Going Public

Goshen, Ky.’s Hermitage Farm
to open its gates to visitors

Tourism focus will be on food, bourbon and horses

GOSHEN, Ky. (January 2017) – Hermitage Farm in Goshen, Ky., has a long history with a well-known name in the thoroughbred industry. Recently unveiled plans call for turning it into a tourist destination, promoting three Kentucky signature industries – food, bourbon and horses.

January 2017 Cover

In October 2016, Hermitage owners Laura Lee Brown and Steve Wilson announced plans for developing the world-class facility into an even larger showplace for preserving Kentucky’s agricultural heritage. The project will capitalize on three elements that have made a name for the Commonwealth.
“It was Steve Wilson’s idea,” said Haviland Argo, Project Manager for the Hermitage Farm project. “He wanted to have something at the farm that would be more open to the public.” Wilson has owned the farm for almost a decade, and the idea was “to get more people out to the farm.”
Argo has worked with Wilson and Brown on four of their 21c Museum Hotel projects. He is a registered architect in Kentucky and holds degrees from Harvard University’s Gradual School of Design and the College of Design at the University of Kentucky, where he was a Gaines Center for the Humanities Fellow. Argo has worked on many arts and cultural projects around the world.
He believes Wilson and Brown chose him as their project manager because of his “background coupled with my relationship with them. It was fortuitous.”
Argo said he will work with existing structures on the property. Three barns and one shed will be renovated “to create three different experiences,” he said.
“The most important is the barn, where the restaurant will be housed.” The restaurant will serve produce grown at Hermitage and feature a processing kitchen that local farmers can use to preserve their fruits and vegetables to be sold in the offseason. 
It was originally built as a dairy barn, Argo said, then turned into a horse barn. The upstairs hayloft will become an event space that can be rented, with room for 150 people. “Two other barns will be converted into a bourbon and equine experience,” he said.
The bourbon experience will complement the restaurant. A small pot still will use water from a nearby limestone creek. A tasting room will offer visitors the chance to experience various bourbons from local distilleries.

Photo provided

This map shows the new development amenities being created at the farm.

The third component will be an equine experience, where visitors can learn more about the equine industry. Hermitage has a long history of thoroughbred operations.
These three elements were chosen to highlight because bourbon “is so related to Laura Lee, an heiress of Brown-Forman,” said Argo. Hermitage has a long history of thoroughbred operations, and the restaurant is a result of Wilson and Brown’s “passion for hosting parties and events.”
Argo said that “most people know us (Kentuckians) for bourbon and horses. It’s really unique for tourism to offer all three things in one place.”
“In addition to being a true gem for Oldham County, we are part of the “Bourbon, Horses & History Region” of Kentucky, and the new Hermitage Project certainly allows us as a region to promote an opportunity for visitors to have a full Kentucky experience in one location,” said Kim Buckler, director for Oldham County Tourism. “That’s important because not all travelers have time to spend the night in our communities. Sometimes they just want something unique to do for a couple of hours or for an afternoon. Hermitage Farm will be a Kentucky destination.”
Since 2012, Oldham County has become well known across this region of the United States “for our very successful hands-on Agritourism Program, Oldham Farm Tours,” Buckler said. Hermitage Farm has been one of 15 educational farm tours, which have attracted more than 10,300 tourists to the county from June thru October, 2016 to “learn, see and experience how their foods get from the farm to many plates served by popular restaurants, hotels and farmers markets in the region.”

Photo provided

This horse is 2-year-old filly and multiple graded stakes winner Caressing.

She said that visitors who take these farm tours experience the life of Kentucky horses by petting them, feeding them, learning about the breeds and learning the struggles of the Kentucky equine industry, all in a hands-on way. “The new plans for Hermitage Farm will add another layer to our program, especially the farm-to-table restaurant they will be creating from an old dairy barn.” 
Buckler said that Wilson and Brown have developed a brilliant plan for Hermitage. “Nowhere else in Kentucky, or any place, can you have this type of Kentucky experience. Not only will Hermitage have bourbon, horses and farm-to-table foods, they have the history to back it up. They have a story to tell.
“The new Hermitage projects will add another dimension to our Agritourism Program,” Buckler said. “Hermitage will help further brand our program and allow us to offer yet another example of conservation, farm appreciation, the joy and reward of farm-to-table dining, and will offer another fabulous Oldham County bourbon experience.”
Argo said he has started the process with the zoning commission, needing to change the seven acres where the development will be situated. He must submit a formal application to be voted on in January. Work is expected to take a year or two to complete.
“It may coincide with the opening of the Convention & Visitors Bureau of Louisville in mid to late 2018,” he said. “Steve would like to have it all ready at the same time.”

Photo provided

Steve Wilson and Laura Lee Brown are turning their Hermitage Farm in Goshen, Ky., into a tourist attraction.

Argo said orchards and gardens will be installed between the barns. When visitors step onto the property, they will “see horses in the field and barns, and rolling green hills.”
When visitors arrive, they will not see any difference from the current layout, said Argo.
“We want to maintain the look and layout. They will enter off of U.S. Hwy. 42 West, enter the long driveway leading to a circle drive and the main house. All development will be hidden from view from U.S. 42. They will be three-quarters of the way in before they see any development.”
Wilson and Brown intend to place nearly 1/3 of the farm that runs along U.S. 42 into a conservation easement. This would protect Hermitage’s natural resources and scenic beauty from development.
“We are currently working on this aspect,” Argo said, with Limestone Land Trust and the Bluegrass Conservancy. His hopes were to have it in place by the end of 2016.
“There is nothing else like the Hermitage project anywhere, much less in Oldham County, especially not of this scale,” said Buckler.
Oldham County Judge-Executive David Voegele thinks it is “a great idea. It has a beautiful setting in Oldham County. With Steve Wilson and Laura Lee Brown in charge, I know it will be executed in a flawless, spectacular way that will cause people to want to visit.”
The pair purchased the 700-acre Hermitage Farm in 2003 from Carl Pollard, who had purchased it from Warner Jones. Originally, the farm belonged to the Henshaw-Waters family. 
Buckler said, “Tourists are looking for experiences. They want to create memories. They want to put those memories on Facebook so everyone else can share in them. What better place to experience true Kentucky than a trip to Hermitage Farm to enjoy a fabulous meal from a local farm they’ve just toured, or after an afternoon of shopping on Historic Main Street in La Grange.”
Voegele agrees with Buckler that this project will “pull people in. It can be promoted in the Cincinnati area and make a nice day trip for visitors. The Hermitage Farm name combined with Oldham County and what it has to offer is a step up for us.”  
“Great experiences are not difficult to market, and now Oldham County will have another gem in its crown,” Buckler said. “Oldham Ky. Tourism couldn’t be prouder or more excited to promote Hermitage Farm and all its new offerings.”
Voegele said he thinks Oldham County Fiscal Court will support the project if permits are met and environmental issues, like sanitation and water, are complied with. The project will “re-enforce what the county is already known for, depending on the venue they create, and add new recognition to its overall perception.”

Voegele said he thinks it is an exciting project. “I love the idea of having something unique come to Oldham County. I don’t think it will create any negatives for the county.”

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