Maker’s Mark turns historic Samuels family home into an elevated guest experience
By Sarah Levitch
Photos courtesy of Maker’s Mark
Immaculately preserved and steeped in over 250 years of Kentucky whiskey-making history, walking into the Samuels House takes you back in time. Features such as a massive stone fireplace in the kitchen, a mural of the Kentucky countryside in the dining room and an escape hatch in the roof made for James gang members, carry stories of the distinct history of the house. Built in 1820, the house stayed in the Samuels family until the late 1950s. It wasn’t until recently that Rob Samuels, COO of Maker’s Mark and grandson of Bill Samuels Sr., repurchased the home. Though updated with modern comforts for guests, such as a new kitchen and bathrooms, air-conditioning and high-end mattresses, the floors still creek, the air smells of aged wood and the doors and windows seem to have their own soul.
The house represents and celebrates the generations of Samuels whiskey-makers dating back to the late 1600s. Rob shared, “my ancestors, the Samuels, were farmers and whiskey-makers in Samuels, Scotland. They migrated to this country in 1680, settling first in Southwestern Pennsylvania as farmers and rye whiskey makers. The first Robert Samuels made whiskey for George Washington’s continental army. The second Robert Samuels moved south, bringing a 60 gallon still, and settled here (Samuels, KY) in 1784 and fought in the Whiskey Rebellion in 1791. His grandson, T.W. Samuels, built our first commercial distillery, which is walking distance from the house. He started making whiskey in 1840, and four years later it matured and his brand was born. My grandparents, Bill and Margie Samuels, inherited the distillery.”
Now, Rob Samuels proudly and passionately carries on the family legacy of whiskey-making and hospitality. On display in the home are three of Stephen Rolfe Powell’s Maker’s Mark inspired glass pieces, photographs of the Samuels family, a room dedicated to Keeneland, Maker’s Mark’s first customer and kindred partner throughout the years, historical bottles of whiskey made by various generations of Samuels and a commissioned portrait of Margie Samuels. Rob reflected, “my grandmother, Margie, invented bourbon hospitality. Bourbon distilleries never hosted visitors formally until she set the vision at Maker’s Mark. It was all built around hospitality, swinging open the doors and letting people experience the magic. That has been carried forward through the generations.”
In the foyer, various photographs and artifacts of the James family are displayed. Rob explained the family connection. “T.W. Samuels’s first cousin Rubin Samuels married Frank and Jesse James’s mother. Rubin Samuels was Frank and Jesse James’s stepfather. After the Civil War, late 1865, T.W. Samuels helped organize a surrender for Frank James. He surrendered right here (in front of the house). Wilson Samuels, T.W.’s cousin, was living in the house at the time. Two of Wilson’s daughters married James gang members. They stayed on the third floor upstairs. They were outlaws, so the James gang cut a hole in the ceiling. If the law was ever moving in, they could get out in a hurry.”
While staying in the house, guests have the option to add unique Maker’s Mark experiences. Rob explained, “visitors can bring in my Dad, Bill Samuels Jr., for cocktails. He would come and tell stories for an hour and a half or two hours. That fee goes to Bellarmine University and their Female Entrepreneurship Program. Chef Newman Miller, Maker’s Mark’s Chef-in-Residence, could come here for your group and make a three-course paired cocktail meal in the dining room. For those who want something at the highest level, for the first time ever, a group can have the entire Maker’s Mark Distillery to themselves in the evening. You would arrive around 5 p.m., have a private tour, a private cocktail class, go into Star Hill Farm and have the entire restaurant to yourself with a curated meal.”
The Samuels House will be available for bookings beginning September 1, 2021. It has three bedrooms, three bathrooms and a living, dining, cooking and patio area. Possessing a fine dichotomy of the past and the future, guests will be surrounded by history while still feeling comfortable to pour a whiskey and put their feet up as if it was their own home.
The Samuels House
160 S Saint Gregory Church Rd.
Samuels, KY 40013