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John Rowan's home inspired Kentucky State Song

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Every year one song is sang at the beginning of the Kentucky Derby. Stephen Foster's "My Old Kentucky Home" is the state song of Kentucky, and is known by many of the state's residents. What many may not know is what inspired the song. The story goes that in 1852 Foster paid a visit to the mansion of Federal Hill, located in Bardstown, Kentucky. The property so moved the composer, that he wrote the ballad in it's honor. It would later become the centerpiece of the My Old Kentucky Home State Park.

Federal Hill holds another place in the history of Kentucky. It was the home to important statesman and jurist, John Rowan. Rowan was a native Pennsylvanian, whose family moved to Kentucky when he was young. He would go one to hold several public offices including Secretary of State of Kentucky (1804-1807), a member of the US House of Representatives (1807-1809), and US Senator (1825-1831). He was also a representative of the state constitutional convention in 1799.

Along with being a politician, he was also a skilled lawyer. he served in the Kentucky Court of Appeals from 1819-1821. During the Panic of 1819--the first major peacetime financial crisis on US history--he lobbied for reforms favorable to the state's larger debt classes. His efforts to get debt relief legislation passed caused a split in the courts, leading to the New Court-Old Court Controversy, which lead to the appointment of new judges more favorable to helping people get out of debt.

Rowan was also the founder of two important institutions in Kentucky. In 1836 he helped found the Louisville Medical Institute, which would later become the University of Louisville medical school. He would serve as the institute's first president until 1842. He also served as the first president of the Kentucky Historical Society from 1838 until his death in 1843 at the age of 70.

Rowan was buried on the family plot at Federal Hill. He requested in his will that no marker be placed on his grave, as he did not want to be honored above his parents, who also did not have grave markers. Several years later the Rowan family had a marker placed on his grave site. Legend has it that the marker has a habit of tumbling over, caused by the ghost of John Rowan.



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