Originally from Paducah, Kentucky, his career is in the hospitality industry.  He is working on establishing Boone Tavern Hotel & Restaurant as a destination place and Berea as a unique experience.  

It is a convenient town to navigate and take day trips.  Guests can attend plays on campus, walk the trails in the Pinnacles, take history tours of Berea College, visit the artisan shops in Old Town and drive to Richmond’s battlefield.  People like the Appalachian culture.  

The hotel in Berea is small and a place to relax.  In 2014, it received its liquor license.  There is an event center for 150 people to host conferences, retreats, reunions and family get-togethers.  Huston wants to add local artists, offer live music and add a little bit of flair.  He also wants to increase awareness of Boone as a conference destination.  

Guests come from across the county, although primarily the central area.  Several drive from Lexington to Berea and Boone Tavern Hotel.  Tour bus groups such as Mayflower Tours, US Tours and Excellent Edventures originate in the Carolinas, Florida, Georgia, Wisconsin and Michigan.  Road Scholar, a travel organization for seniors, is one of Boone’s major clients.  At the time of my visit, attendees followed the Bourbon Trail and stayed at the hotel.  

People driving from Michigan traveling I-75 South often stop in Berea.  The age is 40 – 80 with the median age of 60 – 70.  A lot of retirees come here.  Visitors also travel from Indiana, Ohio and Tennessee. A shuttle service can be arranged from the Lexington airport.

Boone Tavern in the evening glow
Historic figures who have stayed at Boone Tavern Hotel include Henry Ford, President and Mrs. Calvin Coolidge, Eleanor Roosevelt, Maya Angelou, Robert Frost and the Dali Lama.

With an $11 million renovation in 2009, it is Kentucky’s first green hotel and is committed to sustainability.  Huston said it is difficult for old buildings to go green, but Boone achieved it.  The renovation revealed original woodwork and skylights.  The hotel received the gold designation of US Green Building Council’s Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) in 2009.  

Boone offers an energy efficient HVAC system, low emission windows, increased ventilation, specialized roof system, recycled water, green parking and a non-smoking facility.  A master switch in the room shuts off and on all electricity.  Cups are not made of plastic, but of corn.

Students make the traditional furniture found in the rooms.  They also sell furniture at the Log House Craft Gallery in Berea.  

Next year, Huston said, management has scheduled repainting at a cost of approximately $200,000.  In addition, duvets are replacing blue bedspreads. 

Executive chef Jason Ritchey uses heritage recipes and locally grown ingredients at the restaurant, which seats 80.  One specialty is spoonbread with cornmeal from Kentucky’s bluegrass region.  There are unique food options for catering.  Two signature dishes are “chicken flakes in a bird’s nest” and “pork chops the tricky way.”  I tried the chicken; it was soft and tasty. Breakfast, lunch and dinner are available.

Amenities include free bicycles with helmets.  One can ride through the town just to get a birds-eye view of the village from the ground up.

Also nearby are the Bourbon Trail, Kentucky Horse Park, Spotlight Theater, the Battle of Richmond re-enactment, the Farmers Market and Eastern Kentucky University.  For those who want to attend church, visitors can choose Union Church, a nondenominational house of worship across the street from Boone.  

It is a place to go to rejuvenate and enjoy both the ambiance of the hotel as well as the town.
A get-away well worth taking.

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