Frankfort Chosen as Capital

Historical Marker #1774 in Frankfort notes how that city became the seat of Kentucky's government.

Frankfort's history pre-dates its role as the state's capitol. Located in an "S" curve of the Kentucky River, part of the land that became Frankfort was first surveyed in 1773. Robert McAfee paid Hancock Taylor to survey 600 acres and lay out two tracks that now make up much of present downtown Frankfort. McAfee abandoned his tracks, while Taylor laid out 200 acres east of the current downtown in a separate survey. Taylor, however, died before he could claim the 200 acres. Virginia Governor Thomas Jefferson signed the Taylor land grant in 1780. The land was purchased by Humphrey Marshall, who, in turn, sold it to Revolutionary War officer James Wilkinson. In 1786, Wilkinson received approval from Virginia authorities to lay out a town. The area had been called Franks Ford in honor of Stephen Frank, who had been killed there by Native Americans in 1780. Over time the name evolved into Frankfort. In 1792, Wilkinson sold his Frankfort land to Andrew Holmes.

When Kentucky finally achieved statehood in 1792, a commission was appointed to find a permanent seat for the state government. The commissioners were instructed to find the most suitable physical location that would also provide the most assistance toward the construction of the state capitol building.

Several cities and towns were considered for the prestigious location. However, when Andrew Holmes pledged Frankfort land, money, and building materials for the new capitol building far in excess of the other bids, the location committee was impressed. The commission recommended Frankfort on December 5, 1792, and the choice was approved by the legislature three days later.

The legislature met at Holmes' house, which was first owned by Wilkinson, until the first state capitol was completed in 1794. The legislature considered moving the capital city when a fire destroyed the capitol building in 1813, but generous donations by the citizens of Frankfort to build a new capitol kept the city as the state's seat of government. That capitol was completed in 1816, but it too burned in 1824. The state's third capitol building was a Greek-Revival building which was used for eighty years. When this building was deemed too small to meet the state's growing needs, a new capitol building was constructed in south Frankfort, which began being used in 1910 and is still the state's capitol.