History of Frankfort Kentucky

This article provides a brief history of Frankfort, Kentucky, including its exploration and settlement by various individuals, the acquisition of land grants, the establishment of the town by General James Wilkinson, and the construction of notable residences such as the John Bibb House, the Vreeland House, the Crittenden House, Liberty Hall, the Orlando Brown House, and the Sigmund Luscher House.

The City of Frankfort and the capital of Kentucky is located at a bend of the Kentucky River between the cities of Louisville and Lexington.

The area was first visited in 1751 by Christopher Gist a surveyor for the Ohio Company. This would begin a long procession of exploration in the area known as Kentucke. John Finley, Daniel Boone, Robert McAfee, Hancock Taylor, George Rogers Clark, Nicholas Cresswell and Hancock Lee were to follow. In December 1775, Hancock Lee made a personal survey for land at Leestown, which would become one of the first settlements in the new land. Due to a change in Virginia Land Grant laws, Lee was forced to secure the property at Leestown through a treasury warrant. He received this grant in October 1779 for 500 acres adjoining the 1774 military survey of Zachery Taylor.

In 1780, a party of men had left Bryant’s Station on a salt boiling expedition Mann’s Lick in Jefferson County. While camped at the ford on the Kentucky River they were surprised by a band of Indians. Stephen Ford died immediately, while the others escaped unharmed. The exact location is known, although some suggest Leestown, others believe South Frankfort. The favored opinion is the ford opposite Devil’s Hollow. The shallow area became a heavily used crossing for travelers between Lexington and Louisville. This area became known as Franksford.

By 1790 seven men had secured surveys for land in the immediate vicinity of Leestown. In 1776, William Haydon had selected a parcel of land adjacent to Zachery Taylor’s property in the vicinity of East Main hill, where he built a cabin and raised a crop of corn. He appeared, four years later, before the Kentucky Land Court to claim preemption to 1,000 acres on the Kentucky River about two miles above Leestown. The land was surveyed by John Williams, deputy surveyor of Fayette County. Governor Benjamin Harrison signed Haydon’s grant in June 1784.

George Mason claimed a 1,000 acre tract south of the bend of the Kentucky River, which ran from the river on the east to the Louisville Road on the west and included part of the current day South Frankfort and the state capitol. This tract was surveyed by William McBrayer, assistant surveyor for Lincoln County. Governor Henry signed the claim in September 1785.

It was at this time, Humphrey Marshall discovered that Robert McAfee have allowed his 1773 claim of 400 acres at the bend of the river to lapse. Marshall entered claim for the McAfee tract in May 1784. With Fayette County surveyor, Thomas Marshall, Humphrey laid out specific land which he desired. The two tracts totalled 260 acres and the largest included most of what became the northern part of the original site of Frankfort. The second tract extended north from the river cliffs across the property of the Frankfort Cemetery, up East Main and into Thorn Hill bottom land between portions of Zachery Taylor’s and William Haydon’s tracts. Marshall’s claim was signed in August 1786, by Governor Henry.

A few days after the approval of Marshall’s claim. Governor Henry signed a grant for 400 acres at the mouth of Benson Creek to Edmond Lyne. Lyne’s claim was based on a preemption warrant located in Jefferson County and had been surveyed in December 1784, by J. Hite, a deputy for Jefferson County.

The last grant covering the original site that would become Frankfort was issued to George Campbell in March 1790. His 500 acre claim began at Benson Creek on the west and took in the northern part of South Frankfort.

Early Beginnings in Frankfort Kentucky

In 1784, General James Wilkinson arrived in Frankfort. He was very excited when he learned that McAfee’s claim had been issued to his friend Humphrey Marshall. Immediately after the claim had been issued to Marshall he sold the tract to Wilkinson and two months later, the Virginia Legislature designed one hundred acres of Wilkinson’s land as the town of Frankfort. A board of trustees was appointed from seven Fayette County citizens; Caleb Wallace, Thomas Marshall, Joseph Crockett, John Fowler, Jr., John Craig, Robert Johnson and Benjamin Roberts. Wilkinson had platted the area into streets and lots and authorized the trustees to sell at public auction all the lots that Wilkinson had not already sold. Wilkinson named the streets in honor of many of his wartime friends and acquaintances. However, the town of Frankfort was not growing as fast as Wilkinson or the Virginia Legislature had hoped and they gave Wilkinson a three-year extension to sell his lots. During these three years the growth was not anything to brag about. Wilkinson, himself built the second house in Frankfort. It was a two-story double log house located on the southwest corner of Wilkinson and Wapping Streets. However, his aristocratic wife, Ann, claimed the environment was too crude and she refused to live in the house. Wilkinson sold the home to Andrew Holmes, who lived there for a short time, then sold the house to Thomas Love, who converted it into a tavern. The Love House would become a popular place for travelers and host many notables including: Aaron Burr, Marquis de Lafayette and Henry Clay.

Early Residences in Frankfort Kentucky

John Bibb House

Located on Wapping Street this house of Italian Renaissance style was built about 1857.

The Vreeland House

Located on Wapping Street was built in the early 1900’s. It was the home of Graham Vreeland, who was the managing editor of Louisville Courier Journal and publisher of the State Journal.

The Crittenden House

Located on the corner of Main and Washington Streets was the home of John J. Crittenden, a Kentucky governor. The house was build about 1800 by Charles Sprole on property once owned by Aaron Burr.

Liberty Hall

Built about 1796 by Kentucky’s first Senator John Brown for his parents. It is located on the corner of Main and Wilkinson Streets.

Orlando Brown House

Located next to Liberty Hall, this house was designed by Gideon Shyrock. The home of Orlando Brown, second son of John and Margaretta Mason Brown.

Sigmund Luscher House

Built about 1868 by swiss brewer, Sigmund Luscher. Originally located at 615 Ann Street. The home was moved to Clinton Street to make room for the new state building for the Transportation Cabinet.

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