Kentucky's Camp Nelson, Stagg distillery named national historic landmarks

jwarren@herald-leader.comMarch 11, 2013 

The Camp Nelson Historical and Archaeological District in Jessamine County and the George T. Stagg Distillery in Franklin County have been named national historic landmarks.

Stephen McBride, director of interpretation and archaeology at Camp Nelson Civil War Heritage Park, part of the Camp Nelson archaeological district, said the designation was an honor for Camp Nelson and could help preserve some of its structures.

"It's the highest designation that the federal government gives ... short of being a national park," McBride said Monday. "It's a recognition that a site has high national significance."

U.S. Interior Secretary Ken Salazar and National Park Service director Jonathan Jarvis announced Monday that Camp Nelson, the Stagg Distillery and 10 other sites in the United States and Puerto Rico had been named national historic landmarks.

Kentucky and Puerto Rico each had two sites on Monday's list; no other locality had more than one.

"These national historic landmark designations span more than two centuries of our country's history, from 17th-century architecture to a Civil War battlefield to a 19th-century Kentucky whiskey distillery that continued to operate through the Prohibition era," Salazar said in the written announcement. "Today's designations include significant sites that help tell the story of America and the contributions that people from all walks of life have made as we strive for a more perfect union."

The Stagg distillery, dating from about 1880, is a "rare, intact example of an operating distillery before, during and after Prohibition," federal officials said. The renovated facility was renamed Buffalo Trace Distillery in 1999 and now produces Buffalo Trace Straight Bourbon Whiskey. It also distills small amounts of George T. Stagg bourbon and other brands.

Camp Nelson was established as a Union recruiting center for black troops during the Civil War, and was a supply depot and hospital.

After the war ended in 1865, the federal government sold most of the original 4,000-acre site, leaving only a camp for black refugees and a small cemetery. It was expanded to become Camp Nelson National Cemetery around 1868, and now includes about 12,000 graves.

According to McBride, the Camp Nelson Historic and Archaeological District includes the cemetery, some nearby private property that is historically significant and the adjacent 700-acre Camp Nelson Civil War Heritage Park, which is owned by Jessamine County.

McBride said he applied for the national historical landmark designation with the National Historic Landmarks Review Board in November. The application focused on the national historical events that took place at Camp Nelson and the area's significant archaeological deposits, he said.

The designation could help Camp Nelson receive free advice from the U.S. Park Service on issues such as preserving fortifications built to protect the Civil War camp. It also could help protect the site from federally funded projects such as highway construction, McBride said.

Other sites designated as national historic landmarks on Monday include the Connecticut home of Harriet Beecher Stowe, author of Uncle Tom's Cabin; the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Ala., where civil-rights activists were attacked by police on March 7, 1965, during a protest march; the home of literary critic Concha Meléndez Ramirez in San Juan, Puerto Rico; and Puerto Rico's Old San Juan Historic District.

Jim Warren: (859) 231-3255.

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