Good-Bye for Now, Brian!

At the close of 2020, our outgoing Program Director, Brian Cushing, took a position as the Executive Director of the Shelby County Historical Society. We wish him all the best with his endeavors, and are grateful for his many contributions to Locust Grove!

We’ll see you at the distillery, Brian!


It has been quite a journey! A decade ago, I was wrapping up my last few days of work as an accounts payable specialist having resolved to finally return to school to finish up the work I had left undone for a decade prior to that and to start my first part time position at Locust Grove as a weekend manager. A big thanks to Jennifer for giving me that first chance and being a great first boss. Eventually, I moved into taking on custodial duties when John Moses retired, did an internship, worked on contract for a while, and eventually became Program Director. I could not be prouder of what we have all achieved together over that time. I did not expect to be leaving so soon and especially not while a pandemic was in progress but, as all of us who have been deeply involved in making special events happen have learned, you have to adapt to circumstances as they arise, expected or not. When the opportunity to take on the role of Executive Director of the Shelby County Historical Society arose, a day and a half of serious deliberation left me confident that it was the clear next step on my journey.

A lot of this phase of my work with Locust Grove started with the formation of the current First Person Interpreter Corps. I could not be more amazed by them. They are a group of volunteers who not only embrace rigorous research, workshop, rehearsal, and historic clothing standards, but infuse it all with their own individual passions for different corners of the early 19th century resulting in a well rounded ensemble that could not be planned. I’ve also had the privilege over the past few years to get more involved in the management of Locust Grove’s docent corps. I have talked with people from other museums who do not believe that the quality of experience that our docents deliver to our visitors is even possible. The passion for learning and staying up to date and dedication to Locust Grove’s mission over any personal ego is what sets ours apart. If something’s not right, they are going to make it right as soon as they are made aware. Then there are the multitudes of volunteers who fill in every nook and cranny of the multitudes of jobs that need doing to get a museum through day to day and at special events. Their hard work and the skills that they bring to the table blows me away on a normal day but I cannot count how may times I came to work feeling anxious about how we were going to solve this problem or that at a special event only to find that our volunteers cheerfully filled in what I thought were gaps. So, I want to take this opportunity to say a heart felt thank you for everything you do and for giving me what has to be the best volunteer management experience in history. You are truly the best.

We have also seen our staff grow and become incredibly dynamic over these ten years; it has formed into a real A Team. We have seen our interpretation of slavery finally start to come into its own after decades of work, made cultural pass into a workable positive experience, advanced research, and generally pulled off some amazing feats that even we didn’t know were possible. Thanks to all of you- it has been an honor. Thanks especially to Carol for trusting me with these responsibilities in the first place; they have been formative.
While I worked on a variety of programs and events, the core of my job was interpretive programming and the 18th Century Market Fair was probably the largest of those. I had participated in Market Fair every year since its inception in 2004 and it was always my favorite event of the year; there’s a unique magic that happens when the season, the place, and the people all come together that way. I know the same is true for other participants, volunteers, and visitors alike so I hope I have done my part to keep it alive and to set the stage for a bright future. Bringing that many people, groups, and factors together to let the 18th Century breath again for a weekend is not without it’s challenges, and we have navigated some big ones, but I feel very good about where we are. When it’s back up and running in person, I am sure I will be filling out a participant registration form.

Most memorable moment? Had to be when it was nearly 10pm the night before the legendary full sheep barbecue during Michael Twitty’s even more legendary weeklong visit with us. He had done a presentation in the auditorium and, being nearly 10pm, only he, Amy, and I were left on site but we needed to get the marinate on the sheep. It turned out that we thought the chest cavity had been split and the sheep splayed out but it had not! So there we were in the catering kitchen, Michael with a cleaver and me on the other side while we chopped and pulled on this dead sheep while Amy stood back documenting the whole thing while getting covered in meat buts (she is a vegetarian). It worked, the sheep was marinated and barbecued, and it was one of the most delicious meals I have ever had. That’s Grove Life- you really do have to be ready for anything.

One major aspect of the past few years that I haven’t mentioned is the small farm distillery project; that’s one I can’t tear myself away from. We just have too many exciting opportunities in the pipe line and I want to see them through one way or another so, luckily, Carol agreed that we could work on a contract so I could continue to work on that project as an independent consultant. So stop by and see us- I think you will be amazed by what is around the corner!

Locust Grove is a special place with a bright future. I might be moving on career wise but not from the community. Thanks to everyone again for everything- it has been a blast!

Raising the Narrative and Restoring Through Tourism in Historic Spaces

Andrea Meriwether is a Bourbon consultant and curator based in Louisville who is working with Locust Grove on a number of projects, including the role of African Americans in farm distilleries like ours and interpretation of the enslaved community. Here are her words about tourism in historic spaces, the importance of building descendant communities, and the necessity of telling untold stories.


Historic spaces are the link to continuing vital descendant research into the slave experience and the building of American generational wealth. The preservation of said spaces has caused debate in recent years as the outcry of systematic and racial injustice rings throughout the US and abroad. Tour experiences have long lacked narrative inclusivity from the slave perspective. Leaving out an entire sector of tourist and new demographics from venturing to explore historic spaces throughout the US and abroad.

Even amid a tainted past, there stands an opportunity to repair and bridge the gap. As people of color continue their individual journeys of ancestry origin, historic spaces can open their doors to helping these descendants discover the missing information about their family heritage and identity. The more we promote new research findings, we can further develop the stories within these spaces and expand the narratives from the perspectives of everyone that inhabited the land and not just its white occupants. This effort will take everyone coming to the table to contribute to establishing narrative equity and inclusion for former slaves, enslaved descendants and slave owners of historic farms and plantations.

My great-grandfather told me before his passing that if “I’m going to tackle and explore the slave experience, I would have to follow the land.” This advice led me curiously to Historic Locust Grove where I was met by a team of energetic leaders and board members who have welcomed me with open arms and have become partners to addressing diversity, equity, and inclusion in historic tourism. While we have merely scratched the surface to building a descendant community and enslaved experiential narrative development for public tours, we have carved out a space of exchange to challenge our own perceptions and realities in a meaningful way as we develop programming that promotes advocacy and allyship. We walk and explore the grounds of Historic Locust Grove with refreshed intention and consider every research finding as a new piece of the puzzle to eagerly investigate.

Together we are preserving historic experiences from every perspective, lifting every voice, and acknowledging that as we raise and uplift the narratives and untold stories, we are uniting not dividing. Will people of color rush to former slave plantations and farms to visit? It may be a slow trek, but curiosity will be peaked that homage is being paid in an honorable way. Soon it will be safe to tread the land where our ancestors toiled, and real healing can begin to take place.

Celebrating our indelible feats should be all-encompassing. We must uphold the immense contribution not just some but all, as a hand cannot clap. We can no longer afford to keep mute and continue telling the safe stories. We must audaciously confront our fears with absolute courage. We owe the future generation a transparent report of how America was built. We must tell the story, all of it. We must preserve the undiluted narratives of the past, in order to value present progressions, and then only shall we be able to garner strength in unity, to build the future and history that we hope to be remembered for in historic places and beyond.

Share, Listen, Challenge | The Enslaved Interpretation Task Force At Locust Grove

Chris Padgett is the President of the Kentucky Genealogical Society and a member of Locust Grove’s Enslaved Interpretation Task Force. Here, he offers his perspective on our site and the work of our Enslaved Interpretation Task Force.  


My first exposure to Locust Grove was during a grade school during a field trip in the 1980s. I recall touring the house and grounds and learning about George Rogers Clark and the Croghan family. I recall visiting a few years later with my parents and grandmother who was an artist. Later, when I was likely a teenager, I recall working at a table selling my grandmother’s handcrafts with my sister at an art fair. My sister and I sold all of my grandmother’s work that day.

Years later, I recall attending Gardeners’ Fairs with my mother and later as a volunteer working a community table for what was the time the idea that would become the Waterfront Botanical Gardens. Several noteworthy plants in my garden came from attending those events. I recall attending numerous book sales over the years and finding some of the most interesting and unique titles at these annual fundraisers for Locust Grove.

Locust Grove became a place my partner and I would bring guests who were visiting us from away. We found any time folks came to visit, the first place they’d mention wanting to see in Kentucky was Mammoth Cave. I’d often slip Locust Grove into a weekend itinerary as it was close to home and we knew about its link with the Cave.

I guess you could classify me as a cultural omnivore. I enjoy travel, history, art, culture, and all manner of museums, libraries, and archives. My parents and grandparents loved many of these same things. My maternal grandfather was a furniture maker and restorer and worked for several Louisville furniture companies such as Willett, Adler, and Strassel. My paternal grandmother, after raising 11 children, took up painting at the age of 50 and became an accomplished painter. My father was an outspoken leader in his trade union and used to take me in almost a ritual fashion to the local branch of the public library every week. My mother was a part time legal secretary who loved genealogical research. Being raised in a family that valued story, art, oral history, handcrafted objects, and fairness made me who I am today.

It was several years ago that something really started gnawing at me. When I would visit museums, cultural institutions, landmarks, and historic sites, I started to acutely notice how these places were completely filled with work produced and curated by white men like myself. Women’s work was limited and the work and curation of people of color, indigenous people, and immigrants were even rarer to view. This bothered me.
Several years after being more aware of these issues, I read an article in the June 27, 2018 issue of ​LEO Magazine ​ by Minda Honey titled,​ “The Plantation In Your Town: How We Handle the Vestiges of our Past.” ​ The author’s perspectives struck a chord with me as she wrote about historic places in Louisville including Locust Grove. Reading that article took me back to my first-grade school field trip to Locust Grove. I didn’t recall even a mention of enslaved people at Locust Grove during that class trip. I recall learning about the history, the furniture, and grounds, but don’t recall a mention of enslaved or what I would later learn was the outsized role the enslaved people had on building and running Locust Grove.

I knew I was descended from a Joseph Brown and Mary Ann Howard, a Catholic couple who came to Kentucky from Maryland and enslaved a male and female. I discovered records for these two enslaved people in probate records from the early 1860s.

While researching this couple, I learned it was not entirely uncommon for Catholics to come from Maryland to Kentucky to be slaveholders. Sister Catherine Spaulding, a figure cast in bronze outside the Cathedral of Assumption in downtown Louisville and the first statue of a historic women in a public space in Louisville,
founded and led a Catholic religious community, known as the Sisters of Charity of Nazareth, which enslaved people.

I also grew up hearing stories from my paternal grandmother, the artist, about how one of her ancestors was actively involved in the Underground Railroad. It wasn’t until after she died and I started researching the validity of the story that I learned the extent of our ancestor’s involvement. My ancestor owned a hotel, saloon, and general store at the corner of Hancock and Jefferson in what is now the NuLu neighborhood, but at the time was a German immigrant neighborhood.

A first generation American with parents both born in Germany, Louis William Zweydoff, my 3rd great grandfather, actively worked with his brother-in-law, Charles Casper Rufer, to help enslaved people. Both Zweydoff and Rufer were station masters and used hotels they operated in downtown Louisville as places for enslaved people to stay before crossing the Ohio River to freedom.

All of these life experiences and bits of knowledge I’d pieced together over time converged when I chose to register for Joe McGill’s Slave Dwelling Project last August 23, 2019, at Locust Grove.

Envision an evening of about 40 different people of different ages, races, and perspectives coming together at dusk around a roaring campfire to share perspectives on race for several hours. It was an incredibly unique experience, perhaps the most engaging and meaningful experiential history program in which I’ve ever participated.

Participants came to share, listen, challenge, and brainstorm ways to improve the way history is accurately presented at Locust Grove and the role race plays in America today. Little did I know that evening how much race would be front and center this year with the killing of Breonna Taylor in Louisville and George Floyd in Minneapolis.

As race has surfaced over and over again this year, I’ve often thought back to my experience at the Slave Dwelling program and wondered how our city may be better off if some of its positional leaders had taken the time to have attended that program.

As this historic year continues to unfold, I am constantly reminded by Napoleon who once said, “History is a set of lies that people have agreed upon.” This quote has been top of mind for me each time I see another statue fall that was erected during the period in which Jim Crow laws were being enacted.

I now find myself, as current president of the Kentucky Genealogical Society, participating in a Task Force to help advise Locust Grove on interpreting the lives of enslaved people.

The important and necessary work that is occurring at Locust Grove by Carol Ely and her extremely committed and competent team is really inspiring on many levels. There are some exciting developments occurring and I am blown away by the work the Locust Grove team is doing to accurately present the site. If you aren’t engaged in these efforts and these topics are important to you, I encourage you to learn more about Locust Grove and its commitment to interpreting the lives of enslaved who made the site and Louisville what they are today.

I can only imagine the impact the current efforts will have on the experience of school children who visit Locust Grove in the future.


To learn more about the Enslaved Interpretation Task Force, please email Carol at