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Peter Brackney: Saving Lexington courthouse will preserve key part of community’s history

Inside of the courthouse dome. (Photo by Peter Brackney)


Last Friday, the doors of the Lexington Museum Center were indefinitely closed due to “dangerous levels of damaged and deteriorating lead-based paint in the building.” Also cited by the city were asbestos, mold and structural problems. 

The Lexington Public Safety Museum, the Kentucky Renaissance Pharmacy Museum and the Lexington History Museum all call the Museum Center, Lexington’s old courthouse, home. And while these museums each tell a great history, the greatest history at the Museum Center is that of the old courthouse itself. Anyone who has explored the upper floors of the old courthouse knows that the building requires a tremendous amount of work in order to be fully restored, and it is disappointing that impediments so great stand in the way of that vision.

The 1898 Richardson Romanesque courthouse is at the heart of downtown Lexington; it is decidedly Lexington’s most recognizable structure. It served as the county courthouse for over a century until the Robert F. Stephens Courthouse Plaza opened in 2002. And although the façade is incredible, the building’s interior is more spectacular.

Imagine in circa 1900 Lexington, a 100-plus foot atrium featuring the architecture of a 14th century Tibetan palace above a split steamboat stairway. After remodeling in the 1960s, the dome only reached 52 feet above the newly added fifth floor.

Though this fifth floor has not been accessible to the public for many years due to the now-familiar lead-based paint, I’ve twice had the opportunity to explore the upper reaches of the old courthouse. I first saw the detailed beauty, colors and lights that evidenced Lexington’s world-class architecture in October 2009 while the Lexington History Museum celebrated its sixth birthday. This February, the Blue Grass Trust deTour of the Old Courthouse gave many the same opportunity.

Some estimates for complete restoration of the old courthouse have reached $25 million. This amount, however, was suggested a few years ago for a full restoration. Ongoing deferred maintenance may raise the overall price tag, though the full amount would not be necessary to once again open the doors of the old courthouse to the public.

More text and photos at Kaintuckeean.com.

Peter Brackney has combined a love of Kentucky with an interest in history in www.kaintuckeean.com, where he shares his photos and stories about some of the unique places around the Commonwealth. Born in Ohio, he came to Kentucky at an early age and grew up in Lexington. A double alumnus of the University of Kentucky with a bachelor’s in accounting and his juris doctorate, he lives in Nicholasville with his family. Reach him at peter@kaintuckeean.com.

Story republished from The Kaintuckeean.

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