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Small Journeys: Reflections while traveling in central Kentucky – Part 3 out of 5

August 4, 2009 by · No comments

Roger Conner Jr


I was on my way to the old capital building in Frankfort.
Kentucky was originally intended to be called Transylvania by the man who sponsored Danial Boone’s first attempt to settle the area, not because it is known for vampires, but because Transylvania is Latin for “across the woods”.

Lexington is still home to a university of that name., and when driving into the state capital of Frankfort it is easy to understand what a fitting name Transylvania would have been for the state. Even today Frankfort is surrounded by dense forest. As one local person told me, “it seems like somebody just came here and blew a hole out of the woods to put this city in.”

Many Kentuckians and other visitors to the state have been to the state Capitol, it is a popular tourist stop. Far fewer have been to the old Capitol building. This is a pity, as the old Capitol has a much more interesting past, and in a uniquely artistic way is one of the most beautiful buildings in the state if not the nation.

The old Capitol building, designed by a Transylvania University graduate named Gideon Shyrock, is given as the first Greek Revival style building in the state, and one of the earliest west of the Alleghany Mountains. Unlike many prostitutions of the noble Greek temple style, the old capital building was carefully designed to be an accurate representation, modeled directly from an ancient Greek temple, the temple of Minerva Polias at Priene.


The front wall is windowless, and the inter-columnation (the diameter of the columns compared to their distance from one another) is accurate to the Greek ideas of the “golden mean”. The proportions of the old Kentucky Capital are likewise classically perfect.


Shyrock’s major addition to the capital was the magnificantly designed atrium in the center of the building.


Leading up to the landing below the atrium are two symmetrical spiral staircases, said to have been designed and built by a freed African American.


The building is full of fascinating stories and history. It was the only Union state Capitol occupied by the Confederate rebels during the U.S. Civil War. It is the only state Capitol that has been the scene of the assassination of the only U.S. governor to die in office by way of assassination, Kentucky’s progressive martyr governor William Goebel. But it is the sheer perfection of form and proportion that today makes the building so special.

Standing between the perfectly sized columns of the old Capitol one feels the strand of civilization that extends from across the woods of Kentucky backward into time to the ancient Ionian world of Greece. The strands of civilization reach from the ancient to the present, the old world to the new, from the birthplaces of culture and art to the woods and plains at the edges of the world. Each culture contributes along the path of time, each artist, writer and craftsperson adding their bit of brick, stone, words and song and steering the path of art and culture.

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