Saving Kentucky’s Historic Courthouses

Excerpt from “What Our Historic Courthouses Tell Us About Kentucky’s Story” by Elizabeth A. ‘Betsy’ Hatfield, published in History’s Footsteps, Sherry Jelsma, editor, a Shelby County Historical Society Publication, 2020.


One of the most endearing and defining characteristics of Kentucky courthouses is the courthouse square.  Throughout the state, courthouse squares announce county seats and showcase the most recognizable architecture in town, the Courthouse.  These picturesque places are the heart of every community.  Each has a story to tell about Kentucky, from its formative years to its most recent.


Kentucky’s courthouses have endured moments of great discourse in American history, leaving some tattered in the wake.  Others have faced controversy for simply being historic, but those that have endured are better for it.  Their placement and role in our communities has made them the site of many noteworthy events and personal milestones.  All are receptacles of our varied and diverse history.


Architecture tells our story.  It is an outward expression of the life and times of our people—and the buildings we save tell us what stories we value.  As canons of our heritage, Kentucky’s historic courthouses stand as our most important and prominent landmarks.  They tell how we grew from a frontier settlement to the fifteenth state of the union to one of the most scenic and vibrant states in America.  Geography, natural resources, craftsmanship, artistry and emerging technologies shaped our courthouses into the community landmarks that we enjoy today.  Their beginnings were humble, but their path to monuments of justice was pure Kentucky ingenuity.


Photos:  The historic Oldham County Courthouse in LaGrange was saved from demolition but not without sacrifice.  Leaders stripped the historic fabric from its interior and moved its hollow shell threes times before repositioning it on the courthouse square to make way for a massive justice center to tower over the graceful building that once stood as the prominent, stately centerpiece of this charming downtown.

Photo taken between 1875 and 1920, looking southeast.
Circa 1920s photo, looking east, shows the historic addition that was demolished in the 1990s. The horse is tied to the fire bell.
1864 photo of the 1828 Courthouse taken by F. L. Craft, looking southwest. The cupola is barely visible.
1875 Courthouse with a limewash, looking southwest, shows the 1890 Victorian era house and jail, which were demolished in the 1990s.