Kentucky County Seats: Flemingsburg and Mt. Olivet
Over the past few years, I’ve criss-crossed the Bluegrass state, photographing many of its underserved and under-appreciated county seats. While I have not even begun to edit many of the photographs from those travels – after all, Kentucky has 120 counties, I start the first part of Kentucky County Seats with Brooksville, the hub of Bracken County in the north-central part of the state. Located on top of a ridge top, the town has a population of approximately 600.
Bracken County was organized as Kentucky’s 23rd on December 14, 1796 when it was split from Mason and Campbell counties, and named indirectly for William Bracken, an early pioneer and surveyor. Big and Little Bracken Creeks were named for him, and the county took its name from those waterways. Several of the early settlers were veterans of the American Revolutionary War. With the petitioning of residents who had purchased lots along the Ohio River, an act was passed by the Kentucky Legislature for the establishment of Augusta, and several prominent citizens were appointed trustees: John Bonde, Robert Davis, John Hunt, Joseph Logan, James Meranda, Robert Thorne and Francis Webb.
On October 2, 1797, at the request of Philip Buckner, the trustees met and negotiated for 600 acres of land for Augusta. Buckner, a Capitan in the Revolutionary War, had acquired the land due to his military service and had the town laid out with streets and alleys. In an October 2, 1795 issue of Kentucky Gazette, an article noted an upcoming November 3 auction for lots in the new town. An arrangement of six months credit for one-half the purchase money and twelve months for the other half was a good deal for the time.
The first court was held in the Dickinson Morris residence, a log building at Oxford. The first permanent building was brick and was constructed in 1797 on the public square. A fire consumed the building on April 20, 1848.
Woodward’s Crossroads, a hilltop community in the center of Bracken County, was settled prior to 1800 by William and Joel Woodward, In 1832/1833/1839, Brooksville became the county seat when it was relocated from Augusta as it was more centrally located, although it was not made official until February 16, 1839 when state Senator David Brooks sponsored legislation to formalize the dealing. In return, the town was renamed in his honor – Brooksville.
The Bracken County Courthouse is located on Miami Street. After the county seat was relocated from Augusta, the court was held in various buildings in the town. A new brick courthouse was constructed from 1860 to 1861. That courthouse, along with two brick and two frame office buildings, were condemned in 1913. The second courthouse in the town, and the third for the county overall, was completed in 1915. The facility underwent a renovation project in 2002.
The Bracken County Judicial Center was designed to add additional courtroom space and alleviate security and scheduling conflicts at the old courthouse. The judicial complex was first included in the state’s judicial branch budget in April 2008. The proposed $15.6 million project was one of five such projects approved for the upcoming budget cycle, administered by the Kentucky Court of Justice and Administrative Office of the Courts. In August 2009, Trace Creek Construction was named the managing company over the judicial center development, and Sherman, Carter and Barnhart was designated as the architectural firm.
Preliminary construction began in November when an old water tower was dismantled, followed by the demolition of the old Bracken County High School, Foote’s bar and Premier Financial Bank that took place in February 2010. Nearly $700,000 was spent to purchase 13 properties. But due to the state’s budget woes, funding for the remainder was not solidified until July 20. In addition, due to winter weather and issues with the bank demolition, bids on construction on the superstructure were let in April 2011 and construction did not began until August 30.
The 38,400 square-foot, two-story judicial center could be completed by the end of 2012. It will include a circuit courtroom, circuit clerk offices, offices for judges, a temporary detention area, rooms for consultations and storage.
Mount Olivet is the smallest county seat by population in the Commonwealth, and is located in Robertson County at the junction of US 62 and SR 165. The town of several hundred – Kentucky’s smallest county seat in terms of population, was founded in 1820 and incorporated on December 27, 1851. It received its state charter on March 18, 1871 and is a fifth-class city. Mount Olivet was named after the Mount of Olives, a biblical reference.
Robertson County is also the smallest in terms of population and land size with less than one hundred square miles of land. The county was split from portions of Bracken, Harrison, Mason and Nicholas counties on August 1, 1867 and was the 111th county to be formed in the state. It was named after Court of Appeals Chief Justice George Robertson (1790-1874), who served in Congress from 1817 to 1821, and was a member of the state Court of Appeals between 1829-1834 and 1864-1871. He was also a professor of law at Transylvania University, 1834-1857.
Below: The Mount Olivet Baptist Church constructed in 1907.
Below: The Deming High School was completed in 1927 and will be demolished in 2013.
Below: The new county high school.
The Robertson County Courthouse and Judicial Center is located on East Walnut Street. It is believed that court was held on the top floor of the Masonic Lodge prior to the completion of a permanent structure.
Construction on the original courthouse began in 1872 but work stopped when funding for the structure ran dry. After the Masonic Lodge donated $1,500 towards the project, the courthouse was expanded to two floors and was completed in 1873. The interior featured two office rooms, and originally the county clerk, circuit clerk and sheriff were located within the same room. In 1960, the fiscal court annex was completed with seven offices.
By the 1980s, the courthouse was in a state of disrepair. A restroom had not functioned since 1985 and the flooring was being compromised by the infestation of termites and water damage. On January 4, 2010, the new Robertson County Judicial Center and a remodeled Courthouse was dedicated. The $3.3 million project saw the completion of a one-story addition to the east. The old courthouse received a new permanent concrete floor, carpet, seating and paint, repairs to the cooper roof, and a new cupola.
To the south of Mount Olivet is Flemingsburg, a town that was laid out in 1796 and acts as the county seat of Fleming County today. The town was named after Virginia-native Major George Stockton’s half-brother, Colonel John Fleming. Fleming County was formed out of Mason County in 1798 and was the 28th county to be formed in the state. Flemingsburg became the county seat due to its central location.
One of the earliest white visitors to the area were General William Thompson and his surveying party from Pennsylvania prior to July 26, 1773. Colonel James Perry and JAmes Hamilton were also surveyors with Joslina Archer, an assistant. One of the earliest settlers was George Stockton of Virginia who had been taken prisoner as an infant by the Indians. Stockton was accustomed to life in the “wilds,” having been held as a captive by the Indians of New York from an infant until adulthood, and had chosen to live in the wildernesses of Kentucky than the more civilized Virginia. In 1787, Stockton settled at Stockton Station just north of present day Flemingsburg.
Colonel John Fleming had accompanied Stockton in 1787 and settled at Stroud’s or Shader’s Station, later moving to Fleming and then Fleming Station in 1790. He remained there until this death four years later.
The first churches, a Methodist and Presbyterian, were constructed in 1799. The population had risen to 124 and by 1804, Flemingsburg saw the arrival of the first store and hotel operated by Thomas Wallace and john Faris, respectfully. The outpost in the wilderness incorporated as a city in 1812. Early tourism was centered around the mineral springs of the county that were known for their medicinal qualities. The first courthouse was constructed in 1829.
Flemingsburg saw some minor action during the Civil War, including several small skirmishes. One included General John Hunt Morgan’s raiders as they retreated form their attacks in central Kentucky in 1862.
The Covington, Flemingsburg & Pound Gap Railway (CF&PG), a narrow-gauge railroad that was proposed to stretch for 110 miles from Covington to Hazel Green, was only completed from Flemingsburg Junction to Flemingsburg in the spring of 1877. Additional grading was completed to Hillsboro, but contractors stopped further construction due to non-payment. A receiver was appointed in August 1877, and the contractors laid track for the line from Flemingsburg to Hillsboro, a distance of 12 miles. The extension opened on December 17, 1876. Nothing further was constructed of the CF&PG, and it eventually was reorganized as the Cincinnati, Flemingsburg & Southeastern Railroad (CF&SE). The CF&SE was converted to standard gauge in 1909. The railroad reorganized as the Flemingsburg & Northern Railroad on January 1, 1920 and served as a freight line until December 6, 1955.
While Fleming County is mostly dependent upon agriculture and related industries, Flemingsburg featured a small manufacturing and warehousing base. Today, the city’s population is stable around 3,100 and is known as the “friendly town that hospitality built.”
Below: The 1907-era City Hall.
Below: The 1954-era Gorman Building.
Below: Two views around Courthouse Square.
Below: Looking southwestward along North Main Cross Street.
Below: The junction of Water Street and Main Cross Street.
Below: A view of East Water Street.
Below: Flemingsburg Christian Church.
Below: Former CF&PG depot, now the present-day city hall.
The Fleming County Courthouse is located at Courthouse Circle. The first meeting of the Fleming County fiscal court was at the home of John Faris on April 9, 1798. Joshua Stockton was the first county clerk with John Keith appointed sheriff. The first meeting included the taking of an oath of office for magistrate for Adam Bravard, John O’Hara, James Harris, James Henderson, William Kennan, Andrew Kincaid, George Ruddell and Richard Tilton, all appointed by Governor James Garrard.
The first courthouse was most likely a log cabin structure built around 1798 or 1799. It was not until 1826 when work began on a permanent building that was completed three years later by Samuel Stockwell and James Eckels. The new two-story courthouse was constructed in the Georgian archutectural style and was a brick building with 21-inch thick walls and hand carvings in the doorway. The carvings were finished by a slave of either Stockwell or Eckels. Front columns were solid walnut hewn from the local forests. Niches cut under the fan light were six-inches deep and a cupola with a clock topped the building. The county sent Mr. Feamster, a jeweler and blacksmith to England to learn to manufacture clocks, and the four-sided unit atop the courthouse was Feamster’s first attempt – and was ultimately successful.
A one-story frame building was also built on each side. The right-most building featured and office and the left-most building was for the county newspaper.
In September 1951, the courthouse was demolished because of the late Nelson Fant’s will, who left $105,000 for the specific purpose of building a new courthouse. Despite the best efforts by historians and local citizens, one of the Commonwealth’s oldest courthouses – 123 years old at the time, was demolished.
The Fleming County Judicial Center is located at North Main Cross and Water Street. A survey of the existing courthouses in the state noted that Fleming County was one of the top 16 counties in the state with the greatest need for a new court building. The existing facility, at 17,000 square feet, was far too small. The Court of Justice occupied 64% of the space.
On April 11, 2006, the House voted 98-2 to pass funding for the Fleming County Judicial Center project after the Senate unanimously approved of the project with an allocated construction budget of $11,536,000.
Concerns over the location were made early on. A vocal group of citizens wanted the center to be located along the Kentucky Route 11 and 32 bypass, which would afford the project more land and parking. Mark Hendrix, a resident of the city, offered 2.5 acres along the bypass to the state for free, with another 1.5 acres for $30,000. The location had eleven acres for potential expansion, and featured an 8-inch sewer easement and a 6-inch water line. John Cheap offered his 5.5 acre estate at West Water Street and Cherry Grove Road for $300,000. Other proposals involved multiple properties near the existing courthouse. The 2006-2012 Capital Plan stated that the proposed courthouse “shall be as close to the downtown area as economically feasible.”
On November 21, 2007, two downtown sites were eliminated from consideration for the new judicial center. The proposed sites included parcels on East Main, West Water and West Main, including various homes or lots, the Bob Jones Insurance office, the old jail and sheriff’s offices, green space behind the Community Trust Bank building, the former animal hospital, an old hotel and several city parking lots. With a vote of seven to one to zero, the pones located at West Water and East Main streets were eliminated, and the West Main Street site received seven votes.
In a February 2008 meeting, judicial center Project Development Board members voted to seriously consider properties outside of downtown after most of the downtown properties were far too costly to purchase, exceeding the allocated budget by 50%. But the board agreed to pursue negotiations to acquire properties in downtown during a meeting held on April 14, 2008. The sites under consideration included the Community Trust Bank property bounded to the west of Main Cross Street and north of West Water Street. The Community Trust Bank property also included the historic Dudley House, which would not be demolished or altered as part of the judicial center project. The project site also included the Robert Reeder, MacDonald, Walton and Razor law firm.
The Dudley House, located at 114 West Water Street and built around 1819, was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1979. The house was built by Thomas W. Fleming, the son of one of the founding members of the county, and was reported to be in fair condition with minor water intrusion on the interior due to its stone foundation and a sump pump problem. It was used until 2008 by the Robert Reeder, MacDonald, Walton and Razor law firm.
On September 17, 2008, a general design concept was chosen after months of planning and adjustments. The design concept selected featured a rounded dome entryway that was approved by a vote of four to one over a more traditional cupola design. Some residents were opposed to the dome, and one in particular noted that it “had a Middle Eastern influence, [looking] like a cross between a Mosque and a penitentiary.”
In April 2009, Trace Creek Construction of Vanceburg, the construction management company selected for the project, posted a pay and performance bond for the full cost of the project. The Fleming County development was the only one in the state to comply with Kentucky’s requirement that all contractors obtain 100% performance bonding for any Administrative Office of the Courts projects. The performance bond is designed to act similar to insurance and are intended to guarantee completion of contracted work in the event that the contractor goes bankrupt or is otherwise unable to finish the job.
Ground was broken for the 32,000 square-foot complex on September 25, 2009 with Supreme Court of Kentucky Justice Wil Schroder and Fleming County Judge-Executive Larry H. Foxworthy among the speakers at the ceremony. The new building was designed by Brandstetter Carroll Inc. of Lexington and was designed to meet the standards required by the Administrative Office of the Courts with space for the Circuit Court, District Court, the Office of Circuit Court Clerk and ancillary services. Construction began in February 2010.
The crowning achievement for construction came on December 28, 2010 when the dome for the new judicial center was lifted into place by a nine-person crew from Sutton Christian Supply of Warner Robins, Georgia. The 7,500-pound fiberglass dome was lifted into place, anchored by steel screws that were embedded into a steel framework. The installation was problematic as the bits were breaking due to the structural steel used in the judicial center. Sutton Christian Supply had gone through $500 in drill bits.
Workers began moving into the new judicial complex during the week of January 9, 2012. The new judicial complex was dedicated on February 21, 2012 and finished at a cost of $11.5/8.1 million.