Family Stories

Offutt-Cole Tavern – Woodford County

Photo taken May 30, 2017, during our genealogy travels.  The brick portion, also white, is located on the far half of the building.  The half in the forefront is covered with cherry weatherboarding, now painted white.

Near the small town of Midway, in Woodford County, halfway between Lexington and Frankfort, is a building that is almost 250 years old.  Located at the corner of US 62 and KY 1681 (Old Frankfort Pike) is the home originally owned by Major John Lee, the property of which was owned by Hancock Taylor, an early surveyor.  Lee leased the building to Horatio Offutt, who built the brick section in 1802 for use as a tavern.  He rented the building to John Kennedy and William Dailey who ran a stagecoach from this place in 1804.  The tavern was then operated by Richard Cole, Jr., from 1812 until his death in 1839.  Richard’s son, James, was the father of Zerelda Cole, who married Robert James, and was the mother of the outlaws Frank and Jesse James.  Later the tavern was known as ‘Black Horse Tavern.’  It was then operated as a tollgate house 1848-1880, and was owned by Lexington, Versailles and Midway Road Company.  It was acquired by the McCabe family in 1916, and was deeded to the Woodford County Historical Society in 1979.

The will of Hancock Taylor refers to ‘repairs’ in 1773 of a log building on the site of the tavern.  It was used as a shelter by himself and fellow surveyors who apparently had found the log structure when they arrived.

The log portion of the house, which is covered with weatherboarding, has a double-hipped stone chimney, a style used in Williamsburg, Virginia, around the 1750’s.  It is believed to be the only existing double-hipped chimney in Kentucky.

As mentioned above, the brick portion was built in 1802 by Horatio Offutt to serve as a tavern.  It has one unusual feature:  a partition that swings up to the ceiling to convert two small rooms into a large ballroom.

For John Kennedy and William Dailey to use the building as a stage coach, they required Offutt to build a log stable 24 feet by 20 feet, with stalls for eight horses.

One newspaper article states the house was covered with cherry weatherboarding in 1802, and was referred to as the ‘old log house’ of Major John Lee long before that date.

Advertisements and stories in The Kentucky Gazette chronicled many inn activities.  Its menu boasted of venison, wild turkey, great bowls of vegetables, buffalo steaks, cider or stronger drinks, berry pies and all the johnnycake a man could eat.

It is said that a first-floor closet had been sealed over with wallpaper and when opened a U. S. Springfield rifle, dated 1812, and a flintlock rifle, a Bowie knife with a buffalo handle and numerous pairs of shoes and a pair of boots were found.

During restoration eighty-seven layers of wallpaper were removed from one room and thirty-eight coats of paint were found on a door.  The floors are of ash, the mortised and pegged window frames of black locust.  In some places the logs have been left exposed to show the original mud chinking, complete with buffalo hair.

In the 1980’s the Woodford County Historical Society hoped to reopen this historical place as a restaurant, but as in many things, money did not go as far as expected, and the full restoration was not finished.  The historical society sold the property in 1985 and the owner is expected to use it as a farm office.

Information from the double-sided historical marker:

Offutt-Cole Tavern

Site first owned by Hancock Taylor, early surveyor.  Features of log section date it to 1780s-1790s.  Major John Lee lived here, then leased to Horatio Offutt, who built brick section, 1802, for use as tavern.  He rented building to John Kennedy and William Dailey, who opened famous stagecoach inn, 1804.  Tavern operated by Richard Cole, Jr., 1812-1839.

Richard Cole, Jr.’s son, James was father of Zerelda (Cole) James, mother of notorious Jesse and Frank James.  Tavern later known as “Black Horse Tavern.”  It was operated as a tollgate house 1848-80.  Owned by Lexington, Versailles and Midway Road Co. acquired by McCabe family in 1916 which deeded property to Woodford County Historical Society 1979 for restoration.

Articles from the following newspapers were used in this post:

The Courier-Journal, Louisville, Jefferson County, Kentucky, Monday, July 16, 1979

The Courier-Journal, Louisville, Jefferson County, Kentucky, Monday, March 14, 1983

The Courier-Journal, Louisville, Jefferson County, Kentucky, Sunday, July 13, 1947

The Courier-Journal, Louisville, Jefferson County, Kentucky, Sunday, July 15, 2007

The Courier-Journal, Louisville, Jefferson County, Kentucky, Sunday, March 16, 1980

The Courier-Journal, Louisville, Jefferson County, Kentucky, Thursday, July 22, 1965

1 reply »

  1. Been by there many times on my way to a friends farm. “Three Chimney Farm.”
    Wish it had been restored by a “public” entity so all could enjoy. But, happy for any restoration!

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