Bourbon Industry

Buffalo Trace Distillery named National Historic Landmark

A cart in front of the Elmer T. Lee Clubhouse at the Buffalo Trace Distillery in Frankfort.
A cart in front of the Elmer T. Lee Clubhouse at the Buffalo Trace Distillery in Frankfort. Herald-Leader

FRANKFORT — Buffalo Trace's George T. Stagg Distillery has been named a National Historic Landmark by the National Park Service.

The designation highlights it as a "highly intact" example of pre-Prohibition industrial architecture that also shows how distilling expanded once the federal ban was repealed in the early 1930s.

The buildings, which still are very much in active use, feature distinctive quarry-faced stonework and decorative brickwork in a 1930s-era factory; other barrel warehouses and buildings are much older, dating to the 1790s.

According to the National Park Service, the distillery was established in 1857-58 and acquired in 1870 by E.H. Taylor Jr., whose portrait hangs in the yeast room. Taylor refurbished the distillery, building brick warehouses including Warehouse C, across from the current Buffalo Trace gift shop.

The site also includes what is known as the George Dickel building along the Kentucky River, where a Tennessee whiskey called George Dickel was made after Prohibition in the 1940s until Tennessee finally was allowed to make alcohol again.

Very little new construction has been done since 1953, with the exception of removing railroad tracks, demolishing the original offices, and building spirits storage tanks for the booming bourbon business.

One feature not likely to be found at many modern factories: an Adirondack-style log cabin, complete with hammered copper sinks, that was used as an employee clubhouse. Buffalo Trace uses it now for receptions and dinners.

The distillery was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2001, but the new honor already has drawn attention.

The National Geographic Channel show Diggers, which features amateur scientists hunting artifacts with metal detectors, found the distillery on the list and has filmed an episode there, said Buffalo Trace spokeswoman Amy Preske.

Buffalo Trace is at least the third distillery to be named a National Historic Landmark, along with Labrot & Graham's Old Oscar Pepper Distillery near Versailles, where Woodford Reserve is made today, and the Burks' Distillery, owned by Maker's Mark, in Loretto.

Kentucky has more than 30 landmarks on the list, including Ashland, the Henry Clay Estate and Keeneland Race Course in Lexington and Shaker Village of Pleasant Hill in Harrodsburg.

The honor comes with a plaque and a nice sign by the road to alert tourists.

Not that they seem to be having too much trouble finding the place: Preske said Buffalo Trace expects to see 80,000 visitors this year.

This year's Kentucky Oaks Day, May 3, before the Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs in Louisville, was the distillery's single biggest day for tourism, with 1,800 visitors, she said.

Employees of the distillery were told officially of the designation last week and given special T-shirts in celebration.


Kentucky's National Historic Landmarks, their year of induction and city.

Ashland, the Henry Clay Estate (1960), Lexington

Daniel C. Beard Boyhood Home (1965), Covington

Belle of Louisville riverboat (1989), Louisville

Berea College's Lincoln Hall (1974), Berea

Mayor Andrew Broaddus Lifesaving Station (1989), Louisville

Buffalo Trace's George T. Stagg Distillery (2013), Frankfort

Burks' Distillery (1980), Marion County

Churchill Downs (1986), Louisville

Covington and Cincinnati Suspension Bridge (1975; also in Ohio)

Fort Boonesborough (1996), Madison County

Green River Shell Middens Archaeological District (1994), Butler, Henderson, McLean, Muhlenberg and Ohio counties

Indian Knoll (1964), Ohio County

Kentucky School for the Deaf's Jacobs Hall (1965), Danville

Keeneland Race Course (1986), Lexington

Labrot & Graham's Old Oscar Pepper Distillery (2000), Versailles

Liberty Hall (1971), Frankfort

Locust Grove (1986), Louisville

Louisville Water Co. Pumping Station (1971), Louisville

Dr. Ephraim McDowell House (1965), Danville

Middle Creek Battlefield (1992), Prestonsburg

Mill Springs Battlefield (1994), Nancy

Old Bank of Louisville (1971), Louisville

Old State House (1971), Frankfort

Perryville Battlefield (1960), Boyle County

Pine Mountain Settlement School (1991), Harlan County

Shaker Village of Pleasant Hill Historic District (1971), Mercer County

Zachary Taylor House (1961), Louisville

Transylvania University's Old Morrison (1965), Lexington

United States Marine Hospital (1997), Louisville

Wendover, Frontier Nursing Service Headquarters (1991), Leslie County

Whitney M. Young Birthplace and Boyhood Home (1984), Shelby County


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