HARRODSBURG, Ky. — Young ladies in high-buttoned collars and wasp waists no longer adorn the parlors and the school rooms of the handsome red brick building in Harrodsburg.
The school building was converted a long time ago into an inn and it is vacationers, the kind who love the romance of a country inn, who tenant what was for 70 years a college for, as one announcement put it, "young ladies of exalted character graced by elegant culture and refined manners."
The Beaumont Inn, graced with white, two-story Doric columns, sits in a wooded park of 30 acres on the outskirts of this small and historic Kentucky town. It is in bluegrass country and makes a fine base for driving down the stone-walled back roads, and through the horse farms where hundreds of horses crop in the paddocks as you wind slowly through the domains in your car.
Beaumont College became Beaumont Inn in 1919 and because Mrs. Goddard (nee Annie Bell) had gone to school, and later taught there, she and her husband were careful to hold their inn to the mood of olden days. And because the inn has continued to be in the family (the fourth generation is at the helm) the interior is still basic 19th Century, with a few 20th-Century luxury overtones.
The parlors are perfect. The almost floor-to-ceiling gilt mirrors, the velvet-upholstered Empire sofas and wing chairs, the red-brocade draperies looped over the tall windows are almost pure last-century but, surprisingly, they are homey, comfortable to relax in while waiting for the scrumptious meal that is distinctly not Spartan, schoolgirl fare.
My husband and I stopped in, to have lunch. That one meal was our downfall. Because a room was available (and what a room!) we stayed overnight and thus could sample other meals and do the town. We had time for a pre-dinner splash in the long (60-foot) swimming pool that is surrounded, not by concrete but by grass, and lies under a canopy of trees.
But to go back to the lunch that undid us. Mine was a salad, full of spinach and mushrooms and other good things, but it was the homemade yeast rolls and corn muffins that changed our travel plans. My husband had fried chicken, corn pudding and potato balls, plus the hot breads; and for dessert our 80-year-old waiter, Vincent Davis, happily cut my fat portion of chocolate meringue pie, a concentrate of chocolate, in two. Our lunches: $5.95 and $6.95.
At dinner that night our waitress, who had been at the inn 14 years and was significantly plump, as were all the waitresses, brought us clam chowder, a small rib-eye steak with tiny parsleyed potatoes, (more) corn pudding, green beans cooked with bacon, Brussels sprouts served with cheese sauce, hot biscuits, and strawberry jam in a saucer. The vegetables and biscuits were passed, even pressed upon us, a second time.
"Might as well be killed for a sheep as a lamb," and so we had the strawberry dessert, a homemade meringue shell filled with ice cream and fresh strawberries. Total price for two, $19.95.
We had some excuse for this indulgence: We had taken an afternoon walking tour of the historic old town, the first English settlement west of the Alleghenies and the first settlement of any kind in Kentucky, other than Indian habitations.
Harrodsburg claims so many firsts that it should be awarded a first for firsts. It must have been the settlement first that led to the others: Kentucky's first school, first supreme court for the District of Kentucky, first religious service in Kentucky, first practicing physician's office, Kentucky's first harvested crop of wheat and corn.
Also in Harrodsburg is the crude log cabin in which Abraham Lincoln's parents were married in 1806.
We prowled around the replica of Ft. Harrod, the block-square wooden fort-stockade built by the Army so that those hardy souls, Kentucky's First Families, could live in safety from the Indians. But it is the little cemetery nearby that is the most touching. Rough boulders serve as the settlers' headstones and sometimes a small, mummy-shaped rock, hammered out perhaps by a father, marks the grave of a long-ago child. On a more carefully chiseled stone there are the still-legible words:
Brought the first spinning wheel
and made the first linen and linsey woolen
It seemed almost sinful, after seeing the rough log and mortar rooms in which the stockade dwellers were quartered, to go back to our room in the inn. The room we were given, the only guest room on the first floor, is four-star in our travel book. (Ask for No. 8 when you make a reservation.)
For one thing, you can pop out from it easily when you're making for the tennis courts or swimming pool or dining room. For another, the ceiling is 12 feet high on the first floor. On the second it's 11 feet, on the third, 10, which makes it cool in summer.