Riverside Retreat

The Highland House in Carrollton
returns to its former splendor

CARROLLTON, Ky. (January 2019) – The Highland House, also known as the Barker House, has been a notable Carroll County, Ky., landmark since the early 1900s. Built in 1920, the house’s owner, Ralph Malcolm Barker, was influential in the agriculture and tobacco commerce of the region. The Barker family was prominent in the tobacco commerce for decades, 1865-1952.

Photo by Don Ward

The historic Highland House is pictured above. It has recently been purchased, renovated and re-opened as a guest house and event facility by David and Tracy Ison of Owenton, Ky.

Ralph M. Barker, known as a tobacco baron, was referred to locally as “Mr. Tobacco.” The R. M. Barker Home (Highland House) reflected the wealth and prominence of the tobacco baron, a local business and civic leader. The impact of the Barker family on the region’s economy and the eclectic architecture earned the Highland House a listing on the National Historic Register.
The Highland House, at 1705 Highland Ave., in its grandeur was a place to gather. “Mr. Tobacco” loved to entertain family and friends. He also had elaborate holiday displays during Christmas and the Fourth of July. The holiday displays were enjoyed by local families and soon became a memorable tradition for the community.
Barker documented many of the celebrations, family and river life in film. His large amateur film collection is housed at the University of Kentucky and part of the Kentucky Digital Library.
After Barker’s death, the house had a series of owners. The house began to deteriorate, falling into disrepair with no heat or hot water and the ceiling literally on the floor when Don and Ruth Mougey came to Carrollton from Iowa and purchased the land in July 1996. The Mougeys lovingly restored the home and opened it as a bed and breakfast.
The Highland House Bed and Breakfast operated for many years, then closing after Don Mougey died in June 2013. The Highland House once again became a quiet remembrance of days gone by.

Photo by Rhonda Pennington

Tracy Ison is pictured sitting in the front room of the Highland House.

April 2018 was a new beginning for the Highland House. Dr. David and Tracy Ison purchased the home. The Isons currently reside in Owenton, Ky., where David is a special needs dentist. Tracy is a retired nurse.
Both have always been attracted to the river, so they began a journey looking for a place on the Ohio River. The Isons had found another home on the river to purchase, however, that sale fell through. Then the couple toured the Highland House and just loved it. They have obtained the necessary permits from Carrollton Planning and Zoning to re-open it and hold special events.
The Isons began refurbishing and decorating the Highland House, returning it to its former grandeur and stature in the community.
Both have been involved hands on in the process. David can be seen clearing the overgrown gardens, stopping long enough to wave at the barges passing by. Tracy has been busy painting  the interior and hanging new curtains, always looking to add finishing touches. Tracy has been caught in her heels with a drill, ready to leave for an event grabbing the drill to do one more thing before heading out the door.
The Isons have collected antiques for years, and now many have found a prominent place in the Highland House. The Isons have a keen eye for style and comfort, both of which will add to the experience of guests. The Isons have maintained historical features, pictures and stories from the estate’s original owner. Barker had a favorite place to sit in the house.
His chair was placed next to the fireplace with one of his beloved great danes at his feet. The position of the chair next to the fireplace allowed him to view the river through the house and the front lawn. The Isons, too, have a chair placed in the same spot so guests can experience the same views.
A grand opening for the the Highland House was held in August. The Highland House Bed and Breakfast boasts 15 rooms. The estate will operate as a bed and breakfast with the added offering of complete wedding services from planning to the “I Do.” Wedding planning assistance and select vendors will be available to help couples make their wedding truly a lifetime memory, Tracy said.

Photo by Rhonda Pennington

The living room of the Highland House is pictured above.

The estate will be available for garden ceremonies or riverfront vows. Kimberly Pinkston, Director of Special Events, said she is committed to making a couple’s wedding dreams a reality.
“Pinch me I must be dreaming. How could you not feel like a princess being here,” Pinkston said “It takes my breath away – from the south lawn view to the warm breezes of the river.”
The home is open for business and professional meetings and private parties. Recently, prom couples enjoyed photo shoots commemorating their night with photos with the river, gardens and stately home as the backdrop.
The Isons are at the estate most weekends and plan to retire to the Highland House in the near future.
“Owning a historic home is something we never dreamed of,” Tracy said. “We found a community that loves this home as much as we do. We would love young married couples to drive by and smile. Later, they will be able to drive by and share with their children. It wouldn’t be possible without community.”

Kimberly Pinkston

The Isons are committed to the Highland House Estate being an integral part of the community once again. People have stopped to share childhood memories of their Christmas and Fourth of July traditions or just to see the elaborate decorations. The Isons are planning their own style of holiday traditions to share with the community. They are committed to using and recommending local contractors and vendors – from caterers to florists and more.
Carroll County Tourism Director Misty Wheeler said, “We are very excited about the re-opening and the new owners of the Highland House. They’re great folks. They have made some beautiful renovations and the home looks lovely. It’s exciting to drive down Hwy. 42 and see one of Carrollton’s most popular historic homes decorated, looking great and alive with new energy. We’re certain that anyone who books an event or overnight stay at the Highland House will be very pleased. The Highland House will be asset to our community.”

• For more information, call the Isons at (859) 445-5002 or visit the website www.HighlandHouseVenue.com.

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