New restaurant at Beaumont Inn builds on illustrious past

December 13, 2004|JOHN T. DAVIS

Harrodsburg's Beaumont Inn is steeped in tradition.

Built in 1845 as a college for young ladies, the old, red-brick building has been operated as an inn by the family of the current owners, Chuck and Helen Dedman, since 1919.

It should come as no surprise, then, that Old Owl Tavern, a new, casual dining area at the inn should reflect the inn's illustrious history.

The tavern, which opened the day before Thanksgiving, was constructed beneath the inn in what Chuck Dedman said was originally an open-air area where horse-drawn carriages were pulled in for storage. The area had since been enclosed and was used by the Dedmans to store the inn's maintenance equipment.


In addition to keeping the same footprint as the original building, the Dedmans re-used old beams in the new ceiling, brought in a mantelpiece from the original building that had been in storage since the 1940s, used an old wrought-iron gate and "grandfather's" old boards to make a wine cage, and used old-fashioned bead board in the ceiling, under the bar and in other areas of the tavern.

On the walls of the tavern are large photographs that reflect a forgotten period of Mercer County's history when the county was host to as many as a dozen distilleries, including the C.M. Dedman Distillery, which was owned by Chuck Dedman's great-grandfather.

Dedman Distillery on Kentucky River

The "Owl" in the tavern's name was borrowed from the Kentucky Owl Whiskey made at the Dedman Distillery. The distillery, which was located on the Kentucky River near Salvisa, was established in 1879 and went out of business in 1919 when the 18th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution banned the manufacture and sale of alcoholic beverages in the United States.

Dedman said that when the distillery closed, the whiskey in its warehouses was shipped by barge to Frankfort where it was to be kept in a government warehouse. After prohibition was repealed by the passage of the 21st Amendment in 1933, C.M. Dedman tried to get the whiskey back but was told it had been destroyed in a fire. As the family story goes, Dedman suspected that the whiskey had been spirited away to the bootleggers who supplied alcohol to the public during prohibition.

Ironically, it was the end of prohibition in Harrodsburg in November 2003 that led to the Old Owl Tavern. The passage of liquor by the drink in that election ended a seven-year effort by Chuck Dedman and others in Mercer County to legalize alcohol sales to boost tourism and the local economy.

"We did exactly what the intent" of the new law was, Dedman said, which was to boost the local economy. The money to construct the tavern was borrowed from a local bank, and nearly all of the work from construction to decorating was done by people from this area.

"We got our money locally and invested it back into the community," Dedman said. "We kept everything here we possibly could. We're very proud of that fact. That's what (the liquor-by-the-drink law) was intended to do."

Dedman said he pushed for change in the law because people from out of town staying at the inn wanted to have a cocktail or a glass of wine with dinner. The tavern further serves the inn's guests by providing them a more casual option to the restaurant upstairs, he said.

"It's for our house guests and overnight business. They have truly loved it."

Not a "watering hole"

Dedman said that although the new tavern caters to a somewhat younger clientele than the restaurant upstairs, it is not a "watering hole."

Chuck and Helen Dedman's son Dixon bears the informal title of "tavern keeper" and oversees that part of the inn while his parents are overseeing the dining rooms upstairs. Dixon Dedman said 75 percent of the people who come to the tavern order food.

The tavern's menu includes everything from a hamburger to a Philly cheesesteak sandwich, he said.

"Not everybody who comes in here drinks," the younger Dedman said. "We still have plenty of people who come in because they like a Hot Brown ...

"It's a social thing. People come in, and they're not sitting down for 20 minutes because they are milling around chit-chatting.

"Our (overnight) guests can get a feel for Harrodsburg. They can strike up a conversation and enjoy getting to know local people and learning about the area other than what we have here just at Beaumont Inn."

Tavern hours are Monday-Thursday, 4 p.m.-close, Wednesday-Saturday, 11 a.m.-close. Closing time is usually between 10 p.m. and midnight.

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