Frankfort, Kentucky is a state capital that gets lost among more prominent and well-known capital cities in the United States, perhaps because it ranks near the bottom in terms of population. This small town sits between Louisville and Lexington, Kentucky’s large cities, on the north side of the Kentucky River.
The first stop was Daniel Boone’s grave on a bluff overlooking the river. Well, it’s supposed to be his grave. Two states claim his body. He died at his son’s home in Missouri and was buried beside his wife in Marthasville.
Because of his status in the hearts of Kentuckians, his body was exhumed twenty-five years later and reinterred in Frankfort. But Missourians claim it’s the wrong body, not Daniel, and forensic tests in the 1980’s seemed to support this claim. In any case, Kentucky and Daniel Boone go together in American pioneer lore, so it’s nice to think his dust mingles with Kentucky soil.
The Old Capitol building, restored to its Civil War appearance, served as the Commonwealth’s capitol from 1830-1910. Gideon Shryock, a twenty-five year-old Lexington architect designed it to look like a Greek temple, a symbolic link perhaps between Greece and the young Kentucky government. The self-supporting circular stone stairway in the rotunda is beautiful. The building holds two distinctions in U.S. history. It is the only pro-Union state capitol occupied by the Confederate army during the Civil War and came very close to turning Confederate. Only the approaching Union army prevented the establishment of a Confederate state government in 1862. Its other national distinction is it’s the site of the assassination of the only state governor in United States history to die in office, William Goebel. A bitterly contested gubernatorial election in 1900 required the state legislature to decide the winner and clearly the assassin was not happy.
The Old Governor’s Mansion is one of the oldest executive residences in the country and is two years older than the White House. It was home to thirty-three governors until 1914, and then to 10 lieutenant governors. In the 2000’s the house was sitting idle in danger of falling into neglect. A private renovation effort led to a gleaming restoration. Today, it serves as a “Blair House” for official visitors to the state, a home for weary travelers who can learn about Kentucky’s rich history. The mural in the entry foyer portrays scenes from the Commonwealth’s past and the building’s rooms feature furniture that was used during the days when it was the governor’s residence. Over the years it has hosted eight U.S. presidents and many other official visitors from Henry Clay to Aaron Burr and William Jennings Bryan and perhaps (though not documented) the Marquis de-Lafayette. It is truly a testament to those with preservation vision and appreciation of history.
Of course for a history enthusiast, no visit to Frankfort is complete without a trip to the state history museum, the Thomas D. Clark Center for Kentucky History. There are many other history sites, but one can only visit so many places in a weekend and there were also horse farms and race tracks to visit. On the way out of town, we just happened to pass architect Frank Lloyd Wright’s only Kentucky home, the Ziegler house, and to my surprise, the Bibb-Burnley House. In a garden and greenhouse behind the house, John B. Bibb, an amateur horticulturalist in the 1800’s, developed a new variety of lettuce he called “limestone” lettuce. Eventually it was named Bibb lettuce in his honor. I had never thought about where the name came from. Another fascinating bit of history trivia that has nothing to do with the politics of a state capital. At least I don’t think it does.