Alexandria and Newport Courthouses

Alexandria and Newport Courthouses


Newport Courthouse

This article is by Jim Reis and is reprinted here with his permission.

Campbell County was carved out of Mason, Scott and Harrison counties in 1794.  The earliest county government meetings were held in the home of John Grant at Wilmington, a pioneer settlement established on December 7, 1793.  Wilmington was laid out on a 50 acre site along the Licking River. about 22 miles south of Newport.  Back then, Kenton County was part of Campbell County and Wilmington was close to the county's geographic center.

But traveling to Wilmington was inconvenient and county officials quickly decided to move further court sessions to Newport.  Court sessions were held in the home of Jacob Fowler, a woodsman and surveyor who owned the first tavern in Newport.  In 1789 he built what was probably the first cabin in Newport near the confluence of the Licking and Ohio rivers.

The county seat was officially moved to Newport in 1797.  The site of the courthouse location of the current courthouse, was donated to the county by James Taylor, the founder of Newport.  Around 1800, a public whipping post, stocks and several log buildings used primarily as jails, were built on the site.  The first courthouse was built there in 1815 and was a two-story brick building with a cupola and bell.

The county seat was moved out of Newport in 1823 by a group that wanted the county courthouse located closer to the center of the county.  This time, officials selected Visalia, a small rural community on the west side of the Licking River in what is Kenton County.  But Visalia, like Wilmington, was just far from everything.  Within a year, a 10 man committee was selected to settle the issue. After some study, four members of the committee supported Wilmington for the county seat and one wanted to start all over with a new site.  But Newport got five votes and the courthouse. 

The county government returned to Newport and remained there until 1840. That was the year the General Assembly carved Kenton County out of Campbell County.  Legislators designated Alexandria as the official county seat of Campbell County.  The original courthouse at Alexandria was started in 1840 and was built of red brick fired at the kiln owned by the Spilman family.  The kiln was on the site of what is now St. Mary's Church on Jefferson Street.  Reverend James Jolly, a trained mason and bricklayer and at one time minister of Alexandria Baptist Church, is said to have done most of the building.  The courthouse holds many valuable records which date back to 1794.   Papers bearing the signatures of Daniel Boone and Henry Clay are housed there.

The transition from Newport to Alexandria wasn't smooth.  It took a court order and a visit from the sheriff to get the county clerk out to Alexandria.  And Newport backers continued to lobby for their own courthouse.  That finally happened in 1883, when construction began on a Newport Courthouse.  It was completed the next year.  That Victorian building, with its four sided clock tower, marble floors and stained glass window, still serves as a courthouse.  The building was sandblasted and restored in 1972.

These court order documents were copied by Margaret Hartman

Court Order Book 4, page 292, 27 April 1840

The report of the Commissioners appointed by an act of the last session of the Legislature of Kentucky to locate the county seat in Campbell County was this day returned to the Court which is in the words & figures following to wit:

"The undersigned, Samuel F Swope, David Brooks and Charles Ruddell, three of the commissioners appointed by An Act of the General Assembly of the Commonwealth of Kentucky, approved, January the 29th 1840, to locate the County Seats of Campbell and Kenton counties, would respectfully submit the following report to the honorable County Court of Campbell. to wit; that on Monday the 30th day of March 1840, they met at the Town of Alexandria, in said County of Campbell and after having been first duly sworn by H E Spilman, Esqr. a justice of the peace in and for said county, well and truly without partiality or favor to any one, to discharge the duties imposed upon them by said act and to locate the County Seats of Said Counties of Campbell and Kenton, as near the center of Said Counties, as the fact of the country would admit.

They proceeded to ascertain the center of the said County of Campbell, from various Maps of the County, from an examination of the fact of the Country and from information derived from aged and respectable Citizens of the County.  And although they were unable to find the exact center, yet they were well satisfied and so report that the center of the said County of Campbell is a little North of East and about a half or three quarters from the Said Town of Alexandria.

 And after having so ascertained the center of said County, and finding from the face of the boundary at and immediately around the center, that there was no site suitable for the location of said Seat of Justice, owing to the unevenness of the Country at or immediately around the center.  they proceeded to examine the various sites proposed as the most eligible and nearest to the center of said Count of Justice, believing it to be the only suitable place for the Seat of Justice in the vicinity of the center.

They therefore, in pursuance of said act of Assembly locate the Seat of Justice for Campbell County at the Site aforesaid in the town of Alexandria on the land of Henry E Spilman and within the following Boundary (to wit) Beginning on Fayette Street in said Town 20 feet from the North corner of Lot No 44, thence with said Street North 51 1/2 E 144 feet, Thence South 76 1/2 E 132 feet, to Benjamin D Bealls line, Thence South 45 W to the beginning, including Lots, Numbers 45 and 46 and fractional Lots No 40 and 60 as designated on the proposes and agrees to convey to the County Court of Campbell public buildings in the manner prescribed by said Act of Assembly, or in any other way so as to secure to said County Court, a good and sufficient title to said lots for the purposes aforesaid.  All of which is respectfully submitted to the County Court of Campbell County.

In Testimony whereof said Commissioners have hereunto set their hands this 31st day of March 1840."

Samuel F Swope, David Brooks, Charles Ruddell Commissioners

The County Court of Campbell Dr. to Samuel F Swope, March 1840 to 3 1/2 days attendance as commissioner to locate the County Seat of Campbell @ $5.00 per day; $17.50

The County Court of Campbell Dr. to David Brooks, March 1840 to 3 1/2 days attendance as commissioner to locate the County Seat of Campbell @ $5.00 per day; $17.50

The County Court of Campbell Dr. to Charles Huddell, March 1840 to 3 1/2 days attendance as commissioner to locate the County Seat of Campbell @ $5.00 per day; $17.50

It is ordered that the County & Circuit Courts of Campbell County be hereafter held in the Baptist Church in the Town of Alexandria, and that the paper record &c of said courts be removed to the new house of Ben D Beall in the upper room in the Town of Alexandria, the county seat, and the Clerk is authorized to employ a suitable number of Waggons &c for the transportation of said paper record, presses and office furniture to Alexandria at the expense of the County Court and the Jailor of Campbell County is, hereby directed to take possession of & safely keep and take care of all the public buildings & other public property in the Town of Newport, subject to the further order of this court.

Court Order Book 4, page 396, 25 May 1840

Clerk did not appear for County Court at Brick Meeting house, in or near Alexandria on Monday 25 May 1840.  The Sheriff opened court.  When Clerk did not answer roll call, it was ordered that the Sheriff go to Newport and notify the Clerk or Deputy for Clerk to appear at 11 o'clock AM Tuesday the 27th.

Court Order Book 4, page 397, Tuesday May 26, 1840

Court Held. H T Harris, Esqr. being of opinion that this court is illegal, absents himself from the bench.

Court Order Book 4, page 407, 8 June 1840

It is ordered that the Clerk of this and the Circuit Court be permitted to occupy the lower room in addition to the upper room Ben D Beall's new building in Alexandria as a clerks office till further ordered, he the said Beall assenting thereto in open court.

It is ordered that James McCron, Wm Riley & John Stroube be appointed commissioners to draft a plan to be presented to the County Court at their next August Term by said Commissioners for the building of a Courthouse, Jail & Clerk's Office, with the probably amount of costs for said buildings and to advertise the letting out and contracts for the building of the same on the following day to the lowest bidder.

Court Order Book 4, page 410, 10 August 1840

It is ordered that John J Thomas, Ben D Beall & Benjamin Smith be appointed Commissioners to examine the Clerks office of this court & report according to law.

Court Order Book 4, page 415, 10 August 1840

It is ordered that the plan proposed by Wm Riley for the Courthouse Jail & Clerks office be recorded & adopted with the exception of one of the Clerks office, the one to be built to be 20 by 30 feet in the clear with a partion through the center and it is further ordered that the Commissioners heretofore appointed to contract for the same, are hereby directed & instructed to contract & agree to pay for the same in three equal annual payments, the first payment to be made in November 1841.

COURT HOUSE-40 feet square; foundation stone sunk at least 2 feet below the surface of the earth and to be raised 18 inches above; lower story 13 feet upper 10 feet; the stairs to occupy the right hand corner as you go into the building; the upper story to be divided into three apartments; the front door to be in the center; door into the Clerks office.

CLERKS OFFICE (a change in the court order book) 18 X 34; 34 in front and adjoining the Court House; the story to be 9 feet in the clear; the office to be divided by a partition of brick as as to make the room adjoining the Court house 20 X 16 to contain 1 door and 2 windows in front the door in the center; above walls of buildings to be of brick 13 inches thick.

James M Jolly, with securities Henry E Spilman, David Shaw, James White and Jacob White junior; found for $11,770 for Court house, Clerks office and Jail; plan received by County Court August term 1840. 3 equal installments to be paid to Jolly of $5885, first payment to be made 1 November 1841 (sealed 12 August 1840)

Signed William Riley, James McCron, John Stroube, Commissioners

COURT HOUSE-the bench bar and jury seats & floor to be finished in the same manner as the Court House at New Port. Joists for second story 12 inches wide when dressed by 3 inches thick to be framed into a beam and below & above, the beam to be through the center of building & to be supported by two columns of the Dorick order.

The roof to be hipped with a square at top of ten ft. for a belfry to be 15 ft. to its eave of an octagon form, with plane pilasters at each angle with a neat cornice and a circular roof. The roof to be framed and finished in a strong and substantial manner, the shingles to be of good quality & of pine, to be nailed on inch sheeting and not to show more than 4 inches to the weather. The building to be finished with a neat brick cornice. The front door to be in the center 4 1/2 ft wide by 9 ft. high, to be made in two parts with 5 panels in each, the panels raised and molded on both sides, the door frames to be paneled to correspond with the door with a neat transom with a clip stick sash and a double clip stick arch over the door; the stuff for the door to be made of clear pine 2 inches thick, the door to be finished with a plain pilaster in front, one window on each side of the door dividing the front of the building into equal spaces, the windows to contain 24 lights of 12 X 14 glass, three windows in the building on the right hand side of the same side with equal spaces. The left hand side to have two windows and a door into the Clerks office and to form equal spaces.  The upper story to have 12 windows to contain 15 lights of 10 by 12 glass each and to be placed directly over the windows and doors of the lower story.

CLERKS OFFICE-2 windows in the rear of the large room and a door in the rear of the small one, the size of the windows to be the same dimensions of those in the upper story in Court house, the doors to have three lights over the, the door in the partition to be in the center; the four doors of office to have five panels raised and molded on both sides and 2 inches think; the floor to be of good hard brick; the shingles and sheeting to be the same as Courthouse; a flue for stove pipe to be run up with the partition a sufficient height above the building.

All the stone work above ground for Court house and Office, to be range work, the sills of Courthouse and Office to be limestone and the window sills of the above buildings to be of brick 13 inches thick, the window frames to be of yellow pine or locust 3 inches thick and 7 inches wide, the sash and shutter stops a 3/4 bead grooved into the frame, a 3/4 parting bead Do inside stops 1/2 inch to come flush with the edge of frame; the jamb casings to be of inch stuff grooved into the frame and flared.  All the windows in the above named buildings finished in this way except the upper windows in Courthouse; the jamb casings of upper windows to be recessed 1 1/2 inches, the architraves for doors and windows to be 6 inches wide with a plane 2 or 2 1/2 inches Grecian ovolo; the lower windows to hve venetian shutters both of Office and Courthouse to be 1 1/2 inch stuff with a middle rail with slats mortised in the same to have suitable hinges and fastenings.

The sash for Court house & Office to be of 1 & 3/8 inch stuff and franked the doors to have 3 hinges each to be 3 by 5 inches, with Cincinnati locks; all the wood work to have three coats of white lead, the window shutters to be painted green.  it is understood that there is to be two chimneys in the Courthouse with suitable fireplaces below and above situated as the chimneys in the Courthouse in New Port with suitable chimney pieces for each.  Also a chimney piece for the jailors room.

Specs for jail; Jail to be completed 1 October 1841
Clerks office 1 November 1841
Court house 1 April 1842

The above buildings, jail, clerks office and Court house were bid off by James Jolly on the 11th day of August 1840 at five thousand eight hundred and eighty five dollars.

Report May Term 1845

Of importance, difference in brick cornice and present finish in favor of undertaker. $30.00

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