Court Days

Around 1800, “Court Day” was established on the second Monday of each month.  This coincided with the schedule for the regular session of the County Court.  Court days were held on the public square, adjacent to the courthouse.

While the court was in session, a number of farm-folks came to town for shopping and trading.  On the square, a thriving market developed for horses, mules, jacks, cows and sheep.  In addition, farm fresh fruit and vegetables were offered for sale.  In ante-bellum time, an active slave market was conducted on the square.

The sidewalks were also covered with old furniture, farm implements, buggy harness and other items for sale or trade.  While the wives were shopping and children playing, the men would discuss politics, slavery, crops or sample some Kentucky whisky.

Early newspaper article referencing Cheapside, 1812

In November 1812, the first reference to the square being called Cheapside was published in the Kentucky Gazette.  Cheapside was named after the medieval market in London.

<Lexington History Museum>

<Lexington History Museum>

In 1893, the following article was published:

COURT DAY ORATORS

A BIG CROWD IS IN TOWN TODAY AND

CANDIDATES HOLD FORTH

Col. Hodges, Judge Walton and Mr. Marshall Speak at the Court House

Today is county court day, and an unusually large crowd of farmers and country folk are in town.

Cheapside was thronged with them this morning, the multitude beginning to assemble as early as 8 o’clock.

The street fakir was on hand with his clothes cleaning soap bark, the banana peddler was present with his hand cart, the water melon vender did a thriving business on the square, and the sale of stock of all kinds was generally good.

A blind fiddler amused a lazy crowd of loafing Negroes and roustabouts, while a colored street preacher expounded a few original thoughts on the silver questions.

A number of prominent horsemen from the city and surrounding county were seen in the crowd.

County candidates were skirmishing around through the crowds and could be seen on all sides with smiling countenances, eager to shake hands with everybody.  Announcement cards were freely distributed and

many little confidential talks were held.

At 2 o’clock the court house bell tolled the hour which was to summon the crowds in the circuit court room to hear Colonel Hodges and Colonel Mat Walton, opposition candidates, speak upon the political situation of the senatorial race.  The court room was packed before either speaker appeared

 

By 1920, the congestion caused by Court Day was interfering with automobile traffic along Main Street.  On October 26, 1921, the “City of Lexington was found guilty of suffering a nuisance by failing to maintain its public streets and highways free from obstructions and interference with public travel.”  The damages assessed by the court were one cent and costs.  In addition, the “defendant was forthwith ordered to abate the nuisance of public sales and gathering on Cheapside.”[i]

Cheapside was converted into a public parking lot.  The Breckinridge statue was retained in position, while the two fountains were relocated on each corner of the courthouse.

Cheapside, 1917   <Wilson>

Cheapside, circa 1920s   <Dunn>

Cheapside, circa 1920s   <Dunn>

[i] Coleman, (Court Houses) page 38.

References: 
William M. Ambrose, Bluegrass Court Houses, Limestone Press, Lexington, 2013.
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