The drive is scenic. From U.S. 127, which winds through an easy-going set of country curves, take Ky. 355 in Owen County, then a slightly bumpy trek down the tree-lined, delightfully named Browns Bottom Road, where time quickly fades and the car one is driving suddenly seems out of place.
Blue Wing Landing isn’t a manor perched on a hill that’s easily admired from a distance, nor a waterside resort gaped at by those sailing by. No, Blue Wing Landing is a haven, an enchanting glade along the Kentucky River where the past lingers, beckoning visitors to experience life as it was meant to be. One doesn’t “drive up to” it; one simply arrives. And proprietors Doug and Kathleen Martin have dedicated their lives to keeping it that way.
“You can’t find places like this elsewhere,” Kathleen said. “There is seclusion, the land, the river, and you’re still not far from town.”
In fact, Blue Wing Landing’s proximity to “civilization” is what makes its natural beauty and serenity so surprising. Nestled among the woods and bluffs that define the lower Kentucky River valley, the property’s remoteness suggests a significant distance from city limits. On the contrary: Frankfort is roughly 25 minutes away, with Lexington and Louisville not much farther. It seems doubtful, however, that guests would be fool enough to trade Blue Wing’s charms for concrete and car exhaust. With roots deep in Kentucky history and an abundance of outdoor activities, Blue Wing Landing offers a getaway few would want to escape from.
Built in the Gothic Revival style, the Blue Wing Landing Inn (also known as the Mason Brown House) was constructed in the 1850s by Kentucky Secretary of State Mason Brown (1799-1867). The Brown family has a long and distinguished history in the Commonwealth, with connections to some of our nation’s most notable figures. After receiving an education at the College of New Jersey (now Princeton University), Mason’s grandfather, the Rev. John Brown, worked as a missionary in Virginia and helped create Liberty Hall Academy, now known as Washington and Lee University.
While studying at the College of New Jersey and the College of William & Mary, Brown’s son, John Brown Jr., was under the tutelage of George Wythe, Edmund Randolph and Thomas Jefferson, with Jefferson becoming a lifelong friend. When Brown was building his Frankfort estate, Liberty Hall, Jefferson offered some architectural suggestions. “Thomas Jefferson actually sent John Brown house plans for a two-story house,” said Doug, though the plans came too late to be put to use. Brown was a member of the Continental Congress and later served in the U.S. House of Representatives. When Kentucky became a state in 1792, Brown and contemporary John Edwards became the first Kentucky senators.
Blue Wing Landing takes its name from the golden age of steamboat travel, during which Kentuckians enjoyed its many luxuries and conveniences. In The Kentucky, the 15th installment of the multi-author Rivers of America Series, historian Thomas D. Clark described the role of the steamboat and Kentucky’s affinity for Blue Wing Landing’s namesake. “From the beginning the Kentucky River was a part of the romantic steamboat drama of America,” Clark wrote. “Steamboats were marked improvement over the clumsy rafts which warped their way through the narrows and over the shoals to the Ohio. The Blue Wing I, II and III were to become vital parts of Kentucky’s steamboat history. Blue Wing II for years almost rivaled the beloved Congressman [Henry] Clay for a place in the state’s affection.”
Designed by architect Nathaniel Center Cook, who also crafted the Greek Revival Owen County courthouse, the Blue Wing Landing house served as a country retreat for the Brown family through the late 1860s, when Mason’s son Knox moved to the property following his father’s death and started a family. His apple and peach orchards were the most extensive in the state, but they were shut down around the time of World War I and the land, which housed more than a dozen tenant cabins, was designated as sharecropping space. Ninety-some years and countless inhabitants later, Doug and Kathleen Martin took possession of the place that had been in their hearts for nearly three decades. “We’ve been coming here for 27 years,” said Kathleen, glancing out the window. “We were introduced by a friend on Derby Day and later became engaged out there in a field.”
Their own experiences at Blue Wing helped determine their style of stewardship. “There is no Wi-Fi, no [satellite TV] dish,” said Doug, “and people seem to want it that way. We’ve had corporate groups renting the space say, ‘No, we don’t want any of that. We don’t want our people distracted with their phones and computers when they’re here to bond as a group.’ ” The whole point is to relax and interact with nature, and the Martins take care of all the basics so guests are free to do just that. The inn, which sleeps up to 10, has central heat and air, and a fully equipped kitchen with a stove, microwave, refrigerator and dishwasher.
The modern conveniences play second fiddle, however, to the character of this historic home. “The doors have the original sizing,” Doug said, “and the house was really ahead of its time construction-wise. The windows are large, and there is great air flow in the design of the vents and eaves.” Delightfully creaky wood floors, cozy fireplaces—including one in the kitchen—and multiple porches enhance the experience, making all that techy, tuned-in stuff seem distant and unimportant. Books, antiques and artwork collected by the Martins fill the inn, while history displays itself in the former slave cabin and hand-dug well out front.
Want to spend the bulk of your time outside? Then you share the proprietors’ love of nature and their main reason for purchasing Blue Wing Landing. “We have a respect for nature and want people to disconnect and unplug,” Doug said.
“We camped on top of the hill for eight years,” Kathleen added. “We brought our two sons and their friends many times, and those experiences affected everyone.” With tears in her eyes, she continued, “A friend of one of our sons who was in the service was killed. At his funeral, probably 60 percent of the pictures they were showing were taken here. His mother said this place turned him into a man. It has helped our own kids, too. It builds character when you learn to do this or that. We are more empowered when out in nature.”
Whether you plan to curl up with a good book in the library, chill around the fire pit (wood included), or go all-out-active, Blue Wing Landing has you covered. The Kentucky River is steps away, so guests have options of boating, kayaking, fishing and swimming at a private beach. Two hundred-plus acres of fields and woodlands are ripe for exploring, while miles of hiking trails beckon visitors to wander to their heart’s content. The goal there is to relax and be you, without the imposition of others. Unlike at a hotel or bed and breakfast, guests enjoy the house and grounds sans staff and other patrons.
“We tried the idea of renting the individual rooms to different parties,” Kathleen said, “but it just didn’t work. We want people to have the house to themselves and enjoy privacy and peace and quiet.”
If hunting and fishing are of interest, you’ll want to contact the Martins’ son, Will, at Blue Wing Landing Outfitters to schedule your trip. A graduate of the United States Coast Guard Captain School, Will provides guided hunting and fishing excursions that allow guests of all skill levels to bring home some serious bounty. “We are licensed guides, and we teach and guide people,” he said. “Safety comes first, but those with a lot of experience can be more on their own.”
Kathleen noted that bow fishing has become increasingly popular. “Shooting Asian carp is great,” she said with a laugh. “You go during the day or on summer nights, scan the water with the light, turn it off, scan again, and there they are. There’s a lot of excitement. It gets the adrenaline going.”
Blue Wing Landing is a unique experience and a true Kentucky treasure. Few venues combine history and tranquility so seamlessly that one can experience both simply by being there, and the Martins revel in it all. “My grandparents lived in New York City,” said Doug, “and they read The New York Times every day. They would’ve read about events in the ‘rebellious west,’ which would have included stuff that happened here. And now their grandson is here doing this. It’s just amazing.”