Kentucky's Old State House is the third permanent capitol erected on Frankfort's old public square. On January 12, 1827, the legislature voted to build a new state house as two previous structures on this site had burned, the first in 1813 and the second in 1824.
The Old State House was constructed from 1827 to 1830 and was the first major work of native Kentuckian, Gideon Shryock. Shryock chose the Greek Revival style of architecture to symbolically link Kentucky, a young republic, with ancient Greece, the prototype of popular democratic government. He wanted the front of the building to duplicate the Temple of Minerva Polias at Priene. It is faced in polished Kentucky River marble, limestone quarried near Frankfort. Six massive Ionic columns, each four feet in diameter and 33 feet high, adorn the building's facade.
The front door opens into a spacious vestibule leading to the central rotunda that features an exceptional self-supporting marble staircase, one of the most distinguishing features of the building. As it rises, it splits to become a double circular stair.
Greek temples had no windows, therefore the front of the Capitol is devoid of fenestration. The windows of the cupola act as a domed lantern above the rotunda to provide an abundance of sunlight to illuminate the inside.
From the second floor lobby, fan-lighted doors enter four rooms, including the House and Senate chambers. The Senate is furnished in 1830's reproduction desks and chairs based on descriptions found in the Senate Journal of 1830. The House of Representatives is furnished mostly in reproduction desks and chairs used just prior to the Civil War through 1909. Both chambers have some original furnishings, including 1840's chandeliers and hand-blown window panes.
The political history of Kentucky was enacted for nearly 80 years at the Old State House. Heard within were the oratory of distinguished Kentuckians such as Henry Clay, Isaac Shelby and Thomas Metcalfe. On January 30, 1900, Governor William Goebel was assassinated there -- the only governor in U.S. history to die as a result of assassination. While a special legislative board debated the contested outcome of the governor's race between Goebel and William Taylor, an assassin gunned down Goebel in front of the building. This incident sparked a climactic moment during which Kentucky almost had its own civil war. A plaque reading "William Goebel fell here, Jan. 30th, 1900" exists near the front entrance of the building.
The current Kentucky State Capitol, Kentucky's fourth, was built in 1910. Since 1920, the Old State Capitol has served as a museum and the home of the Kentucky Historical Society, whose current offices are located in the Thomas D. Clark History Center for Kentucky History. In 1990, the legislature appropriated funds to the Finance and Administration cabinet to conduct some much needed restoration and maintenance at the Old State House. The period for interpretation selected was 1854. The building has been restored to its American Civil War era appearance.
The building was designated a U.S. National Historic Landmark and was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1971. It is located at 300 West Broadway, Frankfort, KY 40601.
- "National Register Information System". National Register of Historic Places. National Park Service. 2009-03-13.
- "Old State House (Kentucky)". National Historic Landmark summary listing. National Park Service. Retrieved 2011-04-23.
- Kentucky Historical Society, Old State Capitol