Central Kentuckians looking for a cozy inn to hole up in for a weekend retreat are spoiled for choice.
Some of the obvious ones include Boone Tavern in Berea, looking spiffy after a recent refurbishment and serving its mouth-watering spoonbread; Beaumont Inn in Harrodsburg, the very picture of Southern gentility with its white columns and stately grounds; and the Trustees' House at Shaker Village of Pleasant Hill, the largest restored Shaker community in America. Less well known and farther away but equally worthy of a visit is Doe Run Inn in Brandenburg, about a 11/2-hour drive from Lexington.
The Shawnee Indians had long used the area's lush forests as a hunting ground when in 1778, Daniel Boone's brother Squire happened upon the rippling creek that flowed through the woods. He named it Doe Run Creek for the proliferation of deer that were drawn, along with elk and bison, to the area's salt licks.
A decade later, work started on a grist mill built of the local limestone, and in the early 1800s, one of the stonemasons recorded in the mill's log was one Thomas Lincoln, father of Abraham. Throughout the 19th century, the mill's fortunes waxed and waned, and it was being used as a barn when, in 1901, the new owner, W.D. Coleman, converted it into a hotel called Sulfur Wells. His hope was that the same salt and sulfur waters that had attracted wildlife would be a draw for humans suffering from arthritis and other medical conditions. Indeed, records show that people came from hundreds of miles to take the "healing" waters.
Don't expect a saltwater spa if you go to today's incarnation of the Doe Run Inn — all the water is city water — but you can expect a rural resting spot rarely found in today's fast-paced world. There are no McDonald's, Starbucks, video arcades or shopping malls within miles. This is the place to get totally unplugged, meaning it won't appeal to everyone.
The inn's 11 rooms and one log cabin (great for families) have no TVs, computers or phones, and even cell phone service is spotty. What the inn does have is antique reproduction furniture and frontier-chic furnishings. The restaurant, rated one of seven signature restaurants for Kentucky cuisine by the Kentucky Department of Travel and Tourism, serves comfort food: fried chicken, country ham, vegetables, corn pudding and homemade biscuits.
Try to get a table on the porch overlooking the creek if you can. Although it can be crowded for Sunday lunch, on a summer evening, with fireflies dancing in the woods, it's lovely.
You might be tempted to bring a stack of paperbacks and a bottle of wine and call it a weekend, but if you are in the mood, there are several notable sights to see.
About a 15-minute drive from the inn is Fort Knox. You won't be allowed in to count the gold bars, but you can visit the Patton Museum of Cavalry and Armor, dedicated to the exploits of General George S. Patton and to the history of the Army.
A 15-minute drive in the opposite direction will take you across the Ohio River into Indiana and the Squire Boone Caverns, near the town of Corydon. These caverns were discovered in 1790 by the intrepid Boone brothers on one of their many wanderings, and several years later, Squire hid in the caverns to escape a band of hostile Indians. He was so enamored of the cavern that he asked to be buried there. Today, lighted walkways take visitors through the interior, where rushing rivers and waterfalls have carved out incredible formations.
Sometime this spring, Otter Creek Park, about 8 miles from the inn, is expected to reopen after a transfer of ownership from the City of Louisville to the Kentucky Fish and Wildlife Commission. The 2,600-acre park will offer a host of activities, including picnicking, hiking, fishing, bird watching, camping, horseback riding and mountain biking. For up-to-date information on the park's status, call 1-800-858-1549.