Nelson County Justice Center
Old Wal-Mart Lot
Bardstown, KY



This building was the original inspiration for the entire project about renovated big box buildings. Although it is not actually a renovated big box itself, it is the building that sparked Julia's interest. The town courthouse in Bardstown, Kentucky, Julia's hometown, is sitting where a Wal-Mart building sat---once upon a time as a functioning Wal-Mart, then as a vacant building for many, many years. Wal-Mart built a Super Wal-Mart across town, and the structure at this location was abandoned. Surrounding businesses relocated as well, leaving this part of town pretty bleak. A flea market moved into the building for some time, but eventually the building literally began to fall apart. The whole town shifted when the Wal-Mart moved, and whereas this part of town had once seen a lot of activity, the newer, bigger Wal-Mart across town became the new center of Bardstown's economic development.

The courthouse in Town Square was constructed using stones from the town's original courthouse, which sat in this location. The original courthouse was built between 1788 and 1800. The old courthouse is literally the center of town. The roads in Bardstown are built around the courthouse, and all roads lead out from there. This center is shifting due to the movement of Wal-Mart, and ultimately, the courthouse itself. Detail of new courthouse.

Bardstown is unique in that the tourist industry is a primary source of income for the town, and the downtown in Bardstown is still very much alive, due in part to the active tourist industry. The downtown is made up mainly of original buildings, and Bardstown has over 300 buildings on the National Register of Historic Places. Bardstown has a rich cultural history, being the home of Kentucky bourbon, the well-known monastery Gethsemane, the songwriter Stephen Foster, and many famous buildings- including the one and only My Old Kentucky Home, the house we all sing to up the road at Churchill Downs on Derby Day. This cultural identity is stored very directly in the buildings of Bardstown, making the rise and fall of big box businesses and buildings an interesting factor in development and change in the town.

A few years ago, the town moved the courthouse to the site of the old Wal-Mart building. They actually tore down the structure, and put the new building in its place. This reclamation of the empty space made for a remarkable change in the town. Now that the courthouse has moved into the old Wal-Mart lot, development has begun to pick back up on that side of town. Civic services have started to spring up around the courthouse, and as you pull into Bardstown off the Bluegrass Parkway, you no longer see an empty big box building. You see a lovely new courthouse, sitting pretty with the cultural integrity of the town.

The old courthouse in downtown Bardstown is still being used by the city. The big box drama is not over, however, because the second Wal-Mart was abandoned in October of 2004. Wal-Mart has built an even larger Wal-Mart a little bit further down the road, and once again Bardstown is changing gears, as it begins to shift to adapt to the new big box building. The second building is currently empty.

Julia's work, research, and communication with the community in Bardstown is never-ending. This town, its buildings and its community have served as a major source of interest and inspiration in how communities are dealing with empty big box buildings.



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