Kentucky County Seats: Maysville
Maysville, Kentucky is a city that I have long wanted to share. Located along the broad Ohio River between Cincinnati and Portsmouth, Ohio, the town is snuggled amongst the steep hills and deep hollows and whose history is as old as the commonwealth it resides in.
The region was first surveyed in March 1751 by Christopher Gist and a boy via horseback. Several companies of adventurers and explorers descended upon the area two decades later and the earliest European-American settlement was by frontiersman Simon Kenton in 1775 who was forced out soon after by the western fringe battles of the American Revolution. Kenton returned in 1784 and constructed a blockhouse at Drennon Springs,founding Kenton’s Station three miles inland. Kenton met other settlers along the Ohio River, and escorted them inland to his frontier fort.
Two years kater, Kenton’s Station was established by an act of the Virginia General Assembly as Washington. By this time, John May had acquired the land along the Ohio River, and Edward and John Waller and George Lewis founded Limestone. Daniel Boone established a trading post and tavern at the new town and in 1787, the Limestone was incorporated as Maysville.
The first newspaper to be published in Kentucky, or at any point west of Pittsburgh, was in Maysville: the Kentucky Gazette was founded by Fielding Bradford in August 1787 while awaiting a wagon to transport printing material to Lexington.
In 1788, Mason County, named after George Mason, a distinguished statesman from Virginia, was organized with Washington being named the county seat. In comparison to Maysville, Washington was a well developed town, but with the conclusion of the Northwest Indian War in 1795, the likelihood of future Indian attacks was much reduced and Maysville began to prosper. Zane’s Trace, a roadway from Wheeling, Virginia to Aberdeen was completed in 1797 and added to the ferry traffic across the Ohio. Maysville had become one of two principal ports in Kentucky just ten years later. With the advent of the steamboat, Maysville became a popular stop.
By the 1830s, Maysville boasted a sizable population. Washington, on the other hand, was declining due to a fire in 1825 and a series of deadly cholera epidemics. A proposal to move the county seat from Washington to Maysville was hotly contested but ultimately occurred by a small margin in 1848. In a show of gratitude, the city donated its city hall, completed just two years prior, to the county for a court house.
Because of Maysville’s age, the valley is chock full of historical residences and commercial stock. The tour begins on 3rd Street.
Below: Residences along 3rd Street between Sutton and Limestone streets.
Below: The George Cox-Russell House was constructed in 1888 in the American Romanesque style.
Below: The Cox-Hord House was designed by Cincinnati architect, Edwin Anderson, and constructed in 1880 for $49,000. The Victorian Gothic, Italianate and Victorian Romanesque-styled residence was built for Andrew Cox and his wife, Mary Thomas Cox, daughter of a local distiller. It was sold to Milton Russell, a wholesaler, and then to Ferdinand Hechinger for his daughter, Rebekah H. Hord. Hord was the firest elected female mayor of Kentucky.
Below: The Martin House was erected prior to 1810 of partial log construction. The owner donated the land for the nearby Baptist Church on Market Street. The attached residence to the right was the Rev. Edgar House and was constructed in the 1820s as a house and school for the Presbyterian minister John T. Edgar.
Below: The Flarity House was constructed in 1850 and was home at some point to Dr. John Shackleford, an early physician.
Below: The Brisbois House was built by Isaiah Wilson in 1821-1824.
Below: The January-Duke House was constructed in 1838 and features impressive dentil molding, functional shutters, a Doric portico and is surrounded by a black iron fence.
Below: The Russell Theatre, at 9-13 East 3rd Street, was designed for J. Barbour Russell, Sr. by the firm of Frankel & Curtis of Lexington, Kentucky in the California-Spanish mission architectural style. The venue, opened on December 4, 1930, was an atmospheric theater and featured a large rainbow that would light up before and after each movie.
The venue was the site of Rosemary Clooney’s premiere film, The Stars Are Singing, in 1935.
A restoration project on the Russell Theatre began in 2008.
Below: The Russell Building at 234 Market Street and East 3rd Street was constructed in 1892 for a large general merchandizing house.
Below: Construction started on the residence of William B. Phillips in 1825 but owing to a lack of funds, work stopped. Phillips ventured down the Ohio and Mississippi rivers to New Orleans where he gambled for two years, raising enough money to finish the residence. Phillips was Mason County’s state legislature in 1820 and Maysville’s second mayor, and was among those who welcomed General Lafayette during his 1825 visit to the city.
In 1850, the house was sold to wholesaler John Armstrong. In the late-19th century, it was sold to Dr. John A. Reed and his family. Reed maintained his medical practice in the basement.
The 2.5-story house was built in a variety of architectural styles. The Sutton Street entrances are framed in the Federal style, while the windows are representative of Greek Revival style. The segmental dormers reflect a Georgian influence. The portico and Doric frieze are similar to Drayton Hall near Charleston, South Carolina. The Phillips’ residence is currently being restored.
Below: A residence converted offices on West 3rd Street between Sutton and Wall streets.
Below: Mechanics’ Row was given that name because of the concentration of merchants’ and craftsmen’s homes that were located in the immediate area. These residences along 3rd Street were constructed in 1816 by Johnny Armstrong, a local merchant, and were built with a distinct New Orleans architectural flare. It was an influence brought upon by the river traffic that flowed up the Mississippi and Ohio rivers.
Prior to Mechanics’ Row, the lots were owned by Edmund Martin who purchased the land from John May in 1797. May was the clerk of the county and clerk of the Land Commission who was sent to Kentucky by the Virginia government in 1779 to settle disputes regarding western lands.
The house at center, Armstead Purnell-Hargett House, was originally two stories and matched the style of its surrounding buildings. A third story was later added and to two houses on the eastern end of the row. The western three houses in the block had windows inserted into the cornice, and the three houses on the eastern end had the roofs raised and mansard dormers constructed. In addition, none of the houses had porches.
Below: The Presbyterian Church was built in 1850 after a fire had destroyed the “Old Blue Church.” The upper part of the church – the present-day sanctuary, was finished in 1852. In 1854, an explosion in a nearby powder magazine damaged the church. A hole caused in the explosion can still be seen.
Below: The Mason County Courthouse is located at the corner of West 3rd Street and Stanley Reed Court and was designed in the Greek Revival architectural style.
The first court sessions were in 1789 at the residence of Robert Rankin in Washington. After Kentucky became a state, a courthouse was constructed out of stone by Lewis Craig. That is when the city of Maysville constructed a larger, more grand facility and used it as an enticement for the county seat to relocate.
The fight to relocate the county seat from Washington to Maysville was harsh. Despite two popular elections where the voters desired the county seat to remain as-is, Maysville held a lottery and raised $20,000, half of which was given out for prizes with the remainder used to build the courthouse. The courthouse – originally intended to be Maysville’s city hall and built in 1844, was then used as an enticement to relocate the county seat which was ultimately successful.
Below: The adjoining Mason County Clerk’s Office was completed in 1860 on land that was purchased from merchant Johnny Armstrong.
Below: The Mason County Judicial Center is located at West 3rd and Sutton streets and houses a district and circuit courtroom, judges chambers, jury deliberation rooms, and a grand jury, circuit clerk offices and holding rooms.
Below: Court Street features a diverse historic building stock with one intrusion at 216 Court Street, when an 1840 building was given a 1970s “colonial” facade.
Below: St. Patrick Church was founded in 1847 at East 3rd and Limestone streets. A new church structure was dedicated on June 26, 1910.
Below: The First Christian Church at East 3rd Street and Cherry Alley was constructed in 1877.
Below: The First Baptist Church is located on Market Street between East 3rd and East 4th streets.
Below: A residence in need of some TLC at West 4th and Market streets.
Downtown is generally bounded by Wall Street to the west, Limestone Street to the east, West Third Street to the south and West Second Street to the north.
Below: A view of West 2nd Street between Sutton and Wall streets.
Below: Three residences at 134-136-138 West 2nd Street.
Below: 122-124 West 2nd Street is home to the Shugar Supply Company and a computer store.
Below: The Washington Opera House at 116 West 2nd Street was constructed in 1899 and was listed on the National Register in 1975.
Below: The First National Bank building at 100-102 West 2nd at Sutton street.
Below: 46-50 West 2nd Street.
Below: To the right is 44 West 2nd Street and to the left is 42 West 2nd Street, which features a bowed cast-iron facade.
Below: To the right is 40 West 2nd Street and to the right, with its bold cast-iron cornice and a date stamp of 1871, is 38 West 2nd Street.
Below: A view of 38 West 2nd Street, constructed in 1871.
Below: The Plaid Rabbit is a gift shop at 28 West 2nd Street.
Below: The Bank of Maysville.
Below: The I.O.O.F. Building at 12-16 West 2nd Street once contained a J.C. Penny’s.
Below: The architectural firm of C.C. and E.A. Weber of Cincinnati designed the moderne storefront for Montgomery Ward at 26 West 2nd Street in the late 1920s.
Below: Market Street is the heart of downtown and is comprised of small-scale urban structures from the early to mid 19th century.
Below: The I.O.O.F. Ringgold Lodge No. 27 at 217-221 Market Street features decorative polychrome Venetian Gothic ornaments and fenestrations and was built in 1914.
Below: A collection of buildings along East 2nd Street.
Below: Built in 1915, the J.C. Everett Company was at 33 East 2nd Street. The building was recently rehabilitated into a restaurant.
Below: The former Maysville High School gymnasium.
Below: Constructed in 1908, the Maysville High School at 215 Limestone was designed in the Georgian and Jacobean architectural styles. It was rehabilitated into the Maysville High School Apartments at a later date.
Below: The Kenton Commonwealth Center is located at East 2nd and Government streets.
Below: A telephoto view of 2nd Street through downtown.
I end with the Cox Building at 3rd and Market streets. Constructed in 1886 in the Richardson Romanesque architectural style, it was designed by Crapsey and Brown of Cincinnati and was later home to Kilgus Drug Store.
In December 2006, the city purchased the building for a mere $200,000 and planned on making improvements via $2.5 million in federal grants under the 2009 Omnibus Act. The Maysville Community and Technical College’s Institute of Culinary Arts, as well as incubator business. studio and classroom space was planned for the first and second floor. The remainder would be used for meeting and banquet space for the Maysville Conference Center and open space.
But a fire on November 9, 2010 severely damaged the historic building, causing severe damage on the fourth and fifth floors and neawrly ruining a Masonic mural and stained glass window. The remainder suffered heavy smoke and water damage. Two load-bearing steel beams on the third floor warped and two facades with gargoyles at the top were left freestanding. The turret was destroyed as well.
Just one day after the fire, city officials, architects, contractors and firefighters were on the scene to inspect the building. It was determined that the Cox Building was salvageable, and it was later determined that floodlights used in the attic were too close to combustable materials, causing the fire.
An city emergency ordnance for debris removal and roof replacement was hastily passed, which allowed the city to forego the lengthy process of bid procurement. Trace Creek Construction was awarded a contract for roof replacement, which took two weeks to erect new trusses and a weatherproof membrane. While the city was given permission from the Kentucky Historic Preservation Review Board to use faux slate for the roof, it was decided that slate would be used due to its durability and authenticity. In addition, the company who was responsible for the original slate roof was still in business.
Negotiations on a settlement began shortly after, but the procedure took longer than expected because of criteria mandated by the Kentucky Heritage Council and the National Parks Service – namely because of the money the city received in 2009. The fire changed the restoration scope, expanding the Cox Building project from a partial rehabilitation to a full restoration. The settlement totaled $7.3 million and included the restoration of the building’s artwork, the installation of a sprinkler system throughout, the replacement of all plaster walls, replacement windows, pine flooring custom milled to a 7″ width, a slate roof and new electrical, plumbing and HVAC systems. Trace Creek was awarded the contract.
While the city had discussed requesting a national historic designation for the building in the past, the fire made it more important than ever before to apply. The city has been working with the Kentucky Historic Preservation Review Board to get the building added to the National Register of Historic Places.
The restored Cox Building was dedicated on September 7, 2012 in front of a crowd of 500. The dedication ceremony included speeches from Mayor David Cartmell, U.S. Senator Mitch McConnell – who helped secure funding for the restoration in 2009, Secretary of Public Protection Cabinet Robert Vance representing Governor Steve Beshear, Secretary of Tourism, Arts and Heritage Cabinet Marcheta Sparrow and Deputy Secretary of Tourism, Arts and Heritage and acting State Historic Preservation Officer Lindy Casebier. Representatives from Travelers Insurance and Oppenheimer Art Recovery were also on hand. A public tour after the dedication drew upwards of 1,000 people.
The Cox Building is an example of when governments, organizations and good folks work together best. Thank you to everyone involved to faithfully restore a local landmark!
Below: The photographs are pre-rehabilitation.