Ripy Mansion – the House that Bourbon Built
Written by Patti Nickel
When T.B. Ripy completed work on the five-story mansion on Lawrenceburg’s South Main Street in 1888, he was just a few years away from becoming the largest independent sour mash distiller in the world. As an up-and- coming whiskey baron, he needed a house that would reflect his standing.
The 11,000-square-foot, 24-room mansion, a mix of Queen Anne/Victorian/Romanesque Revival architecture, did just that. Built at a then astronomical cost of $80,000 ($2,786,728.42 in today’s currency), it was a fitting domicile for the man whose distillery in nearby Tyrone spawned the Wild Turkey brand.
Ripy spared no expense on the home he built for his wife Sally and their 10 children. From the entrance, a sleek mahogany staircase leads to the second-floor landing, while on the first and second floors, 13 stained glass windows carry out a planetary theme.
George Geoghegan, the great-grandson of T.B Ripy, who is a fountain of knowledge about the Ripy family and the house, says that his ancestor was fascinated by the Roman god Saturn, which explains the god showing up in some of the decorative touches.
However, Ripy went way beyond mere decoration, no matter how elaborate. He was a practical man as well as an aesthete. The house was the first in Lawrenceburg to have indoor toilets, and while there was no electricity at the time, the impressive chandeliers were lit by carbide gas.
Ripy’s spare-no-expense philosophy continued to the 150 acres of grounds which made up the estate. He had a spring-fed swimming pool installed, as well as a tennis court which allowed Sally, who had developed a passion for the sport while vacationing at Indiana’s French Lick Resort, to play whenever she wanted.
The Ripy family was a close-knit one, with various sons, daughters, aunts, uncles and cousins enjoying the fruits – or more aptly, the grains – of their patriarch’s labors.
“It was a totally different world back then,” recalls Tom Ripy, another great-grandson of T.B and cousin of George.
“My mother had two maids, a cook, a gardener and a butler,” he says.
In what was a Kentucky version of Downton Abbey, he describes how Harry, the butler, “had a chime that he would ring, summoning the family and their guests when dinner was served.”
Another of Tom’s favorite memories involves his toddler brother John Burton who managed to swipe a cup of the spiked punch at one of the Ripy family’s gala Christmas parties.
Tom laughs as he tells how the three-year-old turned to their mother after sampling it and complimented her, saying that “it was pretty good juice.”
The cousins have a repertoire of stories about this much-loved house where a Ripy family member had lived until 1965 when George’s grandfather, not able to care for such a large house, was forced to sell it.
The new owner, to put it simply, was not a good steward of this historic landmark. The house and grounds were allowed to deteriorate to the point where it was even obscured from view by the jungle of untamed vines threatening to engulf it. The future of the once grand mansion looked to be, at best, foreclosure, and at worst, decay.
That’s when George and Tom stepped in. Not willing to let the house or their legacy die, in 2010 they bought their family home back for $186,000 and embarked on a complete restoration which to date, has cost them half-a-million dollars.
Both men have called their efforts a “labor of love.” The love has always been there, and they realized just how much labor would be involved when they first saw the condition of the house.
The ornate fireplaces had been partially destroyed; plaster, decorative medallions and light fixtures all had to be repaired, and the front turret, which had made an excellent hiding place for two curious young boys, needed to be completely restored.
Next, they brought in Joey Carbajal of Carbajal’s Garden Center to design the half-acre garden the cousins planned, and which would be located on the site of the former tennis court.
Tom says they modeled the garden after Longwood, the famous Dupont garden in Delaware, and it will be heavily planted with a variety of fragrant roses, his favorite flower.
George won’t be left out either as the garden will also feature his favorite bloom, the tiger lily, along with hydrangeas, phlox, allium, iris, and viburnum, bordered by boxwoods, magnolias, river birch and spruce. Overlooking the garden is a statue of St. Francis, patron saint of plants and animals.
“The garden has been planned so that there will be something blooming from spring through fall which will attract butterflies and hummingbirds,” says Millie McAnly, the mansion’s business manager and event coordinator.
The event coordinator part of her job will no doubt increase as the restoration continues and more people want the opportunity to see the house which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
Tours are available by appointment only and are personally led by the dapper George, who happily recounts anecdotes about his illustrious family.
To help finance the restoration, the cousins have also opened the house for special events as well. Whether it be for a bourbon tasting or a bridal shower, a marriage ceremony in the parlor or a musical concert on the porch, guests are once again enjoying the grandeur of “the house that bourbon built.”
“Our ultimate goal is to turn the Ripy Mansion back into the showplace it was for almost a century,” says George.
Nodding his head, Tom adds, “This is not simply a house; it’s a piece of art.”
Looking for a recommended place to eat and stay while visiting the Ripy Mansion?
Bluegrass Sabor offers lunch and dinner from 11:00 – 9:00 pm Monday-Thursday and 11:00 to 10:00 pm Friday and Saturday night. Be sure to ask to try the new Lawrenceburg Bourbon Company offerings. They recently won the American Distilling Associations Gold Medal with a 94+ score.
When you’re ready for a good night’s sleep, check in at another historic home located just over a mile from the Ripy Mansion at the Lawrenceburg Bed & Breakfast.
For more information about the Ripy Mansion, Bluegrass Sabor, The Lawrenceburg Bourbon Company and Lawrenceburg Bed & Breakfast go to www.visitlawrenceburgky.com