Boone Tavern

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“Historic Boone Tavern – next exit” the sign read.  It had been at least an hour since I’d pulled off the highway to investigate a random attraction, off the beaten path.  You see, this is what you do when you’re constantly searching for unique things to see across America.  I’ve pulled off the road for caves, statues, houses and most recently – a giant wind chime.

As I turned on my blinker and exited the highway (yes, some of us actually still use a blinker) I was reaching way back in the archives to form my best guess as to what Boone Tavern could possibly be.  Having slept through most of middle school history classes, I couldn’t remember if Daniel Boone spent a lot of time in Kentucky (he did) – but, the best hypothesis I could establish was that he must have done something significant at a tavern in this small town that warranted the big sign on the highway.  For all I knew, this was the place he got smashed one night and decided to put on that ridiculous looking coon skin hat for the first time.

Of course, it’s an ongoing joke in my world that everything seems to be historic.  If you drive long enough, you’ll pick up that every town believes their town is “historic”.  Even in my own neck of the woods – every 2 miles a different town is promoting how historic their downtown is.  Historic has sort of lost its flair or presumed importance – yet, here I am pulling off the highway anyway.

On the look out for some hole in the wall dive – I only found a small college campus.  It was a weekday, so students were milling around and carrying back packs.  After a few turns and no sign of a tavern – we noticed a beautiful old building, a hotel apparently, and wouldn’t you know it – this was the Historic Boone Tavern.

I parked the car and walked inside – incredibly curious at this point.  Two women were at the front desk assisting guests.  Looking around, I am completely baffled. What makes this place historic? And where are they hiding Daniel Boone!?

Turns out that Boone Tavern is a hotel operated largely by students of Berea College – a small, yet distinguished liberal arts school.  In fact, it’s technically tougher to get into Berea than it is to universities like Yale or Harvard.  There’s good reason for that – it’s free.

Berea College was founded back in 1855 by abolitionists.  They also claim to be the first college that allowed interracial and co-ed college studies.  The school gives tuition scholarships valued between $22,100 – $88,400 for four years.  Perhaps it’s too simplistic to say it’s “free”.   It’s actually one of just seven “work colleges” in the United States.  What does that mean?  Well, students are given tuition but have to take on jobs in areas of the college – including here at Boone Tavern.

Stepping into the tiny gift shop, we met a young girl that was on duty as part of that requirement. She’ll work 10-15 hours a week while keeping up with a full load of college courses.  Other positions await students in more than 100 different offices and outside programs run by Berea College. The goal – providing a first class college education with little or no debt for students while providing priceless on the job experience for many of them in their field of interest.

The college has a donor program to help keep tuition free for students in addition to the trade off of “free labor” to keep operating costs down.

Boone Tavern is celebrating over 100 years as a hotel – growing from a small guest house in 1909 to a full blown hotel today with the most expensive room costing around $200 a night.

So what about Daniel Boone and where’s the bar?  The hotel is located where the famous Daniel Boone Trail once passed through.  The “tavern” derives from the early and original definition of the word – a public inn, not a drinking establishment.

Once again proving you’ll always learn something new just by pulling off the highway.