Rowan County Court House & Arts Center
The Rowan County Court House is a large, two-story brick building which was constructed in 1889 by city officials. The building is located along Main Street in Morehead, Kentucky, the county seat of Rowan County. The building is frequently referred to as one of both the most architecturally and historically significant buildings in Morehead. The courthouse was vacated in 1981 after the construction of a new courthouse and was later recognized by the National Register of Historic Places. Today, the building serves as the site for the Rowan County Arts Center.
Backstory and Context
The current Rowan County Courthouse was constructed in 1899, taking the place of an older, one-story courthouse which had previously been used by the county. The courthouse was constructed along main street in Morehead, Kentucky, the county seat of Rowan County. The courthouse is a large, two-story brick building constructed upon a rusticated limestone foundation, making it one of the most architecturally significant buildings in the city of Morehead. The courthouse was officially vacated and close in 1981 following the construction of a new courthouse, prompting community members and court officials to ponder the future fate of the building. Ultimately, the city launched conservation efforts to upkeep the building as a result of its long presence in Rowan County's legal history, an effort which, along with the building's own architectural and historical significance, led to the building being recognized by the National Register of Historic Places in 1983.
In 2003, at the request of the Rowan County Judge, a group of Morehead residents making up the Morehead Art Guild, the Rowan County Historical Society, and the Morehead Theatre Guild met with representatives from the Lucille Caudill Little Foundation, a Kentucky based charity foundation which sponsors the arts, about the possibility of having the foundation award a one million dollar grant which would then be matched by local funds for the purpose of transforming the old courthouse into the Rowan County Arts Center. Once this request had been granted, the involved parties met with an architect and renovations on the building began. These architectural efforts focused primarily on restoration, with the only significant change to the building being the conversion of the old county offices into a series of gallery and theater spaces. Most noticeably, this renovation returned the court house's original grand bell tower to the front corner of the building.
At the time of the Rowan County Arts Center's establishment, there was a noticeable need for such a facility within the county. While local art groups existed at the time, there was no comprehensive facility available to display their work or to educate the community about the importance of the arts. With the establishment of the center, then, Morehead - and Rowan County as a whole - gained a space not only to praise local artists and display their work, but to teach others about art in all of its forms. This achievement is in line with the original mission statement of the Rowan County Arts Center, which, according to the center's official website, is as follows:
"The principal goal of this project was set out as follows: to make available a dedicated facility within Rowan County where all its citizens, young and old, could have active experiences with the full spectrum of creative and performing arts, including but not limited to painting, drawing, sculpture, ceramics, music, dance, drama, and film."1
In line with these goals, today the Rowan County Arts Centers offers a rotating series of galleries comprised of the work of local artists in addition to a series of weekly workshops for the general public. The center is also home to the Morehead Theatre Guild, and thus serves as the site for all of the troupe's productions. The center also offers an event space and subsequently hosts numerous town celebrations and festivals.
1About Us. Accessed July 30, 2019. https://www.rowancountyartscenter.com/.
Historical Designation Nomination Form - Rowan County Court House in Morehead, KY. National Park Service. June 23 1983. Accessed July 31, 2019. https://npgallery.nps.gov/NRHP/GetAsset/ac8e6422-f426-41bf-be62-52ecf0343f65