Old State House

Historical Marker #1524 in Frankfort notes the location of the Old State Capitol, which served as the state’s center of government from 1830 to 1910.

Due to the generous donation of land and building materials by the town's citizens, Frankfort was chosen as the permanent capital of Kentucky. In 1794, the first capitol building was constructed, which served as the state's seat of government until it burned in 1813. A new building was built in 1816, but it, too, was destroyed by fire in 1824. Shortly thereafter, a third capitol building was commissioned. Construction began in 1827 and was completed in 1830. This is the building that stands on the location today. It served as the center of state government until a larger capitol building (the current state capitol) was constructed in south Frankfort in 1910.

Gideon Shryrock, the young architect from Lexington who was chosen to design the building, selected the Greek Temple of Minerva as a model for the structure. The building was constructed from limestone quarried from Franklin and Mercer counties and included intricate plaster work by craftsman and a free man of color named Henry Mordecai.

The Old State Capitol has been the scene of several significant events and hosted numerous noted period politicians. Senator Henry Clay spoke in the building a number of times. One of his last speeches there was in the fall of 1850. In his message to the General Assembly, Clay noted that because of the sectional issue of slavery, the emergence of two new political parties appeared imminent. One would be for the Union and the other against it. Clay stated, "Whatever may be its component elements, I am for the party that is for the Union."

When the Civil War erupted a decade later, Kentucky, as a proslavery border state, found itself in an unenviable position. Governor Beriah Magoffin called for the General Assembly to meet on May 6, 1861. In that message Magoffin wrote, "Whatever else should be done, it is, in my judgment, the duty of Kentucky, without delay, to place herself in a complete position for defense." On May 20, the legislature heeded the governor's recommendation and declared neutrality. That decision lasted until September, when the state chose to align with the Union.

In September 1862, the Old State Capitol was captured by Confederate forces, which held it for about a month. The Union legislature fled to Louisville. On September 4, Confederate Governor Richard Hawes was inaugurated in a ceremony at the capitol building. That day, Union forces approached Frankfort from Louisville and the Confederates retreated south. The Battle of Perryville was fought in Boyle County four days later.

After a particularly close and contested governor's election in 1899, the state capitol was the scene of murder and conspiracy. Democratic candidate William Goebel was shot while approaching the building. During the next few days the legislature named Goebel governor, but he died shortly thereafter.

Today, the Old State Capitol serves as an educational tool for the Kentucky Historical Society. Thousands of school children visit this historic structure each year to learn about the state's rich history.


Old State Capitol Tour
This is a video of a school tour of the Old State Capitol in Frankfort. Video courtesy of the Kentucky Historical Society.
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