After Kentucky became a state, five commissioners were appointed on June 20, 1792, to choose a location for the capital. They had several communities jostling for the honor and presumably a list of criteria but most importantly the commissioners were looking for free land and free buildings. General James Wilkinson who had purchased this land on the north side of the Kentucky River in 1786 offered the use of one of his buildings for seven years, 10 boxes of window glass, 1,500 pounds of nails, a passel of locks and hinges plus the use of a sawmill, quarry, wagon and two good horses. And threw in $3,000 of gold. Frankfort, named for Stephen Frank who was killed in 1780 by Indians while making salt in a ford of the Kentucky River, became the capital of the Commonwealth of Kentucky.

All was amicable enough in the early going but with a covetous and increasingly powerful town on either side, the capital never rested easily in Frankfort. Twice the state Capitol burned, in 1815 and 1824, and each time Louisville and Lexington made ominous noises about shifting the seat of government away from Frankfort. Even after a grand government temple was constructed to serve as Kentucky state capitol in 1830 the town continued with an eye out for the day when its capital status would be lost. The population grew by scarcely 200 people over the next ten years from 1,682 to 1,917. South Frankfort was annexed int he 1840s but 100 years later, in 1950, there were still fewer than 12,000 people in the capital city.

Economic growth was derailed by the coming of the railroads that shifted dreams from the Kentucky River to the ports of the Ohio River. At that Frankfort settled into the life of a prosperous town of manufacturing concerns of mostly local importance. There were distilleries, leather-makers, tobacco markets, pork processing, lumbering and hemp production. Today the streets of the business district, named by Wilkinson for family members and friends who were Colonial-era military leaders, are filled with souvenirs of the 19th century, as befits a town that was never in a rush to modernize and our walking tour will begin at the stateliest of those heritage structures...    

Old State Capitol
Broadway bounded by Madison, Clinton and Lewis streets

Lexington native Gideon Shyrock was 25 years old when got the commission to design his first building in 1830 and it was for the capitol of the Commonwealth of Kentucky. He decided to construct the first Greek Revival building west of the Allegheny Mountains using Kentucky River marble, a local crystalline limestone. Shyrock emulated ancient Mediterranean temples with a colonnade of Ionic columns and no windows. A domed lantern on the roof brought sunlight into the rotunda that is highlighted by a self-supporting stone circular stairway. This was the third building to hold the Kentucky government and it remained in service until 1910.


Thomas House
312 Washington Street

Landon Thomas, a successful lawyer, constructed this substantial brick home in 1840. In the 1870s the Federal-style building picked up an Italianate facelift, most noticeable at the bracketed roofline. This became the summer home of his sister Emily, who was encouraged by her merchant husband Richard Tubman to leave their Georgia plantation in the hot weather to avoid outbreaks of yellow fever. Emily Thomas Tubman was widowed in her early 40s in 1836 and after her husband’s death she petitioned the Georgia legislature to free her slaves and let them live free in Georgia. When she was denied Tubman offered her 144slaves the option of returning to Africa or remaining on the plantation. Sixty-nine chose to go and Tubman paid some $6,000 to cover the cost of the trans-Atlantic passage. In Liberia a town was named for Tubman and the grandson of one her emancipated slaves served 27 years as President. 

The Church of the Ascension
311 Washington Street

The area’s oldest church began in a small law office in 1835. While Bishop Benjamin Bosworth Smith, the first elected Episcopal Bishop of Kentucky, was in New York City seeking funds, the ladies of the Church of the Ascension in Greenwich Village gave him $1,000 for the establishment of an Episcopal Church in Frankfort. The money was used to construct a wooden frame Greek Revival meetinghouse on this site in 1836 and the congregation took the name of its New York benefactors. The cornerstone for the current Gothic Revival stone church was laid in 1848 and completed four years later with parishioners John and Mary Hanna picking up the entire $20,000 price tag.

Milam House
308 Washington Street

Jacob Swigert constructed the small core of this brick building as an office in the 1830s. As it expanded it took on more of an Italianate flavor with window hoods and bracketed eaves. The most famous owner associated with the house was John W. Milam. Milam took over the business of manufacturing the world famous “Frankfort Kentucky” fishing reel, a concern started by his father Benjamin. There is evidence of fishing reels in China a thousand years ago but no mechanical leaps forward in reel mechanics until George Snyder of Kentucky developed a reel that produced four turns of the spool with each turn of the handle. Snyder was a watchmaker by trade and made a few reels for himself and friends. In the 1840s two brothers, Jonathan and Benjamin Meek, also watchmakers began producing reels based on Snyder’s reel as a side business. In 1837 Benjamin C. Milam joined the business as an apprentice. Not liking watchwork, Milam concentrated on perfecting the multiplying reel and in time was doing all the work of making reels that were stamped “J.F. & B.F. Meek.” As Milam eventually developed his own business the celebrated reels won international awards and were favorites of Presidents Cleveland, McKinley and Roosevelt before Milam died in 1904. 

Morehead House
326 West Main Street at northeast corner of West Main Street

Mark Hardin built this elegant seat, with bricks laid in a Flemish bond pattern, in 1810. It carries the name of Charles Slaughter Morehead who bought the house in 1847, which he also used for his law practice. Morehead didn’t have time for too many cases. He was elected to Congress in 1848. served two terms and then won election as the 20th Governor of Kentucky as the only member of the Know Nothing Party to ascend to the executive office. After his term ended in 1859 Morehead moved to Louisville to return to private practice. During the Civil War he was a Southern sympathizer and outspoken critic of the Lincoln administration. Arrested for disloyalty, Morehead was imprisoned for six months although no charges were ever filed. After his parole Morehead refused to swear an oath of allegiance and fled to Canada, then to Europe and finally to Mexico until the war ended.

Swigert House
300 Washington Avenue on northwest corner of Main Street

This was a 25-year old, four-room house when Jacob Swigert purchased it in 1840. Swigert and his brother Philip had their fingers in almost everything going on in Frankfort from railroads to gasworks to schools. They owned a woolen mill and slaughterhouse. At one time they owned the largest herd of American Jersey cattle in the United States after importing 21 head from the Isle of Jersey.  In addition to expanding the house, Swigert switched its orientation off Main Street to its present perch on Washington.

Crittenden House
401 West Main Street at southwest corner of Washington Street

This L-shaped late-Georgian style house was built around 1800 by Charles Sprole on property once owned by Aaron Burr. In 1819 the house was purchased by John Jordan Crittenden who, at the age of 32, had just resigned his United States Senate seat after two years because he found state politics more interesting. President John Quincy Adams nominated Crittenden for the United States Supreme Court in 1828 but he was not confirmed due this close ties to Henry Clay. Crittenden returned to national politics in 1834 as he became active in the organizing of the Whig Party from the remnants of the defunct National Republican Party. After that Crittenden would be elected three times to the United States Senate, serve as United States Attorney General under two Presidents, put in a stint as Kentucky governor and win a race for the United States House of Representatives. Through it all this is where he lived. Upon his death in 1863, John Crittenden was mourned by thousands in the Frankfort streets and eulogized as the town’s leading citizen. 


First Presbyterian Church
416 West Main Street 

This is the second meetinghouse for the Frankfort Presbyterians, begun in 1849 on plans from Jacob Beaverson of Louisville. Beaverson based his design on theworks of Andrew Jackson Downing, a champion of the Gothic Revival style, who published several influential architectural pattern books before his early death in a steamship boiler explosion at the age of 36 in 1852. The bell tower soars 85 feet above Main Street. 

Hoge House
302 Wilkinson Street at northwest corner of Main Street

Like several homes in the neighborhood a parade of notable Kentuckians have lived here since it was erected around 1810. But the 200-year old Federal-style house stands out for its construction of timbers filled in with brick and mortar and covered with clapboard, a practice seldom seen in central Kentucky.


Liberty Hall
218 Wilkinson Street

John Brown, who introduced the petition for Kentucky statehood while a Virginia Congressman, constructed this house in 1796. By then Brown was representing Kentucky in the United States Senate which he did until his defeat for a third term in 1805. Since he was away in Philadelphia for much of his time the house was not fully finished until his return. Brown remained here until his death in 1837 during which time he managed his large land holdings, owned a ferry on the Kentucky River, helped begin the Kentucky Historical Society and served as Sheriff of Franklin County. 

Orlando Brown House
202 Wilkinson Street

John Brown’s will provided an equal division of his property between his two sons. Elder son Mason inherited Liberty Hall and Orlando got the funds for this house. Brown the younger hired Gideon Shyrock, Kentucky’s leading architect after his triumph at the State Capitol, to draw up plans for his new manor house. Shyrock delivered a trademark Greek Revival design that was executed by local builder Harrison Blanton who brought the project in for $5,000. 


Bibb-Burnley House
411 Wapping Street at southwest corner of Watson Court

John Instone built one of the first houses in town here in 1786. Instone named the street after his old neighborhood on the banks of the Thames River in his native England. John Bibb, a member of the Kentucky legislature, bought the property in 1856 and constructed the twenty-one room Gothic Revival house, marked by steep gables and bargeboards on the roof eaves. An amateur horticulturist, Bibb developed a a variety of butterhead lettuce with loose, delicate, and crisp but tender leaves that carries his name today. 

Rodman-Hewitt House
404 Wapping Street

This brick house was constructed around 1817 and picked up a Greek Revival porch a little later on. In 1859 Hugh Rodman, the 15th American to achieve the highest rank of Four-Star General in the United States Navy, was born in this house. He was duty officer during the Spanish-American War but was promoted to Rear Admiral in World War I and commanded a battleship division in the Atlantic Ocean. After the war Rodman served as Commander-in-Chief of the Pacific Fleet.

Vest-Lindsey House
401 Wapping Street at southwest corner of Washington Street

This five-bay Federal brick structure is one of Frankfort’s oldest homes, with roots possibly in the 18th century. The Commonwealth of Kentucky bought the house in 1965 and stripped it back to an approximation of its early 19th century appearance. The Lindsey was Thomas Noble Lindsey whose son Deaniel Weisiger Lindsey was Adjutant General and Inspector General, in charge of all Kentucky Union Army forces during the Civil War. Lindsey bought the house in 1846 from the Vest family, whose son George Graham Vest would represent Missouri in the Confederate Congress and in the United States Senate. As a young lawyer Vest once addressed the jury on behalf of his client, suing a neighbor who had killed his dog. Vest’s speech has come to be known as “Tribute to the Dog:” The best friend a man has in the world may turn against him and become his enemy. His son or daughter that he has reared with loving care may prove ungrateful. Those who are nearest and dearest to us, those whom we trust with our happiness and our good name may become traitors to their faith. The money that a man has, he may lose. It flies away from him, perhaps when he needs it most. A man’s reputation may be sacrificed in a moment of ill-considered action. The people who are prone to fall on their knees to do us honor when success is with us may be the first to throw the stone of malice when failure settles its cloud upon our heads. The one absolutely unselfish friend that man can have in this selfish world, the one that never deserts him, the one that never proves ungrateful or treacherous is his dog. A man’s dog stands by him in prosperity and in poverty, in health and in sickness. He will sleep on the cold ground, where the wintry winds blow and the snow drives fiercely, if only he may be near his master’s side. He will kiss the hand that has no food to offer; he will lick the wounds and sores that come in an encounter with the roughness of the world. He guards the sleep of his pauper master as if he were a prince. When all other friends desert, he remains. When riches take wings, and reputation falls to pieces, he is as constant in his love as the sun in its journey through the heavens. If fortune drives the master forth an outcast in the world, friendless and homeless, the faithful dog asks no higher privilege than that of accompanying him, to guard him against danger, to fight against his enemies. And when the last scene of all comes, and death takes his master in its embrace and his body is laid away in the cold ground, no matter if all other friends pursue their way, there by the graveside will the noble dog be found, his head between his paws, his eyes sad, but open in alert watchfulness, faithful and true even in death.


First Methodist Church
211 Washington Street

Methodist circuit riders began arriving in Frankfort in 1790, more than thirty years before an actual church was erected on Ann Street. This Gothic Revival meetinghouse is an 1858 creation.

Macklin House
212 Washington Street 

This handsome brick townhouse was constructed in 1850 on the site of a blacksmith shop. In the back of the property is a two-story carriage house that is one of the few remaining in Franklin County. George B. Macklin, whose family ran one of the largest hog farms in Kentucky, settled in town here in 1867 where he operated a coal yard near the Louisville & Nashville Railroad bridge at the end of Broadway. In 1878 Macklin installed the first telephone in Franklin from his office to the coal yard.


Paul Sawyier Public Library
319 Wapping Street at southeast corner of Washington Street

Lilian Lindsey founded the Frankfort Public Library in 1908 and was managed by the Frankfort Woman’s Club until 1965. The collection has led a wandering life around town until settling into its first dedicated building here in 2006. Impressionist artist Paul Sawyier grew up in Frankfort from the age of five and is best known for his watercolor landscapes, many of which featured Frankfort. At the time of his death in 1917 at the age of 52 he was believed to have painted some 3,000 such works.

Thomas Todd House
320 Wapping Street    

After mustering out of the Continental Army after the Revolutionary War Thomas Todd studied law and surveying and went the legal route when he followed his cousin Harry Innes to Kentucky after Innes got appointed to the federal court in Danville. Todd was admitted to the Kentucky bar in 1788, clerked in the legislature and became chief clerk of the Kentucky Supreme Court in 1799. In quick order he was appointed to the Court, named Chief Justice and appointed by Thomas Jefferson to the United States Supreme Court in 1807 at the age of forty-one. In 1818, while serving on the U.S. Supreme Court, Todd purchased this house that was constructed in 1812. Todd and his wife Lucy, the sister of First Lady Dolley Madison, wouldn’t recognize their home today beyond the fanlighted door - the Federal-style structure was given a Victorian makeover late in the 19th century.

Church of the Good Shepherd
310 Wapping Street

This was the birthplace of the Presbyterian church in Frankfort in the 1820s. They sold their small church to the new Catholic congregation in town, fueled by an influx of Irish immigrants, in 1849. This church was constructed around the existing building which was carried out through the door piece by piece when the job was completed.

Old United States Courthouse and Post Office
305 Wapping Street at southwest corner of Bridge Street 

The federal government made an appearance in Frankfort in 1887 with this eclectic, unbalanced Victorian pile that contained the post office on the first floor and a courtroom on the second floor. The building expanded towards the river in 1910 which was sufficient until the 1960s when the post office moved to more spacious digs. After the courts departed the building held the Frankfort Library until it moved to the other end of the block in 2006. 


First Baptist Church
201 St. Clair Street

With thirteen members in 1816, this became the second church in Frankfort. The first meetinghouse came along in 1827 which served the congregation until it went up in flames in 1867. The present building was raised the following year and picked up its picturesque front in 1904.

Franklin County Courthouse
218 St. Clair Street

This was the second courthouse constructed in Franklin County, on land donated by John H. Hanna, J. Dudley and J. J. Marshall. It is another Greek Revival building designed by Gideon Shyrock in 1832 and completed in 1835. Stone for the building was carted to the site from a quarry owned by Philip Swigert. In the three-stage cupola resides a bell imported from Philadelphia. Although the courthouse has undergone remodeling through the years the exterior remains much as Shyrock envisioned it.  

McClure Building
306 West Main Street at northwest corner of St. Clair Street

With a steel-frame and classically-flavored Chicago-style design this is considered Frankfort’s first skyscraper, owned by the McClure Realty Company. Completed in 1907, the main tenant in the seven-story high-rise at the time was R.K. McClure & Sons Dry Goods.  


Grand Theatre
308 St. Clair Street

The Grand opened in 1911 as a 135-seat vaudeville house. It was part of a performance legacy in Frankfort that included five theaters downtown over the years but the Grand is the only survivor with its configuration intact. The Grand was converted into a full-time movie house in 1941 with 680 seats and operated until 1966. After that the building was put through a string of commercial paces until a multi-million dollar revival in 2009.


W.A. Gaines Building
229 West Main Street

Massachusetts-born Arthur Loomis entered the office of Charles J. Clarke, one of the most prominent architects in Kentucky, in Louisville. The firm turned out many important buildings and residences, including this commercial structure of pressed brick and terra-cotta for W.A. Gaines & Company Distillers. William Gaines organized the company in 1867 and constructed the Old Crow distillery on the banks of Glenn’s Creek that adopted the distilling practices of the old Scotsman James Crow in 1872.

Old Farmers Bank Building
216 West Main Street

Five years after its charter by the Kentucky legislature in 1850 the Farmers Bank took its first deposits in this building crafted by blocks of Kentucky River marble. Grey limestone blocks were used for trim and a corner quoin pattern. The building is still being used by a bank more than 150 ears later.

Old State National Bank
200 West Main Street at northwest corner of Ann Street

While the core of downtown Frankfort displays many examples of the Italianate style that was favored by most of America’s downtowns for commercial buildings in the late 19th century, the fringes begin to show examples of the later Neoclassical style used by banks like this one in 1912.

New Capital Hotel
130 West Main Street at northeast corner of Ann Street

The original Capital Hotel was constructed by town leaders in 1853 as a means of anchoring the state capital in Frankfort amid grumblings it would inevitably be shifted to Louisville or Lexington. The stone showplace was designed by Isaiah Rogers and Henry Whitestone, Kentucky’s most important architect of the day, and the Capital immediately became the gathering place of the state’s rich and powerful when in town. That building burned down in 1917 and its successor, a grand Colonial Revival structure of brick and stone trim, was completed in 1922. The hotel closed in 1964 and was occupied by the State National Bank and renovated by the Whitaker Bank. 


Masonic Temple
308 Ann Street

This is another picturesque contribution to the Frankfort streetscape from the Louisville firm of Clarke and Loomis in 1893. The Romanesque stone building is marked by brad arches and square corner entrance tower with symbolic carvings of the Masonic fraternal organization.

First Christian Church
316 Ann Street at southwest corner of Broadway

Philip S. Fall was born in Keloden, England in 1798, the eldest of twelve children. His parents brought the brood to Kentucky in 1817 and died the following year leaving Philip as the head of the family. He became an educator and was ordained as a Baptist preacher in 1819. In Louisville, Fall organized the first church in Kentucky espousing the beliefs of the New Testament. This congregation was organized in 1932 and began worshiping here a decade later. The current sanctuary dates to 1924. Fall is buried in the Frankfort Cemetery, one of the most beautiful and important graveyards in the country, near the burial site of Daniel Boone on the cliffs overlooking the town.

Capital City Museum
325 Ann Street at southeast corner of Broadway    

These two mismatched buildings are today joined as the Capital City Museum. The large limestone block building is the remains of the original Capital Hotel that burned in 1917. The diminutive three-bay corner building is the former home of the Gayle Drug Store. The museum was organized in 2004. 


Frankfort Union Station
405 High Street south of the tracks on Broadway

By 1900 Frankfort was served by the Louisville and Nashville, Chesapeake and Ohio, and Frankfort and Cincinnati railroads. In the sessions of the Kentucky General Assembly in 1904 and 1905 more money was earmarked for public buildings in Frankfort than had been spent in the entire town’s history. This freight depot and passenger station was constructed to replace a station built by the Lexington & Frankfort Railroad in the 1850s. The last passenger train rolled through town on April 30, 1971.


Kentucky Historical Society
100 West Broadway at northwest corner of High Street

The Kentucky Historical Society was formed in 1836 to preserve the history of the commonwealth when there wasn’t all that much of it. Now that history is contained in 167,000 square feet of modern space completed in 1999.

Old Governor’s Mansion
420 High Street

One of America’s oldest Executive Mansions, this brick Federal-style house was constructed in 1798. The second Kentucky governor, James Garrard, was the first of thirty-five governors to move his family into the mansion. The governor’s office was also here until 1872. For most of that time Frankfort’s future as continuing capital in a growing state was never certain and the building suffered from a lack of maintenance funding. After the last governor moved across the river in 1914 the building stood vacant most of the time and was facing the wrecking ball when it was saved through an initiative by Governor Simeon Willis. In 1956 the renovated Old Governor’s Mansion became the official residence of Kentucky’s Lieutenant Governors until 2002.

First Baptist Church
100 West Clinton Street at northwest corner of High Street

Black and white Baptists worshipped together in Frankfort until 1833 when the First Baptist Church was segregated into two congregations. In 1898 this lot was purchased by the black Baptists but construction of a church to replace its half-century old meetinghouse was blocked by the City. It took the Court of Appeals in 1904 to declarethat the opposition was “largely based upon race prejudice” before they could proceed. The current sanctuary that has stood for more than 100 years was completed in 1905.