The first stone Court House in Kentucky was built in Washington in 1794, two years after Kentucky was admitted as a state.  The Court House was built by Lewis Craig, a Baptist minister from Virginia, who combined the trade of stone mason with that of preaching, and was remarkably good at both.  Not many miles away in the quiet graveyard at Minerva, Lewis Craig now lies at rest.

 The Court House was an imposing building 50 feet long, 23 feet wide, and two stories high.  It was built of limestone, the walls two feet thick. The building was surmounted by a cupola and spar 20 feet high, upon which was a gilded ball and weather vane.  Extending across the entire front of the building was a beautiful colonial porch with eight massive stone pillars and a paved floor.

 There were clerks’ offices at the side and a whipping post in the rear.  Above the main door were carved the initials of the builder “L.C.” and the date “1794.” For 115 years this splendid building endured, and would have stood for centuries to come, if not a lightening bolt not struck the building August 13, 1909, and it was destroyed by fire.

 It could have been saved, but the sprstitious [sic] negroes made no effort, only whispered, “There ain’t no use trying to put out lightening fire, it cain’t be done ‘ceptin with milk. And they ain’t enuff milk.” [Or, they might have been thinking about that whipping post out back. – ed.]

 So perished the chief glory of Washington and removed from the state an old and interesting landmark, which was visited, each year, by hundreds of people.  On the grounds of the old Court House, a bronze tablet has been placed, which reads:

 “Site of the first Court House in Kentucky.

Built by Lewis Craig in 1794.

Destroyed by fire 1909

Placed by Washington Study Club.

 The Washington Study club has taken as its objective the marking of all historic sites and buildings in Washington.  Last year the Club placed three bronze tablets and one wooden marker.  Other sites will be marked as the treasury expands.

 The first clerk of the Court was Robert Rankin, who held the office in 1789.  He was followed by Thomas Marshall, who in turn, was succeeded by Col., Marshall Key.  It was a community of cultured, scholarly people, and the Court House resounded with eloquence s the brilliant lawyers of that period, many of them with more than a local reputation, pleaded within its stone walls.

 William Preston Johnson tells us “that nowhere were the characteristic traits of Kentucky people more fully displayed in Mason County.  The intellectual vigor of the settlers is evinced in the ‘Kentucky Law Reports’ of an early period, which show legal ability and acumen rare in any county.”

 Alexander K. Marshall, brother of the Supreme Justice, was the pioneer lawyer of Mason County; then followed Judge john Coburn, Judge William McClung, Judge Adam Beatty, Governor John Chambers, James Paxton, and Judge Walter Reid.

 Some years later came Francis Hord, Henry Waller, Thomas Payne, Henry Reeder, Harrison Taylor, John D. Taylor, Dr. John A. McClumb, Frank T. Chambers, son of Gov Chambers, and Rochester Beatty, son of Judge Adam Beatty.  One of the most brilliant lawyers ever produced in Mason County, was Judge Adam Beatty, who lived near Washington on land now owned by Judge William H. Rees, of the Appellate court of Kentucky.  All of Judge Beatty’s sons were men of ability and prominence.  One distinguished son, Dr. Armond Beatty, was president of Centre College for many years. A grandson, William H. Beatty, who lived on the farm until he was grown and reared as a member of his grandfather’s family, was Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of California for more than 25 years.  The Beatty farm was later owned by Judge William Savage, whose wife was Miss Martha Miller, of Millersburg.  Today, Judge Rees, of the Court of Appeals, is the third distinguished lawyer to own this farm.

 In 1848 the county seat, after a bitter battle with the legislature, was removed to Maysville, and thereafter the Court House was used for educational purposes. Collins tells us that the most celebrated female school of the West at that time, 1807 to 1812, was taught by the cultured Mrs. Louise Carolyn Warburton Fitzherbert Keats, who was a sister of Sir George Fitzherbert, of St. James Square, London.  Here “were taught all the arts suited to their sex.”  Many distinguished women attended this school.  The daughters of John C. Breckenridge, Governor Thomas Worthington, and Gov. Findlay of Ohio.  Mrs. Keats also had in her school young women who became the wives of Gen. Peter B. Porter, of New York, U.S. Secretary of War, Gov. Duncan McArthur, of Ohio, and John J. Crittenden, of Kentucky.  Another celebrated school was that of Mann Butler, Kentucky historian of 1834.

 One of the outstanding schools held in the old Court House was that of Rev. Robert McMurdy, and Episcopal clergyman.  The McMurdy school was quite famous and attracted pupils from all over the county as well as Kentucky.  There were many graduates from this celebrated school.  In Maysville, there are diplomas in existence.  They were received by Mrs. Parry Browning Owens, the mother of Mrs. Robert Baline and Mrs. George Keith, the Misses Lida and Lottie Berry’s mother, and the mother of Mrs. Anne Delia Power Yellman.

 Rev. Lorin Andrews, another teacher of that early period, was afterward “Missionary and Judge in the Sandwich Islands.”

Quoted from

Slave Auctions on Courthouse Grounds

Original Location