BLOOMFIELD, Ky. — “There is no grand scheme,” said Linda Bruckheimer, who divides her time between a home in Beverly Hills, Calif., and Walnut Groves Farm on the outskirts of tiny Bloomfield, Ky., population 850, just 15 minutes northeast of Bardstown.
“I hadn’t planned to do all this,” she said.
But on a gray winter day in Nelson County, the soft-spoken, diminutive author of two semi-biographical novels — the best- selling “Dreaming Southern” and its 2004 sequel, “Southern Belles of Honeysuckle Way” — was seated in the foyer of her grand 1820 Greek Revival house set amid 1,200 picturesque acres.
Walnut Groves Farm is actually a compound rivaling the beauty of Shakertown at Pleasant Hill. Besides a new horse barn still under construction — dark charcoal with white cupolas, cedar horse stalls and color-coordinated horse blankets in an immaculate tack room — there’s another barn hiding the amateur hockey rink and Zamboni, a few grand guest cabins, a smokehouse turned billiard parlor, a washhouse, cannery, swimming pool and spa that looks like a stone-edged pond, a gazebo much like a round Grecian temple, a restored slave cabin alongside a lake and miles of white fence and dry stone walls. The mortar-less stacked stones have been perfectly restored, without a gap in sight.
Back a long driveway behind stone pillars and locked iron gates, just past the authentic cannon, is the antebellum main house — with white columns, of course. Bruckheimer has filled her Kentucky home with soft, sunny colors and American antiques. “I’ve always loved antiques.”
And there are large-scale oil paintings in the foyer, library and front parlor. A painting over the red Duncan Phyfe sofa in the library has an elaborately carved-and-gilded frame labeled “Marching Through Georgia,” 1815, Thomas Nast. The historic military scenes her husband loves.
He’s Jerry Bruckheimer, the mega-successful film and TV producer. Just a sampling of his films include “Top Gun,””Flashdance,””Beverly Hills Cop,””Black Hawk Down” and “Coyote Ugly.” Since 2000, he’s conquered the small screen with the hit TV series about forensics, “C.S.I.,” followed by many related series, plus “Without a Trace” and “Cold Case.” Bruckheimer’s foray into reality television sends couples around the globe in “The Amazing Race.”
Meanwhile, Mrs. Bruckheimer served six years as West Coast editor for Mirabella magazine and was writer-producer for two award- winning PBS specials.
She was born in 1945 and came of age in Louisville. Her first book, “Dreaming Southern” (Plume Printing, 1999), is a fictionalized account drawn from her own family’s late-1950s car trip from Kentucky to California. Her book’s characters may be Lila Mae Wooten and her four children crammed into a 1953 Packard-plus-trailer — but the ’50s references and description of the wild ride along Route 66 are so vivid, you know the author was along, likewise looking for the glamorous good life in Los Angeles.
After finding it, Bruckheimer felt that common tug to go back to her roots.
“The Southern Belles of Honeysuckle Way,” due out in paperback by the end of this month, put two of Lila Mae’s grown-up siblings and their teen-agers back on Route 66. They’re leaving California, headed for the fictional Blue Lick Springs, Ky., where they can see family and celebrate the good old days.
The novel’s villain, Horace Castle, happens to be a slick- talking developer aiming to bulldoze all the charm right out of the Commonwealth’s quaint village. Amid all the zaniness of relatives and small-town life, there’s romance and the belles’ determination to restore the town’s buildings.
That’s exactly what Linda Bruckheimer of Beverly Hills has done because her other passion, besides writing, is historic preservation. She’s a board member of the National Trust for Historic Preservation. In addition, the New York Times Magazine termed her “an advocate against overdevelopment in Kentucky who’s working with the University of Kentucky’s horticulture department to develop viable crops — like lavender, echinacea and Saint Johnswort — that will give new life to aging agricultural lands.
“Without new crops, land is worth little, and that leads to development,” Bruckheimer told the New York writer. To use a line from her “Southern Belles” book, developers swarm into depleted agricultural areas, turning the community into “a wasteland of fast- food restaurants, chain stores and neighborhoods with charming, woodsy names and Astro Turf lawns.”
Bloomfield, the real Kentucky village, is being transformed into a self-sufficient town and tourist destination by Bruckheimer and other residents enthusiastic about the tired town’s turnaround. Tourists may not visit the very private residence of Walnut Groves and its outbuildings; just the town, unless they’re among the Bruckheimers’ celebrity friends who visit for Derby weekend, or simply come to relax and envision another century in the deluxe, redesigned cabins or to join Jerry Bruckheimer’s Bad Boys hockey team — skating in the Walnut Groves Ice Garden — rustic on the outside, state-of-the-art inside. The famous film producer grew up in Michigan, which explains his favorite cold-weather sport.
The private estate began with Linda Bruckheimer’s purchase of the fine 1820 house, which she saved from old shag carpeting throughout. She kept the peacocks strolling about the grounds.
“I thought it was a mess when I first saw the house.” But with all the woodwork intact, she came to revise that opinion.
A cabin that once stood on the property by a rose garden was reduced to two stone chimneys, but Bruckheimer blended materials from two-and-one-half Kentucky cabins to make a fine guesthouse near the original cabin site. Then she got a call from Bloomfield, telling her about another cabin suitable for her acreage along the Lincoln Heritage Trail. This cabin had belonged to Nancy Hanks’ uncle, so the Richard Berry Jr. Cabin from Washington County was saved and erected at Walnut Groves Farm. A dogtrot cabin has joined that one. Then she agreed to restore a small slave cabin on behalf of Bloomfield citizens, buying it for $1 and setting it alongside a lake in view of cars coming and going from town.
A series of other interesting outbuildings are new but look old, such as the brick cannery with its wood-shake, conical roof and old cobblestone floor. Soft lights and a window or two illuminate the canning jars lined up on circular shelves. The jars are filled with vegetables from the large garden nearby; its perimeter a fence constructed of old tobacco stakes.
“This has all happened within the last 10 years, and I had no grand plan when I came here,” Bruckheimer said.
“I’m busier here in Kentucky (than in Los Angeles) — and all the buildings were done in record time. The dogtrot cabin was built in 38 days — from nothing on the ground to mints on the pillows.”
She said it has taken a lot of phone calls the past year and a half to organize the construction of the washhouse, cannery, storehouse and horse barn.
Along the way, she helped launch the renaissance of Bloomfield. She consulted the citizens first about what the town should be, could be like. She bought and restored the derelict 1899 Wells Building (on the National Register of Historic Places), then more buildings were restored until an entire Bruckheimer block of five was formed.
On one end, a narrow space is ready and waiting for some yet-to- be-found proprietor of an antique shop. It’s next to Amy’s Florist Shop, totally tasteful and uncrowded, all the better to see the well- polished, wide-plank floor underscoring the display of Valentine arrangements.
Jenny Wigginton of Olde Bloomfield Operations, LLC, and Bruckheimer’s assistant and spokesperson, gave a quick tour along this strip of red-brick sidewalk, its old herringbone pattern intact. A grant was written to restyle and give handicapped access to the bridge over Simpson Creek that flows through the center of town.
The charming copper-lantern streetlights were found and purchased by Bruckheimer, she said, after striking a deal with city hall that taxes would pay for their electrification and installation. First the copper fixtures had to be rescued from their coat of bright blue paint.
Further along the sidewalk is the Nettie Jarvis antique shop, fully operational after the raccoons were chased out and the back of the falling-down building restored. This fine shop at 111 Taylorsville Road is well worth a day-trip from Cincinnati. (Nettie Jarvis was Linda Bruckheimer’s great-grandmother.)
Open from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday or by appointment, Nettie Jarvis is the real thing, a shop specializing in Kentucky antiques, though fine ones are scarce by now and expensive. The rest are American antiques, not mere collectibles, all neatly arranged in room settings with historical accuracy. There’s a fine silver display on the first floor in high wood-and-glass cases that seem to stretch forever. For more information, call (502) 252-9555.
For being so small, Bloomfield is remarkably self-sufficient, though its economy was no doubt hurt by Louisville malls 25 miles away. Wigginton reflected on the town’s past glory: “We used to have the tobacco market, and a train (depot) — .”
Now the town has a hardware store, pharmacy, food market, video source, antique stores, two florists — and other citizens have been inspired to restore the buildings they own. Bruckheimer restored a large building across the street from Nettie Jarvis as the Olde Bloomfield Meeting Hall, a family-friendly recreation place. It’s a delightful dip into the 1950s with a snack shop, ice cream parlor chairs, four bowling lanes, pool, pinball, a roller rink jazzed with neon lights and a Stereopticon gizmo on four legs. Just drop in a penny and visit the past. The walls of the roller rink are lined with black-and-white blowups of Linda Bruckheimer’s old family photos.
Due to her influential presence off and on, plus her preservation zeal, Bloomfield may be the only Kentucky town to boast both a Zamboni for her husband’s private ice rink and a perfumerie downtown. Her daughter, Alexandra Balahoutis, is not only a writer for Elle but also trained in the ancient perfume arts. The exotic shop is decorated with L.A. Confidential magazines, jars of dried lavender and rosebuds, plus oversize, antique perfume bottles from Guerlain and other Paris houses.
Bloomfield is definitely an entertaining trip back to the future.