The Lost City of Tyrone

Tyrone Main StreetFalls City II excursion ran from Frankfort to Tyrone on Saturdays night from 8:30 pm to 11:30 pm.Young's High Bridge was completed on August 24, 1889.

Nestled in the thick woods near the Kentucky River sits the remnants of a town that, at one time, almost rivaled its sister city and county seat just a few miles to the west.  Today, Tyrone is home to a small population of Anderson County, but just a little over a hundred years ago, the city had around 1000 residents, included dozens of bourbon distilleries, and was fully incorporated with its own police force and city hall, unlike most other villages in the county.

The history of Tyrone dates all the way back to 1847.  There were only three homes in the thick forest, one of which was in the style of a Daniel Boone log cabin, complete with mud chinking and and a stick and clay chimney.  By 1860, the first bourbon distillery was built by SP Martin, Number 112.  That particular distillery would become the now famous Wild Turkey Distillery after being bought a number of times through its history.

Soon enough, the town would quickly start to build with roads being laid to Lawrenceburg, homes and businesses being built, and more residents moving there to support the burgeoning bourbon industry.  By 1879, the town was official incorporated.  The town quickly was modernized with schools, a police force, churches, and more.

At its peak before the start of Prohibition, Tyrone had around two dozen distilleries.  Many of these were small and may have only survived a few years, but a number became very well established, making their owners very rich.  SP Martin’s distillery would eventually be purchased by TB Ripy, who would build his sprawling mansion on South Main Street in Lawrenceburg.  John Dowling would build his distillery in Tyrone off of Bailey’s Run just behind the streets that now makeup the village.  He would also build a large house on South Main Street.

By the 1910’s, Tyrone featured its own city hall, a number of stores, a hospital, and many other professionals.  The city, however, would face a complete economic disaster at the start of 1920.  Prohibition officially started in January of 1920, which meant the biggest employers in the region would be forced to shut down.  With the distilleries gone, residents began pouring out of the city, many moving to nearby Lawrenceburg.  Some remained and worked for the quarry in the area, but the town never recovered.  It would eventually revert back to being just a village in the county, with its city government dissolving.

Tyrone in 1909

Tyrone in 1909 (Click to enlarge)

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  1. Tyrone was named for County Tyrone in Ireland, from which James Rippey traveled and to where he landed.

    James Rippey left County Tyrone in Ireland for the United States in 1830, as a teenager. He entered the U.S. through the port of Philadelphia eventually settling in Lawrenceburg, Ky. He started working for dry goods stores and soon became an owner and dry goods merchant. In 1839 at the age of 24 he renounced his allegiance to Queen Victoria and took the oath to become an American citizen before the court in Bourbon County Kentucky. The name had changed and appears as James Ripy on his naturalization papers. Family lore provides two different reasons for the change in spelling. One is that a sign painter hired to paint the sign on his store ran out of room and so shortened the spelling. A second and perhaps more likely version that has been handed down was that the immigration official who processed his paper work in Philadelphia spelled it that way. Regardless, it became Ripy in Kentucky and other places in the U.S. In Ireland it is still Rippey. Another important event in his life in 1839 was his marriage to Artemesia Walker, daughter of a prominent local family.
    James Ripy prospered in the mercantile business and, seeing an opportunity, he entered the wholesale liquor business, purchasing the products of many of the numerous small local distilleries (According to one source there were as many as 25 distilleries in Anderson County at one point.) and finding retail purchasers for their products. Eventually, he opened his own distillery on the Kentucky River at Steamville, later renamed Tyrone after his Irish home county.

  2. My aunt Agnes Talbot was researching her family history and found the Steele family graveyard on the edge under trees….it may still be there but I think I recall it went back to the 1840…Fourtunately there was a man that worked for Ky electric and knew where it was located…This happened in1990

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