Frankfort Heritage Press

Frankfort Heritage Press

Historic Images of Frankfort II
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Historic Images of Frankfort II

Historic Images of Frankfort II continues the series introduced by the first volume, Historic Images of Frankfort. The book contains numerious photographs depicting the history of Frankfort, the capital city of Kentucky.


Frankfort, one of the nation's smallest capitals (pop. 30,000), is located in the Bluegrass region of Kentucky on a double curve of the Kentucky River between Louisville and Lexington, the state's two largest cities. Built on an alluvial plain laid down by the river over eons and surmounted by high bluffs, it is a picturesque city belted in green. The magisterial seat of Franklin County (named in honor of Benjamin Franklin), Frankfort has a name whose origins are less certain. Most historians believe that Frankfort probably derived from Frank's Ford, a natural crossing on the river where Stephen Frank, member of a salt-boiling party from Bryan's Station, was killed in his camp by marauding Indians in 1780, six years before the city was founded. Incorporating nearby Leestown, the second settlement in Kentucky north of the Kentucky River and site of another ford that formed a hub for buffalo roads threading the Bluegrass, Frankfort has pioneer roots that run deep.

Visited as early as 1751 by explorer Christopher Gist, the area was later explored by Daniel Boone (whose remains, along with those of his wife Rebecca, rest on a bluff overlooking the capitol), John Finley, Robert and James McAfee, surveyor Hancock Taylor, as well as George Rogers Clark, Nicholas Cresswell, and the Lee brothers, Hancock and Willis. Frankfort's founder, General James Wilkinson, a Revolutionary War veteran and entrepreneur later implicated in "The Spanish Conspiracy," was among the first to recognize Frankfort's potential for transporting manufactured goods and produce from Kentucky farms downriver to southern markets along the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers.

The most consequential event in Frankfort's history occurred during the year of Kentucky's statehood, 1792. Because of its central location and the competitive spirit of its early citizens, a selection committee in that year chose Frankfort to become the state capital. Lewis Condit, an early visitor, left an impression of Frankfort during this era:

This town is just rising from the woods, having been but lately established.... It is situated on the north bank of the Kentucky River, at the foot of a considerable hill and at present contains about 40 houses, most of which are of brick and very neat and convenient. The Capitol is a spacious and superb building [first of three on the site], being nearly 100 feet in length and three stories high and built of stone. The town is growing very fast and bids fair to eclipse the neighboring ones. (Journal of a Trip to Kentucky in 1795).

Despite this hopeful assessment, Frankfort during its formative years remained a relatively small town that had to overcome many obstacles to urbanization in the early decades of the 19th century. Drawing water through cedar pipes from nearby Cove Spring, it became in 1804 one of the first cities in the country to install a municipal water system. It established a penitentiary. Its first statehouse, completed in 1794, burned, as did its successor. The present "Old Capitol," third on the site, formed the town square and became the point of convergence where community and government met. In use from 1830 to 1910, it is an elegant Greek Revival structure that resembles a Greek temple, designed by Lexington-born Gideon Shryock and constructed of native "Kentucky River marble." Shryock, Kentucky's premier early architect, also designed the still-functioning county court house two blocks away. When the so-called "New Capitol" was dedicated across the river in South Frankfort (the old city's first suburb) in 1910, the Old Capitol became part of a museum complex whose core is the newly-constructed Thomas D. Clark Kentucky History Center. Adjacent to the present Capitol are the Governor's Mansion, patterned after Marie Antoinette's Petite Trianon, and the floral clock, one of Frankfort's most popular tourist stops. Because it was the state's capital, Frankfort from its beginnings had an urbane and comparatively well-educated populace, attracting bright young professionals who made the city a vibrant center of finance, commerce, and politics.

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Historic Images of Frankfort II

Between the War of 1812 and the Civil War, the capital's population grew steadily from 1,099 in 1810 to 3,702 in 1860. Serving as Kentucky's primary seat of government, Frankfort has always had a constant but changing stream of legislators and governors who took up temporary and sometimes permanent residence in the city. In addition, its citizens developed local industries including distilling, hemp products, fishing reels, farming implements, paper-making, and steamboats. It is home to two distilleries - Jim Beam and Buffalo Trace - the latter being the site of the oldest continuously operating distillery in Kentucky. Frankfort continues to play a signal role in the production of one of Kentucky's most fabled products-bourbon whiskey.

For a century, from the 1820s on, Frankfort was also vital to the steamboat trade on the Kentucky and the larger rivers into which it fed. Many of the photographs in this book underscore the centrality of the river to Frankfort's commercial and recreational life as well as natural disasters in the form of periodic flooding. Though the state's improved turnpike roads and a succession of connecting rail lines gradually superseded the river's preeminence, Frankfort proudly retains its character as a river city. Likewise, though pressured by increasing development, the county still holds much of its rural landscape, consisting of small satellite communities and family-owned farms. Elkhorn Creek, the Kentucky's second largest tributary, is popular as a place to picnic, fish, and canoe.

For several weeks in the autumn of 1862 Frankfort was an occupied city, the only Unionist state capital captured by Confederate forces. This incursion temporarily disrupted government, forcing the governor, legislature, and other state officials to decamp to Louisville. In June of 1864 a small group of Frankfort citizens successfully defended Fort Hill, an earthenworks fort overlooking the city, from a raid by Confederate cavalry that threatened to destroy bridges and government buildings. Frankfort's citizens provided troops for both armies as well as generals for each, deeply divided loyalties often splitting neighbors and sometimes families.

Despite troubled years of political and racial strife following the war, Frankfort grew and prospered. Kentucky State University, the state's only historically black institution of higher learning, was founded in 1886. The "decades of discord" culminated in the killing of Governor William Goebel in 1900, the only governor in the U.S. to be assassinated in office. During the 20th century state government has remained Frankfort's largest employer, though the present economy is diversified, and tourism is emerging as a major industry as the city capitalizes on its rich past and architectural heritage. Frankfort is a progressive city, a friendly town able to balance change in a setting that honors and preserves its past.

This book is a publication of Frankfort Heritage Press., a non-profit organization whose purpose is to promote, publish, and preserve Frankfort's history. Putting the book together was the joint effort of a committee of volunteers including Dr. Gene Burch, Russ Hatter, Nicky Hughes, Jeff Jeffers, Bob Lanham, Bill Rodgers, Jr. and Richard Taylor. Artist Sallie Clay Lanham contributed drawings to complement the photographs and text. Most of the photographs, never before published, were donated by its citizens. As in Volume I, the book's purpose is to provide the Frankfort community and visitors a window to rediscover its past, to preserve the best of that past for the future, and to provide a visual record of a city that has been so central in the shaping of Kentucky's history. -- Richard Taylor August 2004

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Frankfort Heritage Press

The Frankfort Heritage Press is a non-profit organization and is patterned for charitable, literary and educational purposes. Our goals are to further inform Kentuckians about Franklin County's rich history, to build a photographic archive available to all, and to publish materials for those who have an interest in recapturing Frankfort's past and preserving its many historical landmarks.

Frankfort Heritage Press | Frankfort, Kentucky, USA