Between the rolling hills of its rural farmland and the gritty streets of its larger cities, the state of Kentucky is an unexpectedly rich destination for urban explorers. The list below contains our picks for the 10 best abandoned places in Kentucky, but rest assured, there are dozens more defunct factories, vacant schools and empty storefronts just waiting to be discovered throughout the state.
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The Best Abandoned Places in Kentucky
Young’s High Bridge (Tyrone)
This Pratt deck truss bridge once ferried trains for the Louisville Southern and Norfolk & Western railways across the Kentucky River. Construction of the steel bridge began in February 1889 and remarkably, it began carrying rail traffic just six months later. It was named in honor of Louisville Southern Railroad President William Young and operated for the next century as part of the railroad’s industrial Lexington to Lawrenceburg Division.
The bridge saw its last passenger train crossing in 1937, but continued to carry freight trains across the river for the next several decades. Traffic gradually declined in the latter half of the 20th century, punctuated by a couple of high-profile derailments near the Tyrone Power Station in the 1970s. Louisville Southern was absorbed by the Norfolk & Western Railway in the 1980s and decommissioned the line between Lawrenceburg and Versailles in 1985, effectively abandoning the bridge.
The nonprofit group Tyrone Bridge and Railroad Company formed in 2003 in an effort to raise the necessary funds to convert the bridge into a pedestrian and bike trail or incorporate it into the Bluegrass Railroad Museum’s tourist line, but failed to accomplish either goal, dissolving in 2011.
After Norfolk Southern Railway acquired the Norfolk & Western, it donated the bridge to the Young’s High Bridge Historical Society, which sold it in 2013 for use by Vertigo Bungee. The business offers bungee jumping excursions from the bridge for several months each year, billing it as the highest platform bridge jump in North America. Despite this, it remains one of the most interesting abandoned places in Kentucky to explore.
Waverly Hills Sanatorium (Louisville)
Built to care for about 50 tuberculosis patients during an early 20th-century surge of the disease, the Waverly Hills Sanatorium opened on a former residential property in southwestern Louisville in 1912. The city’s humid, marshy location along the Ohio River provided an ideal environment for the tuberculosis bacteria to thrive, and when the newly-opened City Hospital failed to include a ward for treating patients with the devastating pulmonary illness, the Waverly Hills Sanatorium was born.
As cases of the “White Plague” spread across Jefferson County, the Waverly Hills facility was expanded in 1914 to add a children’s ward, bringing its total capacity to around 130 patients. In 1924, construction began on an additional five-story building to accommodate up to 400 patients, and it was completed in 1926.
With the discovery of antibiotic treatments for the disease in the 1940s, the need for dedicated tuberculosis hospitals declined considerably, and Waverly Hills Sanatorium closed its doors in 1961. The following year, it reopened as Woodhaven Geriatric Center, a care facility focused on patients with dementia, mobility limitations and developmental disabilities. Unfortunately, Woodhaven was plagued by overcrowding and insufficient staffing, and growing reports of abuse and neglect prompted the state to shut it down in 1982.
A private developer acquired the property for $3 million in 1983 with the intention of converting it into a minimum-security state prison, but vocal opposition from neighboring residents scuttled the plan almost immediately. The property sat vacant for the next 14 years until Robert Alberhasky’s Christ the Redeemer Foundation purchased it, planning to construct the world’s tallest statue of Jesus Christ as well as an arts and worship center.
Inspired by the Christ the Redeemer statue in Rio de Janeiro, the statue at this current abandoned place in Kentucky would have stood 150 feet tall on the roof of the old sanatorium, which would itself be transformed into a chapel, theater and gift shop. However, the foundation only managed to raise a few thousand dollars for the estimated $12 million endeavor, and it abandoned the plan the following year.
A private couple bought the property in 2001 and began holding tours and Halloween haunted house events to raise money for restoring the deteriorating building. Waverly Hills has also achieved a measure of national notoriety after being featured on the show Ghost Hunters, which declared it one of the “most haunted hospitals” in the eastern U.S. It has also been included on episodes of ABC’s Scariest Places on Earth, VH1’s Celebrity Paranormal Project and Travel Channel’s Ghost Adventures.
If you’re on the hunt for abandoned places in Kentucky and want to specifically touch on more “haunted” locations, be sure to check out the Waverly Hills Sanitorium.
Old Taylor Distillery (Frankfort)
The Old Taylor Distillery began producing bourbon whiskey in Frankfort in 1887. Its founder, E.H. Taylor, Jr., was a descendant of presidents James Madison and Zachary Taylor, following in the family political tradition by serving as mayor of Frankfort and member of the state legislature.
Taylor used his political clout to boost public confidence in the distilling industry, which had suffered due to inconsistent product quality. He worked tirelessly to pass the Bottled-in-Bond Act of 1897, which awarded federal tax breaks to companies that met specific quality standards.
For decades, the Old Taylor Distillery served as both a whiskey manufacturer and a tourist attraction, drawing visitors with tours of the lavish 82-acre property and its spring house, stone bridges, castle-style buildings and lush gardens. Each guest left the tour with a miniature bottle of Old Taylor as a souvenir.
After Taylor died in 1922, the distillery remained in local control until 1935, when National Distillers added Old Taylor to its portfolio of brands. Jim Beam took over National Distillers in 1987, declaring much of the Old Taylor plant—including its bottling facilities and several warehouses—to be surplus property and halting operations there.
Soon afterward, the property was sold for $400,000 to former National Distillers employee Cecil Withrow and his business partner, who planned to renovate the campus into a mixed-use development featuring artisan shops, a spring water bottling plant and a bourbon whiskey distilling business under the Stone Castle Whiskey brand. Renovations began in 1996 with the artisan center opening the following year, but dismal revenues forced its closure soon afterward. Due to financing challenges, the spring water and whiskey ventures never got off the ground.
A new owner acquired the property in 2005, but his only activity on the site consisted of tearing down several deteriorating warehouses and selling the wood. After nearly a decade of abandonment, business partners Will Arvin and Wes Murry bought the Old Taylor site with plans to rebirth distilling operations there. After several years of renovations, the Castle & Key bourbon whiskey distillery launched its production in 2016.
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Ouerbacker House (Louisville)
This distinctive Richardsonian Romanesque-style mansion was built for Louisville coffee magnate Samuel Ouerbacker in the late 19th century. Circular turrets flank each side of the grand front porch, which is lined with stately columns, and its three stories rise well above the neighboring residences. In the 1920s, it was occupied by Reverend George C. Clement, bishop of the African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church.
In the 1930s, it became the operations hub of the Holland Tax Service, remaining its main office until the late 1990s, when it was vacated due to an unpaid city tax bill. After that, the vacant home began to fall into disrepair, suffering severe water damage and the collapse of the east wall, which forced the neighboring property to shutter its child care center out of safety concerns. Vandals also left their mark on both the interior and exterior of the once-grand residence.
In 2008, local architect Scott Kremer purchased the property from the Louisville-Jefferson County Land Bank Authority for $1, planning to restore the building to its original grandeur and preserve it for the community. However, after his plans failed to materialize, he returned the building to the city. It was again sold for $1 in 2014 to Oracle Design as one of more than a dozen historic residential properties in Louisville that the firm identified as part of its ambitious historic preservation project.
Quinn Chapel A.M.E. Church (Louisville)
Built in 1884, this distinctive Gothic Revival church features two three-story towers on either side of its central section, which is made of red brick with terracotta accents. The main sanctuary features a soaring, two-story ceiling that once held a vibrant congregation and hosted Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. at the start of the Civil Rights Movement.
In the late 1950s and early 1960s, the building did double duty as a house of worship and a meeting site for activists planning protests and demonstrations on behalf of desegregation and fair housing practices. Dr. King presented a lecture at the church in April 1961, speaking to a crowd of more than 1,000 people in support of the movement to desegregate the South.
In the decades that followed, the congregation shrank, as did the needed funds to maintain the historic building. The deteriorating property was sold to the YMCA of Greater Louisville in 2002 to become part of its nearby Chestnut Street facility. However, the nonprofit organization also struggled to raise the money to cover desperately needed repair and rehabilitation.
However, the African American Civil Rights Grant Program recently awarded nearly $1 million for restoration work on the property, including roof repair, gutter work and stabilization of the brick walls and foundation. Additional planned work will refurbish the church’s ornate windows and weatherize the building. But, for now, it stands as yet another example of abandoned places in Kentucky.
Hayswood Hospital (Maysville)
Perched on a hillside overlooking the Ohio River, the Hayswood Hospital was originally built as a seminary in 1915 but was transformed into a healthcare facility in 1923. For the next 60 years, the modest building provided space for medical treatment to residents of this rural community as well as patients from southwestern Ohio, who gained access to the facility with the opening of the Simon Kenton Bridge in 1931. The U.S. Navy also relied on the hospital to help treat victims of psychological trauma related to the 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor.
Like many small-town medical facilities, Hayswood Hospital fell behind the rapid pace of healthcare modernization in the early 1980s, and damage to the building from a nearby earthquake further added to its burden. Nashville’s Hospital Corporation of America took over the nonprofit hospital in 1981 and operated it as Maysville Hospital until 1983, when it closed the aging facility and moved all of its patients to the newly-constructed Meadowview Regional Medical Center on the south side of town.
Over the nearly 40 years since, the abandoned hospital has been left to decay. In some of the patient rooms, the old furniture and medical equipment appear to have been mostly untouched, while other areas of the building have been trashed by vandals and damaged by wind and water, leaving shattered glass, rusting metal and splashes of mildew on the floors and walls.
Due to the anticipated high cost of rehabilitating the property and performing needed environmental remediation, no public or private entity has yet stepped forward to attempt the endeavor.
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Merchant’s Ice Tower (Louisville)
Opened in 1881 as the headquarters for the Schaefer-Meyer Brewing Company, this historic Beaux Arts-style concrete and brick structure was once the largest brewery in the southern U.S. The 13-story, two million square-foot facility produced more than 50,000 barrels of beer at its peak in 1901 and was later sold to the Fehr Brewing Company, which folded after the passage of Prohibition.
In 1920, the building found new life as Merchant’s Ice & Cold Storage Company, which operated in the space until the early 1980s. As it sat vacant for the two decades that followed, it deteriorated into a neighborhood eyesore. A 2006 plan to renovate the property as a mixed-use retail and residential development never materialized, and a proposed luxury senior living development fell through in 2010.
By the end of that year, loose bricks began tumbling intermittently from the building’s tower, forcing the removal of the handsome brick façade but retaining the concrete and cast-iron frame underneath at this shining example of abandoned places in Kentucky.
The tower was recently purchased by local investors, who have announced plans to refurbish and repurpose the historic site as a combination of retail, restaurant and office space on the lower floors and apartments on the higher floors, crowned with a rooftop bar overlooking the city’s downtown area. In the meantime, though, if you’re on the hunt for some of the best abandoned places in Kentucky, make sure the Ice Tower is on your radar.
William Tarr House (Millersburg)
This antebellum mansion was built by A.J. Hitt, who owned and operated a flour and grist mill in Millersburg in the mid-19th century. The Federal-style residence was located just south of the city proper and included elaborate Flemish-bond masonry and hand-carved wood paneling.
The home was purchased in 1877 by local businessman William Tarr, who owned the Lexington-based Ashland Distilling Company in addition to other entrepreneurial ventures. Tarr updated the home with Italianate styling, most notably an inset balustraded balcony and ornate cornices.
After more than a century of continuous occupation, the estate was abandoned in 1985. Though its curved brick walls and dramatic staircases are still standing, many of its fine details have deteriorated considerably over the years, in part due to lack of maintenance and in part due to the carelessness of vandals and intruders.
Chunks of plaster and paint litter the dusty floors, and the yard is choked with overgrown trees, grass and weeds. Dilapidated wood shutters droop from the windows like teardrops shed in response to the sad state of this formerly regal historic mansion.
Ghost Ship (Petersburg)
Now known locally as the “Ghost Ship,” this vessel is marooned in a tributary of the Ohio River in northern Kentucky. It first set sail in 1902 as The Celt, a luxury steam-powered cruise ship commissioned by a railroad mogul. It was later renamed The Sachem by new owners and was promoted to U.S.S. Sachem when it was pulled into Navy service during World War I.
The zippy little vessel was outfitted with machine guns and depth charges and sent after the German U-boats that were plaguing British and American forces. It returned to civilian use after the war, sailing the New York waterways in search of fish until it was once again recruited for military service after the attack on Pearl Harbor. It was equipped with sonar, new weaponry and the name U.S.S. Phenakite and sent out to defend American territory against German forces.
The vessel’s military exploits ended with World War II in 1945, and it resumed its identity as the Sachem. It was used by several cruise lines as a recreational ship and even appeared in the 1986 video for Madonna’s hit song “Papa Don’t Preach.”
By then privately owned, it was anchored in the muddy waters of the Ohio River in 1987, where it has remained untouched for more than 30 years. Though visible from the shore, visitors who want to get a closer look at this shining example of abandoned places in Kentucky will need to paddle out to the ship via kayak or canoe.
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Fort Knox Tank Graveyard (Fort Knox)
For one day each year, civilians have the opportunity to peek inside the restricted areas of the Fort Knox military base. The base opens its gates on Memorial Day to provide enhanced access to the more than 100 cemeteries on site, but visitors can also get a glimpse of the base’s abandoned tanks while on the property.
As you drive through the base, you can spot retired tank models in varying states of decay on the sides of the road. A few are instantly identifiable, but many are camouflaged by dirt and brush; one even has a tree growing up through its open hatch.
Some appear to have been used as training targets, while others may have been used in recovery exercises or simply abandoned when they suffered mechanical issues. The collection includes M-60, M-47 Patton and M-48 models, among others.
Our Final Thoughts on Abandoned Places in Kentucky
Those who are into urban exploration in the Kentucky state area, and wanting to explore abandoned places in Kentucky, should get comfortable with Kentucky trespassing laws. Luckily, in the state of Kentucky, the laws are easy to understand and are pretty cut and dry.
For these cases, you should familiarize yourself with x. For more about obtaining permission to explore abandoned places in Kentucky, check out our guide Explore Abandoned Buildings: How To Get Permission.