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Frankfort Kentucky Walking Tour
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After the previous arsenal burnt down in 1836, the state needed a new facility. Though it took nearly fifteen years to construct a new arsenal, the legislature finally financed construction of the castle-like structure in 1850. The Kentucky State Arsenal played a significant role in the Civil War, and then served the military and National Guard into the middle of the twentieth century. In 1974, the building was converted into a military museum, which remains its function today.

  • Kentucky State Arsenal -- Kentucky Military History Museum
  • Kentucky State Arsenal -- Kentucky Military History Museum

Built in 1850, the castle-like Kentucky State Arsenal served the town for more than a century and now operates as Kentucky Military History Museum. Frankfort's arsenal played a role in Civil War, and it served the state and nation during the Spanish-American War, World Wars, and for the Kentucky National Guard. 

In 1836, a destructive fire severely damaged the state's second arsenal, and it took more than a decade for a new arsenal to emerge. The state legislature appropriated in 1850 the funds necessary to construct the now-historic site. Though initially slated to appear one-half mile from the State Capitol, the building arose on the east side of Frankfort in a location now known as Arsenal Hill.

During the first year of the Civil War (1861), women and girls worked in the arsenal. They prepared cartridges (ammunition) for the Union Army by combining black powder, lead bullets, and paper. However, that work ceased for a time when Confederate troops marched into the border state and took control of Frankfort (and the arsenal) in 1862. They occupied the city for nearly a month until Union forces returned and re-gained possession of Frankfort and Kentucky. The southern forces again moved in on Frankfort in 1864, but cannon fire from the arsenal helped support troops and militia based at nearby Fort Boone to repel the troops; the fight resulted in injuries and casualties for Union and Confederate troops. 

Weapons stored in the arsenal armed and supplied Kentucky volunteers in the Spanish-American War, those who fought against Mexico, and during the World Wars. Between World War I and II, in 1933, a fire damaged the Kentucky State Arsenal. However, unlike the destructive fire that destroyed the 1934-built arsenal, prisoners from the neighboring Kentucky State Penitentiary helped extinguish the blaze before it ruined the building. After the fire, the Kentucky Department of Military Affairs took control of the building and repaired it. They used the facility to store ammunition as well as a spot to organize and mobilize soldiers of the Kentucky National Guard.

After nearly a century and a quarter, the arsenal ceased operating as an official military site in 1974 when it transitioned into the Kentucky Military History Museum. The Kentucky Historical Society administers the museum in partnership with the Kentucky Department of Military Affairs.

Hughes, Nicky. "Fort Boone and the Civil War Defense of Frankfort." The Register of the Kentucky Historical Society 88, no. 2 (1990): 148-62. Accessed May 6, 2021. http://www.jstor.org/stable/23382462.

"Kentucky Military History Museum." Kentucky Historical Society. history.ky.gov. Accessed May 6, 2021. https://history.ky.gov/visit/kentucky-military-history-museum/.

Talbot, Tim. "State Arsenal." Kentucky Historical Society. explorekyhistory.ky.gov. Accessed May 6, 2021. https://explorekyhistory.ky.gov/items/show/225.

Walker, Robert Simpson, III. "Nomination Form: Kentucky State Arsenal." National Register of Historic Places. nps.gov. 1973. https://npgallery.nps.gov/GetAsset/493979dc-4f08-4499-a272-0706bf6b7de2/.

Image Sources(Click to expand)

By Matthew Peek - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=28495064

Kentucky Historical Society. https://history.ky.gov/visit/kentucky-military-history-museum/