Robertson County Courthouse – Mount Olivet, Ky.

Robertson County Courthouse – Mt. Olivet, Ky. 

One of the things I’ve always tried to stress with my entries on this blog is how special it is when you can find living history in Kentucky. So many buildings have been demolished; so many stories have been forgotten.

That is why a place like the Robertson County Courthouse is so important.

The building you see above is the only courthouse that has ever stood in Robertson County, and it is a beautiful structure. I have never had the chance to practice in Robertson County, and I keep waiting for a case to happen there that I can swoop in and take, just so I can make appearances in this courthouse.

The courthouse renovation project saw an annex added
to the historic 1872 structure. Photo: Peter Brackney.

It was built in 1872, and when it was half completed, the project ran out of money. The Masons fronted the necessary $1,500 to finish the second floor, and that space was reserved for their use. This structure, which is of Italianate design, was said to be the only brick structure in the county when it was completed.

Robertson County is tiny. In fact, it’s only about 100 square miles. Even with its tiny size, some remarkable history has taken place here. It is the site of what many believe to be the final battle of the Revolutionary War – the Battle of Blue Licks – where in 1782 a group of Native Americans, led by the British, ambushed 176 Kentuckians.

And here’s a weird note – at one time, county seat Mt. Olivet, which is obviously a name with Biblical implications, was called “Hell’s Half Acre.”

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.

No Destination: Mount Olivet

Robertson County is Kentucky’s smallest county by population (2000 census: 2,266 people). Geographically, it is also quite small (100 square miles). As of the same census, the county seat (Mount Olivet) had 289 residents. Needless to say, this is smalltown USA.

Mount Olivet was founded in 1820 and was named after the Mount of Olives in Israel. The town consists of a crossroads, a church (probably more, but I only encountered one), a golf driving range and government offices.

I will leave the description of the courthouse up to Nate. The new judicial center is complete and it was constructed adjacent to the old courthouse. Together, it is quite a large structure. A Mount Olivet resident living across the street from the courthouse remarked that “it is four-times the courthouse we need.” The old courthouse seems to have been gutted so that a modernized courthouse can sit inside the historic building.

The office of the mayor, city clerk and police appears to be a remodeledd two-bedroom house. It screams smalltown. I especially loved the identifying sign, pictured above.

Golf driving range? Yes. Goddard’s Driving Range will not be found on any listing of golf courses or driving ranges: the two tees direct into the back yards (downhill) of who I assume would be the Goddard’s. A note tells you the distances of the three holes, where to put your $5 and where you can find a bucket of balls (in a nearby shed). I loved it. If only I had brought my clubs…

No Destination: Johnson Creek Covered Bridge

Located just north of the Blue Licks State Park on KY-1029 in Robertson County, the Johnson Creek Covered Bridge once carried the state highway until it was closed to vehicular traffic in 1966. The Smith-truss design bridge was constructed in 1874 and spans 131 feet; it was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1976.

In the early 1910s, the bridge was overhauled by the Bower Bridge Company. The bridge was the target of a 1968 fire (arson); repairs were not made for four years. Today, however, the Johnson Creek Covered Bridge has just undergone a two-year renovation. The renovation was done by the Arnold M. Graton Company New Hampshire, a company that exclusively repairs and renovates historic bridges for preservation purposes. The Graton Company did a terrific job; the bridge is beautiful.

Note: Updated and Corrected on 22 Feb. 2010.

No Destination: Blue Licks

The Blue Licks Battlefield State Park and Nature Preserve was a great surprise. I did not intend on stopping, but the NoDestination gods had other plans. I stayed for an astonishing 25 minutes – walking to the lodge and taking a few steps down a trail. I could have spent a significant amount of time here.

Pictured above is the Shorts Goldenrod Solidago shortii), a federally endangered species that grows only along a small portion of an old buffalo trace trail in the Nature Preserve portion of the Park. The buffalo trace once extended from the Ohio River to the salt springs at Blue Licks. The species was discovered by Dr. Charles W. Short in 1840.

On August 19, 1782, a bloody battle was waged between Kentucky pioneers and a force of Indians and British-Canadians. Daniel Boone’s son, Israel, died in the struggle. Although the surrender at Yorktown had occurred the prior year, frontier battles of the Revolution continued. The Battle of Blue Licks was quite bloody and, among other losses, about 70 Kentucky pioneers were tomahawked in minutes by Wyandot indians.