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Frankfort Kentucky Walking Tour
Item 6 of 14
In 1880, Kentucky was the nation's geographical population center, and its capital city, Frankfort, had grown by more than forty percent during the 1860s and nearly another thirty percent during the following decade. Recognizing these factors, the federal government authorized funding for the construction of a new federal building in Frankfort in 1882. The building featured the Second Empire design and opened two years later, serving as the community's post office and the area's federal courthouse for decades. The building was home to the post office until 1965. At that time, the building became the home of the Paul Sawyier Library until 2008 when Kentucky State University purchased the building and renovated it.

  • Old Federal Building, or Old United States Courthouse and Post Office, in Frankfort, Kentucky.

President Chester A. Arthur signed the Congressional appropriation bill authorizing $100,000 to construct the Old Federal Building (Frankfort Post Office and U. S. Court House) on April 20, 1882, eighty-eight years after establishing Frankfort's first U.S. post office in 1794 (two years after Kentucky became a state). Construction on the Second Empire style structure started in 1883, and it opened in 1887. The building served the Post office and courts for roughly almost eighty years. 

Frankfort grew substantially following the Civil War, from 3,700 people in 1860 to nearly 7,900 in 1890. Indeed, the population grew more than 45% during the 1876s and 29% during the 1870s. Furthermore, by 1880, Kentucky existed as the country's geographical population center (particularly about 70 miles north of Frankfort or slightly south of Cincinnati). Thus, a need for the sizable and well-funded Federal Building proved necessary in the federal government's view. 

Before building the historic post office, the government had to purchase land in 1883 occupied by a once-successful, nineteenth-century mill site and an adjacent home. Construction began in 1883 after demolishing the previous structures, with the cornerstone laid on February 1884. Three years later, on February 28, 1887, the Frankfort Post Office and U.S. Courthouse opened for business. In 1910, the building underwent an interior renovation project and had a rear wing added. 

The Frankfort Post Office vacated the building in 1965. The Paul Sawyier Library then occupied it until 2008. When the public library moved into its new facility, The City of Frankfort offered Kentucky State University an opportunity to purchase the building,. In 2009, KSU obtained a one-million-dollar historic preservation grant to renovate the building to use as its downtown campus location.

Ford, Thomas R. "Kentucky in the 1880s: An Exploration in Historical Demography." The Kentucky Review, vol. 3, no. 2. Article 5. Published 1982. https://uknowledge.uky.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1277&context=kentucky-review.

Goetzman, Bruce E. "Nomination Form: Paul Sawyier Library." National Register of Historic Places. nps.gov. 1974. https://npgallery.nps.gov/GetAsset/479c41ea-dbd1-4225-8da3-d74bd68537e0.

"Old Federal Building." Frankfort Publicart. VisitFrankfort.com. Accessed April 21, 2021. https://visitfrankfort.com/art/old-federal-building/.

Image Sources(Click to expand)

By Normal Op - Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=91065869