Fourth Courthouse (1883-1897)

In August 1882, the Legislature authorized a new courthouse for Fayette County.  The act required the voters of Fayette County to approve the issuance of county bonds to pay for the new building.  The amount of bonds[1] was limited to $100,000.  If approved, the County Magistrates were required to appoint a committee of three to five members “who shall supervise and take charge of the work until the new Court House is completed; and immediately after their appointment this Board of Commissioners shall advertise for plans and specifications for the building.”[i]

In October 1882, the County Court appointed the commission to plan and oversee the construction of a new courthouse.  The committee was headed by Cincinnatus Shryock, a local architect.  The committee selected Thomas W. Boyd[2], of Pittsburgh, as the architect.

The plans called for a three-story Second Empire building of cut-stone, with dimensions of 90 by 117 feet.  The building was crowned with a dome, raising 160 feet above ground level.  The basement housed the steam heating plant, several offices (for rent to lawyers) and water closets.  The ceiling was 12 feet high.  The ground floor contained offices (25 by 38 feet) for the County Judge, Circuit Clerk County Clerk, Sheriff and County Commissioners.  The County Clerk’s office contained a fireproof vault for record storage.  The ceiling height was 14 feet.[ii]

The second floor contained two courtrooms (61 by 38 feet) for the Circuit and Common Pleas Courts, one in each wing.  In addition, four jury rooms and four offices were located on this level.  The ceiling height was 20 feet.  The dome contained an observatory and rotunda (30 by 30 feet).  Two stairways provided access to the floors.[iii]

On January 10, 1883 at 3:30 pm, the bids were opened, however, all the bids exceeded the authorization.  Another round of bids was schedule for February 1, 1883.  Boyd revised the plans replacing the iron rafters and joists in the dome with wood timber and tinclad resembling stone.[iv]

In February 1883, F. Bush & Sons, local contractor, was given the general contract for the new courthouse.  The contract was for $96,000, with a 15 percent retainage.  The brick work was subcontracted to Garret D. Wilgus, the stone work to John Boyle (of Cincinnati) and painting and glazing to Charles W. Foushee.  Bush also purchased the materials in the old courthouse for $1,200 and agreed to demolish the old building.[v]

On February 20, 1883, a crew of 50 men began demolition of the old building and carting away the rubble.  A crowd estimated at 1,300 watched the work.  The town clock and bell were removed for use in the new courthouse.  The clock was cleaned and repaired by T. G. Calvert, but later sold for $50.  Demolition was completed by the end of the March.[vi]

During the construction, court sessions were held in the old Masonic Hall, at the northeastern corner of Walnut and Short Streets.[vii]

In August 1883, the iron fence around the courthouse yard was removed and sold for $800 to the City of Millersburg.  The fence was installed around the public square in Millersburg.[viii]

The cornerstone was laid on July 4, 1884, by Dr. R. J. Spurr, chairman of the commission.  During February 1884 work resumed on the courthouse after a winter break.  The building was projected to be finished by October.  In October 1884, the two outbuildings were demolished and the sheriff relocated into the basement of the new building.[ix]

In November 1885, J. H. Staples was finishing the plastering work on the walls and ceilings, while James Murray was grading the terraces on the courthouse yard.  On November 13, 1884, the new clock was installed and place in service.[x]

On July 27, 1886, the new courthouse was finished.  The building cost $130,365.23.[xi]

Fourth Courthouse, circa 1890  <Bullock>

In August 1886, the old bell from the Third Courthouse was installed in the bell tower.[xii]

In 1887, a water trough was erected on the courthouse square to water horses.  In addition, troughs were erected on Broadway at High, Vine at Limestone and Second at Limestone.[xiii]

Details of the clock tower and dome   <Bullock>

1890 Sanborn Map   <LPL>

View from Main and Upper Streets   <Battaile>

View of east side of Courthouse, from Fayette National Building, circa 1893   <Battaile>

Interurban Station, circa 1893   < Battaile >

In 1891, the Lexington Railway Company installed an old street car body, in the center of Main Street at Cheapside.  The company operated the streetcar and interurban lines.  The station sold tickets and provided a place out of the weather for passengers to wait.  In addition, the four interurban lines originated from this point.  The station was removed on June 23, 1911, after being declared a public nuisance by the grand jury.

In May 1893, H. H. Gratz dug four cisterns in the courthouse yard.  The cisterns supplied water for the town well.  In 1894, the Fiscal Court approved the installation of electric lights in the clock.  The lights cost $300.[xiv]

Courthouse Fire:

On May 14, 1897, at 9:45 am, an employee climbing the belfry to wind the clock, dropped a match.  The wooden dome caught fire and quickly spread to the wooden third floor.  On the second floor, the County School Superintendent was administrating a test to about fifty students, who were quickly evacuated from the building.

The fire department quickly arrived, but high winds and low water pressure prevented them from fighting the fire on the upper floors.  Initially, they concentrated on preventing the spread of the fire to surround buildings.  Flying embers started small fires at the First National Bank, Central Bank and Sayre School Buildings.  All were put out quickly.

By the time the fire was brought under control, the second floor was fully consumed.  The first floor and basement were damaged by smoke and water.  During the fire, the bell crashed down and destroyed the Woman Triumphant statue.  See Woman Triumphant.  Most of the records[3] were saved, either carried out or stored in the fireproof vaults.  A number of Jouett’s portraits were also destroyed.[xv]

Ruins of Courthouse, 1897<Bullock>

After the fire, the County Court leased the Navarre Café, on East Main Street, for ninety days at $125 per month.  The county later extended the lease until the new courthouse was finished.[xvi]


[1] The bonds were issued through the Fayette National Bank of Lexington.

[2] In 1877, he also designed the courthouse for Georgetown Scott County, Kentucky.

[3] The county clerk’s records were stored over Skinner’s blacksmith shop, at 23 East Short Street, and the circuit court’s records were stored over the McAdams & Morford’s drug store.


[i] Lexington Transcript, August 9, 1882, page 1, column 2.

[ii] Wright, pages 117-118, Coleman, pages 29-30, Coleman (Squire’s), page 63 and Lexington Transcript, October 11, 1882, page 1, columns 3-4.

[iii] Wright, pages 117-118, Coleman, pages 29-30, Coleman (Squire’s), page 63 and Lexington Transcript, October 11, 1882, page 1, columns 3-4.

[iv] Lexington Transcript, January 10, 1883, page 1, column 2 and Lexington Transcript, January 11, 1883, page 1, column 1.

[v] Lexington Transcript, February 16, 1883, page 1, column 6 and February 17, 1883, page 1, column 5.

[vi] Wright, pages 117-118, Coleman (Squire’s), page 62, Lexington Daily Press, February 20, 1883, page 2, column 2 and Lexington Transcript, February 24, 1883, page 1, column 2 and May 22, 1886, page 8, column 4.

[vii] Coleman (Court Houses), page 30.

[viii] Lexington Transcript, August 4, 1883, page 1, column 2 and Lexington Transcript, May 22, 1886, page 8, column 4.

[ix] Lexington Daily Press, February 23, 1884, page 4, column 1 and June 18, 1884, page 4, column 1 and Lexington Transcript, October 14, 1884, page 2, column 2.

[x] Lexington Transcript, November 14, 1884, page 2, column 2 and November 23, 1884, page 1, column 7 and Lexington Daily Press, November 14, 1884, page 4, column 1.

[xi] Wright, pages 117-118, Coleman (Squire’s), page 63  and Kerr, page 52 and Lexington Transcript, July 26, 1885, page 1, column 5 and May 22, 1886, page 8, column 4.

[xii] Lexington Transcript, May 22, 1886, page 8, column 4 and August 5, 1886, page 8, column 2.

[xiii] Lexington Transcript 27 September 1887.

[xiv] Lexington Transcript, May 12, 1893, page 8, column 3 and June 2, 1894, page 5, column 1.

[xv] Wright, pages 117-118, Coleman, pages 30-31, Lexington Leader, May 14, 1897, page 1, columns 1-7 and May 17, 1897, page 5, columns 4-5 and Lexington Herald, May 15, 1897, page 1, columns 2-5 and May 16, 1897, page 10, column 2.

[xvi] Lexington Herald, May 18, 1897, page 5, column 3 and Lexington Leader, May 19, 1897, page 8, column 2.

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