The Old State Capitol

300 West Broadway, Frankfort KY

After Frankfort was chosen as the capital of Kentucky in 1792, the first capitol building (probably built by John Cape of Lexington) was erected in 1794, but it burned down in 1813. The second building (designed by Matthew Kennedy and stipulated to be fireproof) burned in 1824 and was replaced by the current building.

This "Old State House" (click on the image above to see it full size) was built in 1827-1830 of what is known as Kentucky River marble. It was designed by Gideon Shryock who, with this building, was the first to introduce the Greek Revival architectural style west of the Appalachian mountains. This capitol served as seat of state government for 80 years until the new capitol was completed in 1909.

This is the only state capitol in the Union that was captured by Confederate forces (occupied for two months in 1862).

On January 30, 1900, Governor William Goebel (click on the image above to see it full size) was assassinated there -- the only governor in U.S. history to die as a result ofassassination. While a special legislative board debated the contested outcome of the governor's race between Goebel and William Taylor, an assassin gunned down Goebel in front of the building. This incident sparked a climactic moment during which Kentucky almost had its own civil war.

Leigh:   The first floor of the Old State Capitol contained the judge's chamber and two court rooms. These rooms are now used for exhibits of foods and the preparation of foods from the Indians to modern times.

Kelle:   As I walked into the Old Capitol, the first piece that captured my eye, was the self-supporting, double circular staircase made of marble. This is the only successful staircase of its kind in the United States and has been standing for 167 years. On this main floor are two courtrooms, the Judge's Chamber, the State Library, and the Public Square Exhibit. The restored areas are re-creating what the state capitol must have looked like as it was in the 1850s.

Leigh:    The second floor contains the Senate and the House. The House was not only where the Representatives met, but was also used for Inaugural balls and the funerals of prominent people. Throughout the capitol are fine Kentucky paintings of prominent statesmen by such famous artists as Kentucky portrait painter, Matthew Harris Jouett. There are also sculptures and furniture original to the building.

Kelle:    There are four large doors as you reach the top of the stairs. The first door I entered led to the House of Representatives. This room consisted of two open fireplaces on each side of the Speaker's chair. There was a standing podium with the seal of the Kentucky Historical Society, 1836. Placed above the Speaker's chair was a painting of George Washington; to the left of the chair was the Marquis de Lafayette; and to the right of the chair was Daniel Boone, Carpenter's Hall, and Congress Hall.

The second room I entered was the Senate room. This particular room was filled with antebellum furniture, possibly Empire style. Above the podium at the front of the room, was a painting of Isaac Shelby. To the right was a painting of Zachary Taylor (shown on his horse, "Old Whitey"); to the left was Henry Clay; and on the back wall was William Henry Harrison. The Governor's office was in the Annex Building next door. For a complete list of the works of art in the Old State Capitol and some interesting hotlinks to other historical sites on the Web, click HERE.

Leigh:    We are lucky that this fine example of architecture is still standing today since it was scheduled to be demolished not once but twice. Luckily the first time, the state ran out of money after constructing the Old State Annex. It was again saved, when the plans for the new capitol proved too large for the existing site. For this we should be extremely grateful.

The Old Capitol has been the home of the Kentucky Historical Society since 1920. To view more about the Old Capitol as a museum of the Kentucky Historical Society, click HERE. According to Nathan Prichard, the wonderful photographs on this site (and the other sites associated with the Kentucky Historical Society) were "produced by one of the Commonwealth's most magnificent photographers, who has gone unrecognized by both his peers and posterity, but remains loyal to the cause." We here at L.C.C. urge you to stop by his office and give him a well deserved pat on the back. Rock on, Nathan!

If you want to go and don't know how to get there, click HERE for a Frankfort Area Map.

by Kelle Stanfield and Leigh Wilson, May 5, 1997

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Posted May 17, 1997