Westport Courthouse

Historical marker #2594 tells the history behind the Westport, Kentucky courthouse. Westport was the site of the first courthouse in the county from 1828-1838, before the courthouse was moved permanently to La Grange. What is now the Westport Methodist Church was the original courthouse.

During the early formative years of Oldham County, Westport was the best choice for the courthouse due to the steady stream of settlers pouring into the county. These settlers established thriving commercial businesses in the river town, which served as a main shipping port for nearby towns. The towns of Lynchburg, Brownsboro, and La Grange had also been considered for the site of the courthouse. Court was held in these different locations as there was competition between Lynchburg and La Grange. Westport was chosen after many proposals, petitions, and county-wide votes to determine the locations. Oldham County became the 74th county in Kentucky in 1824 and four years later, the first court sessions were held in this building.

An act of the General Assembly delivered to the county court on February 19, 1827 authorized the legal voters of Oldham County to vote for their permanent seat of justice. At this time, the choices were Westport and land proposed by William Berry Taylor, referred to as “the Crossroads” (La Grange). After the votes were tallied, there were 623 for La Grange and 545 for Westport. The county court was held for the last time in Westport at the home of Joel Kemper in June 1827. Even though La Grange was expanding, a bill was passed by the Governor to move the county seat back to Westport. In March 1828, court was again held at the home of Joel Kemper in Westport. A courthouse was built and court held for the first time in this building on September 15, 1828. At that time it seemed as if river commerce would guarantee Westport would remain the county seat.

A decade later on February 16, 1838, a bill was passed enabling the people of Oldham County to vote again for the permanent location of the county seat. The election took place on the first Monday in May 1838. La Grange finally won out, as the railway that would soon cut through the town would provide the transportation system that would draw commerce away from the Ohio River. During the July 1838 term, Reubin Pemberton, Jailer, and Patrick H. Blankenship, Deputy, were ordered to move all county records to La Grange. Ellis Oglesby was the presiding judge for both the last court session in Westport and the first session in La Grange. The building then became the Union Church and today houses the Westport Methodist Church.

Original courthouse documents remain indicating that the court at Westport was responsible for indicting criminals, appointing justices of the peace, resolving sales, and auctions and escapes of enslaved people as well as hire-outs. William Gatewood was Justice of the Peace for Oldham County, as well as a slave holder. Hand-written documents indicate he was charged for the illegal hire-out of Mahala, who was the mother-in-law of fellow slave Henry Bibb. Henry, his wife Malinda, and child Mary Frances, were owned by Gatewood as well on his nearby plantation in present-day Trimble County. Freedom seeker Henry Bibb escaped slavery to become an abolitionist in Canada. It was in Ipswich, Canada that he became the first black editor of a Canadian newspaper and established a colony for fugitive slaves.

Westport Courthouse

First court session held here in
1828. In addition to indicting
criminals and appointing justices
of the peace, the court resolved
sales, auctions, and escapes of
enslaved people & settled disputes
pertaining to slave hire-outs. The
court moved to nearby LaGrange
in 1838.

Sponsored by Oldham County Tourism
and Oldham County Historical Society

The Courthouse and Enslavement

Records related to enslavement
were common. Justice of the
Peace William Gatewood was
charged for the illegal hire-out
of Mahala, mother of Henry Bibb’s
wife Malinda. Bibb, a famous
abolitionist, escaped Gatewood’s
enslavement & created a colony
in Canada for fugitive slaves.

Sponsored by Oldham County Tourism
and Oldham County Historical Society

This marker was dedicated on August 31, 2019.