The stately Victorian mansion, known as the Russell Houston Mansion, at 1332 South Fourth has been a bed and breakfast since 1993. Previously named the Inn at the Park Bed and Breakfast, it became The Louisville Bourbon Inn in 2016. Owners Gayle and Herb Warren feature a carefully planned bourbon-themed décor that compliments the beauty and authenticity of the inn’s Victorian charm.
Gayle is past president of the Leadership Louisville Foundation, and Herb served as a corporate attorney for GE before retiring in 1995. They are both passionate about historic preservation, which led them to restore and preserve several Louisville historic homes over the past 25 years. They were honored to receive the Louisville Historical League’s award for Historic Preservation in 2001 for the restoration of the DuPont Mansion, located just across the street from the inn at 1317 South Fourth Street (www.dupontmansion.com).
Louisville Bourbon Inn was built in 1886 by Russell Houston, a distinguished member of the Kentucky bar for more than 25 years, and the Tennessee bar for as many years prior to that. President Andrew Johnson once declared his intention to nominate then Judge Houston to the Supreme Court of the United States, but a vacancy did not occur in time for such an appointment. In 1864, Judge Houston moved to Louisville, accepting the Vice-Presidency, and later the Presidency, and ultimately, Chief Legal Counsel of the Louisville and Nashville (L&N) Railroad.
It was more than 20 years after Judge Houston arrived in Louisville before he commissioned noted architect Mason Maury to design the Houston mansion for him and his family. Design it he did! The residence plus the carriage house, which totaled about 9,000 square feet, housed the Houston family and multiple domestic servants. There have been many changes since. For instance, in 1886 there was only one full indoor bathroom. Today there are ten! The original kitchen was in the basement and the first floor kitchen was just for storing dishes and plating food. The back porch was added in the mid-1900’s.
When built, air conditioning depended upon servants opening and closing windows, including the 50 square-foot picture window in the front parlor. The home was heated, one room at a time, by the fifteen wood-burning fireplaces, which, in the winter, was surely a full time job for one of the servants! Six HVAC systems in the two buildings now provide much more comfortable temperatures at significantly lower cost.
The Houston home depended mostly on gas lighting, as electricity was more of a novelty than a necessity in 1886. (Remember, the nearby Southern Exposition, which began in 1883 and was still going on when this home was built, featured more of Thomas Edison’s newly invented long-burning incandescent light bulbs than were in all of New York City at the time!) A surviving memory of that era and testament to the fact that the Victorians did not trust electric lighting is the golden finial on the entryway staircase. At first glance it appears to be just decorative, but closer examination reveals a gas valve turnkey near the top of the fixture. Since a gas flame must have emitted from the top of the fixture, one would think that there was originally a glass globe at the top to reduce the ever-present risk of fire in the home.
You might notice as you approach the mansion that there are several steps from the sidewalk up to the front yard and several more steps to the first floor of the house. This is because the first floor of the Houston home was constructed about 15 feet above street level. Because of the architect’s foresight in this regard, the main living quarters were untouched by the devastating 1937 Louisville flood, which sent boats motoring down Fourth Street to rescue residents of many other homes not as fortunate. The front porch has handsome inlaid tile and remarkable outside sliding doors, which still open effortlessly after all these years.
Inside there is a large window directly over the dining room fireplace. This is made possible by the “split” or “double” flue, which carries the smoke around both sides of the window. The Warrens call this unusual window the “Eye on the Park” and its purpose is to let as much light in as possible (given all the dark wood on the interior). The attractive tile on the fireplace is original Rookwood Pottery from the famous Cincinnati, Ohio Company. All chandeliers and sconces, including the beautiful ones in the dining room, foyer and entry hall, were acquired by the Warrens from antique dealers within a forty-mile radius.
The Louisville Bourbon Inn’s dining room is arranged so B&B guests have a choice of private or shared breakfast tables. The furnishings, while not original, blend well with the Victorian style. Guests enjoy a variety of bourbon-infused breakfasts including Bourbon Apple French Toast, Bourbon Glazed Ham or Bacon and Pancakes with Bourbon Maple Syrup.
The second floor of the Houston Mansion will also be on the Holiday Home Tour. At the top of the stairs is the Grand Derby Suite, a popular guestroom and the former master suite for the Houston family. The corner mini-bar is a genuine refurbished Kentucky Bourbon barrel made and signed by local artist Jay Evans. (There is one in every guest room.) The bath has original tile floor, marble walls and fireplace. The Warrens found a large photograph of Mr. Houston, which is now displayed in the room. The bedroom also boasts a large balcony just off the hall that overlooks Central Park, developed using renowned landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted’s plan. Photographs above the fireplace feature Old Louisville scenes and are from a neighborhood photography contest.
The Mint Julep Guest Room at the end of the hall overlooks Fourth Street. This room also has a large king bed and a signature Kentucky-made mini-bar. The deep red hue of the walls, coupled with the yellow custom-made curtains and beautiful fireplace, make this room a guest favorite.
The Bourbon Room in the southeast corner of the home was the original library. During the Holiday Home Tour it is here that you’ll meet a Heaven Hill Artisanal Distiller, who’ll offer a premium bourbon tasting courtesy of the Evan Williams Bourbon Experience. Guests will be able to tour this incredible mansion, sample the Evan Williams bourbons and the Southern Egg Nog, enjoy a Rebecca Ruth bourbon ball, all part of the admission to the Holiday Home Tour. Tastings will be 12-5 pm on Saturday and 1-5 pm on Sunday.
For more details about the Louisville Bourbon Inn, visit www.louisvillebourboninn.com. For information about the Evan Williams Bourbon Experience please visit: https://evanwilliams.com.