On International Women’s Day, I received an email from photographer Sarah Hoskins about a recent series she made in Kentucky that is featured in the current Oxford American.
She tells of discovering the ruins of the once elegant compound of the Old Taylor Distillery two years ago while driving with her daughter near Millville, Kentucky. In an email interview yesterday, Sarah wrote, “For the past 16 years now, I have been photographing in the Bluegrass Region. I had been just a mile shy of the distillery hundreds of times, so it’s hard to believe I hadn't ended up there sooner. But in the summer of 2014 I found myself on McCracken Pike in front of this crazy old wonderful castle.
"My daughter says she likes breaking and entering (B&E),” she continued, “something she said she learned from me traipsing through the rough while looking for vestiges of an old hamlet or school. There would be no doubt of B&E had we climbed over the gates back on that first day on McCracken Pike; instead a conversation with the security guard and a phone call lead us to being allowed in on our next visit.”
It turns out that the site—which had ceased operations as a distillery in 1922, and was abandoned in 1994—had been purchased around that time by two local businessmen and is set to reopen this summer. The new distillery was renamed Castle & Key by partners Will Arvin, Wes Murry, Brooke Smith and Marianne Barnes, with production directed by Barnes, who is the first female Master Distiller in Kentucky since prohibition.
The 83-acre compound is being restored to its former glory as a destination for families and picknickers, who used to arrive by train and spend the day enjoying the parks and gardens that were an essential element of the operations. The name reflects the design of the main structure, with it’s crenelated turrets and the longest bourbon rick house in the world.
Arvin said in a press release, “Under the rubble and overgrowth, there were 100-year-old buildings that were still structurally sound and architecturally astounding, and while a number of people seemed to have passed on this hidden treasure, we knew it could be revived to make great spirits.” Sarah wrote, “It's going to be a great addition to the area. It is a magical place with deep rich history and a beautiful setting. I have watched as the gardens have literally come to life by world-renowned Kentucky garden designer John Carloftis.”
Distiller Barnes (left) plans to produce a botanical gin flavored with ingredients from the site’s restored gardens, as well as bottled-in-bond bourbon and rye whiskies, all using the limestone-rich water that bubbles up from a spring on the property. The owners are looking for a late summer opening for visitors to enjoy tours of the site, tastings, leisurely strolls through the botanical garden, picnicking on the banks of Glenn’s Creek, or shopping inside a renovated boiler house—a new stop on the Kentucky Bourbon Trail.
Sarah says of the region, “There is nothing like Bluegrass Kentucky. I am finally hoping to move there full time after commuting for 16 years [from Chicago]. What you will find are scenic roads through gentle rolling hills; with each turn you will come across something special, whether it be a field full of foals in the spring, limestone fences, historic horse farms and then of course there’s the famous Bourbon Trail—a tour of the many distilleries.”
Sarah Hoskins divides her time between Chicago and Lexington. Her photographs have been included in over 100 exhibitions and are in the permanent collections of The Smithsonian Institution, The Library of Congress, Museum of Fine Arts Houston, The Center for Photography at Woodstock, CITY 2000 (Chicago),The Art Museum at the University of Kentucky, The City of Chicago and Yaddo.