A History of Archaeology in Kentucky’s Capitol City

By Nicole Konkol, Archaeologist

Anybody who knows my name knows how much I LOVE Frankfort. I’ve been a part of the community here for going on three years now and have compiled a lot of little tidbits about archaeology in the area. There is NO way I can get it all in a single coherent blog. But, I thought it would be fun to share with you a glimpse of some archaeology at the core of the Capitol City. For context, check out this groovy map of the three National Register of Historic Places (NRHP) districts. These districts are considered significant primarily for their architecture, but let’s look at what we’ve got going on archaeologically. These are rough estimates based on previous archaeological investigations in the area. It is likely that more work has been done than is reflected here, and it’s a sure thing that there are more archaeological sites out there that have not yet been documented.

(Image courtesy of the City of Frankfort)
  • Documented Archaeological Investigations = 11
    (Plus one that was just completed for the TIGER Grant/Second Street
    Corridor)
  • Documented Archaeological Sites in Historic Districts = 31
    (At least nine are either listed on or eligible for listing on the NRHP)

So, here is a quick glimpse at a few of the sites in Frankfort’s downtown area.

(Photograph courtesy of Franklin County Fiscal Court)

The Public Square, aka the lawn in front of the Old State Capitol, is not only an archaeological site, but a National Historic Landmark. This spot is one of my all-time favorites in Frankfort because it was in use as a public square as long ago as the 1830s, and it was still being used as a public square last weekend. We are fortunate it is protected for all of us under the Kentucky Antiquities Act (Kentucky Antiquities Act: KRS 164.705 – KRS 164.735; KRS 164.990).  The Act protects archaeological sites on state or locally owned or managed property.

(Photograph courtesy of Liberty Hall Historic Site)

In the late 70s, grant monies were awarded to Liberty Hall for a restoration project. Detailed archaeological investigations were conducted in conjunction with the work. Archaeological features dating to the time of the Brown Family occupation of the property were identified including cellar entrances, cisterns, privies, and more. These features tell archaeologists (and you) more about the layout of the entire property and how it was used by the Brown family when they lived here. For more information, please visit the Liberty Hall Historic Site webpage.

(Photograph courtesy of The Capital City Museum)

Perhaps the most interesting discovery I made while perusing through previous archaeological research came from a report drafted on archaeological sites within a portion of Leslie Morris Park, just north of the historic districts. As Frankfortonians, most of us are familiar with Fort Hill, but did you know that there are actually other significant archaeological sites along the southwest face of the hill? The following information comes from an archaeological investigation conducted on behalf of the City of Frankfort’s Department of Parks and Recreation.

Shortly after the Civil War, the 19th century Weber Farmstead was situated on the west half of the hill. The property was sold in 1866 to Robert Martin, Henry Samuel, Tab Smith, and John H. Thomas, a group of African-American freemen. From 1879 to 1883, the Colored Baptist Denomination of Kentucky owned the property. Following that, the property was again deeded to Peter Smith and then, Tab Smith until 1895. I sure would love to know more about this farmstead and its owners.

Other cultural resources in the Leslie Morris Park area include the 19th century Edwards Farmstead and the former and current location of the Old Frankfort Cemetery. There are stone fences like the one shown in the picture above in the park as well.

If you are curious about archaeology in Frankfort, or archaeology in general, please reach out to me by emailing FrankfortArchaeoNic@gmail.com.

Your Friendly Neighborhood Archaeologist
Nicole Konkol

Information on previous archaeological investigations in Frankfort was gleaned from the following:

1993 
Esary, Mark E., William A. Huser, Jr. (Sure miss you), and John F. Scarry
A Phase I Subsurface Cultural Resource Reconnaissance of Portions of Seven City Blocks for the Proposed South Frankfort Floodwall, Franklin County, Kentucky

2012 
Wetzel, Melinda King, Anne Tobbe Bader, and William G. Hill
Phase I Archaeological Survey and Cultural-Historic Survey of the Proposed Louisville Road Storm Water Line, Frankfort, Franklin County, Kentucky

2013
Stottman, M. Jay, Eric J. Schlarb and Kim A. McBride
An Archaeological Survey of Leslie Morris Park, Frankfort, Franklin County, Kentucky

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