History, Its Homes, Its Functions
by James Klotter)
1792, Kentucky was still a frontier area. Most of the 90,000 people who lived in the
region had log houses; many had only recently moved here. The threat of Indian attack
still stood ever-present. Hardships and scarcities continued for a large number. Yet in
that unsettled situation, the citizens turned from building homes in a wilderness and
turned to building a commonwealth, one they would call Kentucky.
that year of 1792, Kentucky became the 15th state, and the first west of the Appalachians.
Its founders drafted a constitution, selected Isaac Shelby as its first governor, and
inaugurated him in the temporary capital of Lexington. Shortly thereafter, the state's
first General Assembly met in a two-story log structure in town. Paid the grand sum of $1
per day for their services, the legislators created a judicial system, a revenue plan,
four new counties, and a few other laws. But their chief duty focused on the selection of
a permanent capital for the new commonwealth.
committee met and studied the various proposals from several small communities across
Kentucky. On December 5, 1792, the committee recommended Frankfort, chiefly because it had
made the best offer in a time of scarcity. It pledged a building to be used, rent-free,
until a permanent structure was completed, as well as town lots on which to build that
capitol. Stone and timber for construction, 1,500 pounds of nails, locks and hinges for
the doors, and $3,000 -- all were offered and accepted. The first General Assembly
convened in the new capital city in November 1793, and Frankfort would remain the
legislators' home thereafter.
the state turned to building a permanent home -- a capitol for the legislature. Not a
great deal is known about the first two places built for that purpose. Images show them to
be sizable, handsome structures, but the first capitol burned in 1813. Lighted by candles,
the early capitols faced that danger often. A second capitol lasted only a short time
before it too burned in 1824.
building had to be erected and a competition was held to select an architect. To the
surprise of many, 25-year-old native Kentuckian Gideon Shryock was picked. His masterpiece
- now the "Old Capitol" - still stands as visual testimony of his dream.
Introducing the Greek Revival style to the state, he used Kentucky River marble
(limestone) to craft a simple but impressive building. Its circular staircase remains
symbolically the visual focus of the interior; its clean exterior still represents the
simple grandeur of a Greek temple. That third capitol arose in a state still not free from
its rough, frontier past, but one also maturing rapidly as a commonwealth. That building
said to the nation that Kentuckians supported the liberties of the Greeks of the past but
looked forward to a future of much promise.
Here is The Senate chamber during a Regular Session. It seats 38 members.
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