New Term for the Supreme Court, but No Kentucky Justices Anymore

Memorial Plaque Honoring Justice
Stanley Forman Reed in Maysville, Ky.

Today, the Supreme Court of the United States opens its Term and will hear four cases. On the bench sit the nine justices, none of whom are from Kentucky.

Five Kentuckians have served on the Supreme Court with Justice Stanley Forman Reed holding the position most recently. He was on the bench for nineteen years before he retired in 1957. 
Other Supreme Court Justices from Kentucky with their dates of service are Thomas Todd (1807-1826), Robert Trimble (1826-1828), John Marshall Harlan (1877-1911), and Fred M. Vinson (1946-1953).

Shortly before his retirement from the bench, Reed’s “friends and life-long associates” had a plaque installed on the façade of the courthouse in Reed’s native Mason County.

Reed was appointed to the U.S. Supreme Court in 1938 after having served as Roosevelt’s Solicitor General. When he stepped down from the bench in 1957, he was the last Justice who had not obtained a law degree. Reed had previously obtained two bachelors degrees (Kentucky Wesleyan in 1902; Yale University in 1906) and had studied law, but not graduating, at both University of Virginia and Columbia University.

On the bench, Reed was the fifth “swing justice.” He was considered a progressive on economic and some social issues, but was decidedly more conservative on matters of free speech and national security. He is interred at the Maysville Cemetery and his papers are at the University of Kentucky.

Antebellum Mason County Courthouse Part of Historic Downtown Maysville, Ky.

Mason County Courthouse – Maysville, Ky.
Maysville is one of the great hidden treasures in Kentucky. If you haven’t been to Maysville, you owe yourself the trip.

Mason County is named after founding father and namesake of college basketball bracket-buster George Mason. The area was settled early – Christopher Gist settled the area in 1751, with Simon Kenton and Thomas Williams among the first permanent settlers. While conflicts with natives made the area a dangerous place for settlers early on, Maysville would later enjoy a nationwide reputation as a harbor town and port. The town was originally called Limestone, leading to the naming of Limestone Street in Lexington. The road between Maysville and Lexington was among the most heavily travelled routes in Kentucky during the era of the steamboat.

Maysville retains much of its historic character. The area surrounding the courthouse is filled with beautiful historic homes. This Greek revival courthouse was completed in 1846, and was constructed in anticipation of the county seat being relocated to Maysville.

NoD: Sen. Kathy Stein now represents these eight counties

Montgomery County stream – east of Mount Sterling, Kentucky

Late last week, the governor signed the state’s new redistricting law (HB1) into effect which redrew the boundaries of state legislative districts. In a highly political process, many were directly affected. Politicos and pundits have had much to say, with the most contentious move being the transfer of Lexington’s 13th Senate District to nor’eastern Kentucky taking with it Senator Kathy Stein. Lexington has gone all a’twitter and the folk at Barefoot & Progressive have led the charge. But this post isn’t about politics.

(UPDATE 2-24-2012): The Kentucky Supreme Court has ruled that HB1 was unconstitutional and, as a result, this won’t be Kathy’s new district. She shall continue to repesent the people of Lexington. But keep reading about eight of our wonderful Kentucky counties!

While the Herald-Leader took the opportunity to introduce Lexington its new state senator who lives two-and-one-half hours away in Henderson, no one appears to have yet offered Sen. Stein a tour of her new, very rural district. Having formerly represented a small, compact, urban district, Stein now has a lot of acreage to cover in representing her new constituents in Bath, Fleming, Harrison, Lewis, Mason, Montgomery, Nicholas, and Robertson counties. Off to the new 13th…

Maysville, KY
Maysville, Ky.

Mason County. Kathy may be most accustomed to Maysville (Mason County) which is the district’s largest city, though it still has fewer than 10,000 people. It was here that Rosemary Clooney started her career. In the small hamlet of Minerva, Kathy will find the birthplace of Supreme Court Justice Stanley Reed. As an attorney and ACLU member, Senator Stein will be interested to know that the Justice grew up in a house that was on the underground railroad all of which may have influenced his laying the groundwork for voting rights and ending racial desegregation in Smith v. Allwright.

Montgomery County. On Comment last Friday evening, Joe Gerth of the Courier-Journal noted that though Senator Stein was staying in Lexington, her temptation would be a relocation to Mount Sterling. With convenient access to Lexington via Interstate 64, Montgomery County offers beautiful rural scenes. Mount Sterling’s downtown features excellent examples of historic preservation and its annual Court Days festival is renowned.

Bath County. Getting to Owingsville is challenging, but well worth the effort. The people I encountered were all friendly and all well-informed about their community. The old jail was built in the late 1800s and is almost a miniature of the county courthouse. Quite unique! Civil War heritage is present, but the historical prize is the Owings House which ties political intrigue, fine architectural, royal guests, and a remembrance of the Alamo!

Fleming County. A look at our map shows that I haven’t yet ventured to Flemingsburg, but I can assure Senator Stein that there is something to see here! After all, Fleming County is the covered bridge capital of Kentucky!

Harrison County. When Senator Stein ventures into Cynthiana, she’ll see welcome signage to “a town as beautiful as its name.” Behind the courthouse is a log-house in which Henry Clay defended an accused murderer; at the close of the trial, Clay had given such an impassioned plea that the accused’s wife planted a big kiss on the great orator’s lips.

The AA Highway
AA Highway

Lewis County. The only courthouse lawn memorial to a Union soldier south of the Mason-Dixon line can be found here, in Vanceburg. It is a fine town with a great recognition of its history – more can be learned at the visitor’s center which is located in the restored home in Rep. George Morgan Thomas, a Republican who also received numerous appointments from Presidents Garfield and McKinley.

Nicholas County. A well-known landmark in the county seat of Carlisle is the Doll and Toy Museum. And Nicholas County had no greater ambassador than her native son, the late Gatewood Galbraith.

Robertson County. Without a doubt, Mount Olivet is the most different from downtown Lexington. But it does have its own sense of charm … and its own golf driving range. Robertson County, in terms of both population and square acreage, is Kentucky’s smallest. In history, the Johnson County Covered Bridge reminds of bygone times and the Blue Licks Battlefield State Park and Nature Preserve is a contemplative place that recalls a great incident from the French & Indian War.

NoD: A Maysville Mansion, Phillips Folly

Maysville, KY
Phillips Folly – Maysville, Ky.

William B. Phillips began construction in 1825 of what was considered to be the largest home in Maysville. With twelve rooms, including six bedrooms, the home was built on a mortarless foundation – the condition of which continues to be examined for its quality. Without a doubt, Phillips was excited about his mansion; it is altogether likely that when the Marquis de Lafayette visited Maysville in 1825 that Phillips, who was in the receiving party, took the opportunity to show the Frenchman his plans. Yet, excitement is insufficient to bring about completion.

In 1828, the house was not completed and Phillips had insufficient funds to finish. Townspeople referred to the property as “Phillips’ Folly” for he had built beyond his means a home too grand. Without a word, Phillips left Maysville only to return two years later having won sufficient monies while gambling in New Orleans to finish his home. The house was finally completed in 1831 and is an amalgam of several architectural styles: a Federal façade, a Georgian two-story portico, stepped parapets in the “Dutch” or German tradition, windows attributed to the Greek Revivalist style and other qualities introduced after Phillips’ years in New Orleans.

When the cholera epidemic of 1833 swept through the region, it took with it the first mayor of the Maysville; Phillips was chosen to become the second mayor of Maysville. In 1838, Phillips’ sold his “folly” to John Armstrong who died in the home in 1851. It is said that his ghost, and that of his laborador, still haunt the Sutton Street mansion.

Maysville, KYArmstrong’s son, Francis Armstrong, acquired the property after his father died. Francis was believed to have been an operative on the underground railroad. In a house where basement wooden cell likely originally held captive slaves, the mansion became a symbol of freedom as the last stop for the weary before crossing the Ohio River into freedom. A tunnel from the home to the river would have brought the slaves to a small dinghy in which to cross the river.

During occupancy by the Finch family from 1890 to 1894, a man named Pearce visited the house and is said to have committed suicide there. Others, however, have suggested that suicide was simply a cover for Pearce’s death: he had been killed in a duel at a time when dueling had been made illegal in the Commonwealth. Those who have seen his apparition have also heard the formalities of dueling in the back stairs.

After the Fitch family left, Dr. John Reed moved his family from the small Mason County hamlet of Minerva to Phillips Folly in  1894. Dr. Reed established a medical practice in the basement. His son, Stanley, was ten years old when the family moved in; young Stanley would leave for school eight years later and would eventually be appointed by President Franklin Delano Roosevelt to serve as an Associate Justice on the Supreme Court.

With all its history, Phillips Folly is open for tours particularly because of its role as a station on the Underground Railroad.

Maysville OnlineNRHP; Precious TimesWikipedia

NoD: Cox Building

Maysville, KY
Cox Building – Maysville, Ky.

In November of 2010, fire ravaged Maysville’s historic Cox Building (photos). I immediately remembered the story when I was in Maysville the following month and observed all of the scaffolding around the building’s remaining shell. It was clear that the roof and top floor was a complete loss.

The building first opened in 1887 with its upper floors (primarily the Third) being a Masonic Lodge for the York Rite Knights Templar. Its opening was attended by Gov. J. Proctor Knott (a Templar) who stated that “The Temple is pronounced the handomest in Kentucky, and one of the finest in the South.”

The Cox Building replaced a tanyard and a “dilapidated two-story brick” with a Romanesque five-story designed by W. R. Brown of Crapsey & Brown, Cincinnati. The Masons shared their space throughout the years with other orders and organizations, including other Masonic rites, the Eastern Stars and the Grand Army of the Republic. Storefronts and offices contained a number of different businesses. Later, portions of the upper floors were converted into low-income housing.

The Cox Building is symmetrical on each of its visible facades with a tower in its corner. Visible in the tower shingles was a red cross – a tangible connection to the resident Templars. Of course, the Masons included a number of other architectural flourishes in the building’s design. Although the building appears to be a four story structure, there are in fact five stories with an ‘intermediate’ fourth floor between Three and Five. Apparently, this ‘intermediate’ floor contained the Red Cross Room and armoury (to be certain, it would have been the most secretive areas in the building as it was unknown from the street).

The City of Maysville acquired the building in 2006 and sought to renovate it as a community center which would include a culinary school to be part of the local community college. After the fire, the building was nominated for inclusion on the National Register with the hope of securing more grants to return this beautiful landmark of Maysville to its glory.

UPDATE: On August 18, 2011, the Cox Building was added to the National Register of Historic Places (11000538).

NoD: Russell Theater

Maysville, KY
Russell Theater, Maysville, Ky.

In 1953, Rosemary Clooney’s first movie, The Stars are Singing, premiered at Maysville’s Russell Theater. Clooney, a Maysville native, would go on to star in White Christmas with Bing Crosby and top the music charts; the Clooney name is an important part of Kentucky’s rich cultural history.

The Russell Theater also has a rich history. Announced in 1928, the theater was constructed through the first year of the Great Depression before opening on December 4, 1930. Local businessman Col. J. Barbour Russell laid out $125,000 for the construction of a “handome, luxurious, and fireproof” theater. As with other period theaters, the decor was opulent. What makes the Russell truly unique (especially for northern Kentucky) is its architectural style: both inside and out, Spanish colonialism prevails. And like the Palace in Louisville or the State Theater in Lexington, the ceiling appears as a sky with twinkling stars. With seating originally for 700, the design included two balconies (the higher of the two being segregated for African Americans). The Lexington architecture firm of Frankel and Curtis (you may recall the same firm designed the Wolf Wile Building in Lexington)

A popular Maysville destination until suburban movie houses opened, drawing away its customers. The Russell Theater closed in 1983 and other businesses moved in before the site was totally abandoned. Weather took its toll on the building – inside and out – but preservation groups began moving in in 1995. In 1982, the building was included in the National Register as part of the historic Maysville area, but preservationists successfully had the building individually listed in 2006.

NoD: Simon Kenton Bridge

Maysville, KY
Simon Kenton Bridge; Maysville, Ky.

The Simon Kenton Bridge spans the Ohio River between Maysville, Ky. and Aberdeen, Ohio (the picture above was actually taken in Aberdeen). The bridge opened on Thanksgiving Eve, 1931. Until that time, ferries were used (photo) to transport people across the Ohio (vehicular traffic had to go through either Newport, Ky. to the west or Portsmouth, Ohio to the east).

The first ferry authorized in Maysville (f/k/a Limestone) was in 1794 to Benjamin Sutton for whom Maysville’s Sutton Street is named after. But with the completion of the Simon Kenton Bridge, the ferries came to an end.

You may recall that Limestone was once part of Bourbon County and leaders from this region, including the namesake of this bridge (Simon Kenton), traveled to Paris to conduct county business. In 1777, Kenton saved the life of Daniel Boone and Kenton County is named after him. Born in Virginia and making his mark in Kentucky, Kenton ultimately settled and died in Ohio.

When this silver-painted suspension bridge opened, 15,000 people turned out. Four high school bands and the University of Kentucky Marching Band all performed to celebrate the opening of the 3,163 foot bridge. [*] Designed by a Harrisburg, Penn. firm, the superstructure was completed by the famous J.A. Roebling Company which had years before designed the Roebling Bridge in Covington (as a design model for its more famous Brooklyn Bridge). In 1945, the tolls were removed and the bridge became toll-free.

NoD: Justice Stanley Reed

Maysville, KY
Stanley Reed Ct., Maysville, Ky.

On New Years Eve in 1884, Justice Stanley Forman Reed was born in Minerva, Kentucky. Minerva, situated in Mason County, is a small hamlet – but the county seat of Maysville has not forgotten its native son. A plaque honors Reed at the old courthouse and the road adjacent to it bears his name.

Reed was appointed to the U.S. Supreme Court in 1938 after having served as Roosevelt’s Solicitor General. When he stepped down from the bench in 1957, he was the last Justice who had not obtained a law degree. Reed had previously obtained two bachelors degrees (Kentucky Wesleyan in 1902; Yale University in 1906) and had studied law, but not graduating, at both University of Virginia and Columbia University.

On the bench, Reed was the fifth “swing justice.” He was considered a progressive on economic and some social issues, but was decidedly more conservative on matters of free speech and national security. He is interred at the Maysville Cemetery and his papers are at the University of Kentucky.

“The United States is a constitutional democracy. Its organic law grants to all citizens a right to participate in the choice of elected officials without restriction by any state because of race.” – Smith v. Allwright, 321 U.S. 649 (1944).

NoD: Hayswood Hospital

Atop the hill overlooking Maysville and the Ohio River rests the old HayswoodHospital. A massive and imposing structure that by all accounts is quite haunted, the old hospital has been an empty shell since 1983. As a result of almost thirty years of abandonment, it looks like something right out of the History Channel’s Life After People.

Built in 1915 (expanded in 1925 and 1971) atop the demolished remains of the even older Wilson Infirmary (which dated to the 1800s), the hospital closed with a patient capacity of 87 beds. Since its 1983 closure, a number of different ideas have been levied of what to do with the property – but currently only time and invasive species have bothered to invest.

The ghost stories are many and are well-documented (from

According to several accounts, a woman carrying a baby was seen walking through the nursery area of the hospital. The woman, having died in labor, was soon followed by the newborn (4). Others have reported seeing doctors in the hallways and hearing the cries of its former patients, along with spotting lights in the windows. And the few have reported seeing strange markings in the basement that bestow a threatening hostility on whoever walks or drives by.

I would have ventured deeper into old Hayswood, but I was alone and had concerns about the buildings structural soundness. The pictures are so cool, I’ve embedded a slideshow and have included lots of links (most of which have even more awesome pictures).

NoD: Alanant-O-Wamiowee

Maysville, KY
Historic Marker #84; Maysville, Ky.

Kentucky Historic Marker #84 states that

Ancient buffalo trace carved in the wilderness by prehistoric animals seeking salt. Trace was later used by buffaloes, mound builders, Indians and pioneer settlers. Also known as Warrior’s Trace.

There are a couple of conflicting reports regarding the path of this particular trace. The historic marker, as well as Filson’s 1784 map, identify this trace as the “Warrior’s Trace” which generally heads south from Limestone n/k/a Maysville southeast before cutting through the Cumberland Gap; this is likely correct. But there are other sources, including the Kentucky Encyclopedia, labeling the Alanant-O-Wamiowee as the which have it going through what is now Big Bone Lick and crossing the Kentucky River near Leestown. This buffalo trace is located near and lends its name to what is now the Buffalo Trace Distillery. A third trace nearly paralleled the first until it reached the Blue Licks to turn southwest toward Lexington.

Regardless of the course, these traces were wide swathes of land cut into forest and leaving permanent paths where the large bison (and their now-extinct sister-species) would migrate. The paths were later used by armies and settlers, and more recently as road beds.