One of the oldest Executive residences in the United States, Kentucky’s Old Governor’s Mansion has a rich and diverse history, and stands as a reminder of the growth and history of our state. From its construction as Kentucky’s first Governor’s residence and office of the Governor, through its nearly fifty years as the official residence of our Lieutenant Governors, this building has seen more historic events and has borne witness to more important persons than almost any home in the Commonwealth.
Built in 1797-8 in the Federal style, the home was first occupied by our second governor, James Garrard and his family.
From 1798 until 1914, thirty-five governors and their families lived and entertained here, with James McCreary as the last governor to reside at the mansion. The mansion served as the office of the Governor until the 1872 Annex building was constructed next to the Old State Capitol in downtown Frankfort. For several years even after the Governor’s office relocated to the Old Capitol Annex, the Mansion remained a work space for the governor.
Several important visitors to the Governor’s Mansion include Andrew Jackson, Henry Clay, William Jennings Bryan, and Theodore Roosevelt. However, when General Lafayette of France visited Frankfort on his tour of the southern states in 1825, Governor Desha received and met with General Lafayette at the Weisiger Tavern, not the Governor’s Mansion as expected.
Due to the early instability and speculation on whether the capital of Kentucky would remain located in Frankfort, the Governor’s Mansion sometimes suffered from neglect and lack of funding for renovations. While it did receive a modest renovation and new furnishings around 1818, in 1858 a major renovation of the house included enlarging the windows, a new front doorway, and several other touches that brought it up to date with the then popular Greek Revival-style. This renovation, however, was short lived as a major fire in the 1890’s damaged the home and destroyed many of the Governor’s papers and state documents.
Upon the completion of the New State Capitol across the river in 1910, it was decided, finally, to replace this older, disused house with a more substantial residence for the First Family.