Frankfort Barracks

Historical Marker #2061 in Frankfort notes the location of barracks built by the federal government to house soldiers serving in Reconstruction-era Kentucky.

The immediate post-Civil War period in Kentucky has often been referred to by historians as a period of "Readjustment" rather than "Reconstruction." This term was believed more applicable due to the fact that Kentucky had not seceded from the Union and thus the state government did not need to be rebuilt. But for some, the term implies that the circumstances in post-war Kentucky were somewhat less demanding than those seceded states that underwent Radical Reconstruction. Although Kentucky’s state government did not receive a major reworking, the end of slavery did bring significant changes to the state’s social and economic systems. These changes created a backlash against African Americans that were as extreme as in almost any former slave state.

At least one physical remnant of Reconstruction remains to remind Kentucky of this tragic period. The Frankfort Barracks, built in 1871, still stand in south Frankfort on Shelby Street between the Kentucky River and the present state capitol building. The barracks were constructed by local master mason Alexander Brawner and leased to the United States military from 1871 to 1876.

A small notice ran in the November 10, 1871, Frankfort Commonwealth that read, "A. G. Brawner is now engaged in erecting three brick barracks on the Coleman Spring lot which will be leased to the U.S. for the use of Federal troops for two years. The barracks are to be large and substantial and so arranged that at the expiration of the lease can be turned into tenement houses." The lease was renewed in two year periods at the rate of $200.00 a month. Apparently the troops were needed longer than initially expected, because the lease did not expire until the summer of 1876.

From April until December 1871, the enlisted men lived in tents while the officers resided at various places in Frankfort. The command initially consisted of a headquarters for the 4th U.S. Infantry, its staff and band, companies D and K of the 4th Infantry, and one medical officer. On December 1, 1871, the command moved into the barracks. The structures were noted as "healthy and comfortable quarters." Later the barracks also served as the home for the 16th Infantry Regiment.

It is doubtful that the federal government would have taken the time, effort, and expense to have the barracks built and occupied for five years (a year longer than the Civil War) if there was not an expressed need for their presence and protection. The atrocities that were committed against freedmen and freedwomen of Kentucky were readily documented by the Freedmen's Bureau. Incidents including the stabbing of former United States Colored Troops soldier George Mukes after he attended an African American political meeting in Frankfort in 1872 were all too common, especially after black men obtained the right to vote with ratification of the 15th Amendment in 1870.

Today the Frankfort Barracks serve as apartments, homes, and businesses.