A publication of the Kentucky Center for Public Service Journalism

Boone County rededicates Historic Courthouse, project preserves vital link to the county’s past

By Mark Hansel
NKyTribune managing editor

The dedication of the renovated Boone County Courthouse Wednesday evening ensures that a piece of the region’s history will be preserved, while providing a new place for community members to come together.

State and county officials on hand for the dedication of the renovated Historic Boone County Courthouse included, (l to r) State Rep. Addia Wuchner, R-Florence, Sen. John Schickel, R-Union, county commissioners Charles Kenner and Cathy Flaig, county administrator Jeff Earlywine and Judge/Executive Gary Moore (photos by Mark Hansel).

Boone County Judge/Executive Gary Moore said county leaders have been looking forward to the opportunity to showcase the building and let the public see the valuable resource that is now available to them.

“This project began when (County Administrator) Jeff Earlywine and I were talking a while back about needs of the community and potential opportunities,” Moore said. “Really, the idea of repurposing and preserving this building began with that conversation.”

The next step in the process was to gain the votes and support from Boone County Commissioners Charles Kenner, Charlie Walton and Cathy Flaig to approve the $1.6 million needed to fund the project thorough the county budget. The commissioners recognized the importance of preserving the valuable piece of Boone County history and approved the project unanimously.

“Commissioners, thank you, because without your leadership in supporting the project, we wouldn’t be sitting here today,” Moore said.

Assistant Boone County Administrator Matthew Webster oversaw the renovation project. To Webster’s left are bricks from the project that were presented to committee members and other partners in the project.

Assistant Boone County Administrator Matthew Webster oversaw the project and Moore also praised him for his contribution.

The Fiscal Court enlisted a group of community stakeholders to determine how to utilize the building. It was determined that a community center would be the best way to allow Boone County citizens to utilize and appreciate the iconic structure, which was built in 1889.

Moore sai, as the dedication drew near, he reflected on just how much the county has changed since he was first elected late in 1998. So many of the offices and departments that were located in the Historic Courthouse and the adjacent administration building have since been relocated.

“The District Court was in the Administration Building and the Circuit Courtroom was here,” Moore said. “It’s hard to fathom that just 19 years later, everything that’s in the justice center was in these two buildings, (as well as) everything that’s on Conrad Lane, the jail, the sheriff’s office, and the list goes on. Things have just grown and blossomed, because of the growth of the county and the needs that we have to serve the public.”

With those changes, the Historic Courthouse became something of a forgotten asset.

“Every now and then, there would be a special event here,” Moore said. “One of those, just a few years ago, (was) the re-enactment of the Kiger trial. Asa Rouse and our beloved Bruce Ferguson participated in that reenactment.”

A piece of Boone County history inside a piece of Boone County History. Retired attorney Asa Rouse, 87,who practiced for more than 40 years in the county and participated in a reenactment of one of the most notorious murder trials in its history was on hand for the re-dedication ceremony.

The Kiger murders are among the most notorious incidents in Boone County history and the trial took place in the Historic Courthouse.

Carl Kiger and his six year old son, Jerry, were shot to death on August 17th, 1943 at Rosegate Farm, near Florence. Kiger’s 16-year-old daughter, Joan, who was unharmed, and his wife, Jennie who was shot in the hip during the incident, were both charged with murder.

It was revealed at trial that Joan suffered from night terrors, a very realistic type of nightmares. She testified at trial that she fired the gun at figures she believed were shooting at her. Despite her apparent admission, a jury of 12 men deliberated just four hours and determined that since there was no apparent motive for the killings, they believed Joan’s explanation, and she was found not guilty.  After her acquittal, prosecutors dropped all charges against Joan and Jennie.

To learn more about the Kiger murders, click here.

Ferguson, a former Boone County Judge/Executive, died in 2015, but Rouse, an attorney for 41 years until his retirement in 1994, is still going strong at 87 years old and attended the re-dedication.

“I had my first case in this building in 1953,” Rouse said. “I’m glad it will be preserved.”

Historian Matt Becher, the Boone County Planning Commission’s Rural/Open Space Planner, actually kept an office in the iconic Courthouse and help ensure the historic integrity of the structure was preserved during the renovation.

“This has been a long-time coming, with a lot of advocacy and a lot of support in the community,” Becher said. “When I started working here in 2000, I had to come up these stairs when court was in session and I had to go through a metal detector. Fracases would occasionally break out in the hallway, but from 2002 on, it was pretty lonely place up here, I had the whole floor to myself.”

Boone County Historian Matt Becher addresses the crowd in the second floor courtroom at the rededication of the Historic Boone County Courthouse.

The Courthouse is the third building to serve in that purpose on the site. A log cabin was built on the site in 1801 and a brick courthouse replaced it in 1817.

Legend has it that that building, which was remodeled several times, was destroyed in a fire, but Becher said that isn’t true.

“It was demolished to make this because the county was growing and they needed a place to put everybody,” Becher said. “It always had, as a main function, the jail courthouse and county clerk, here in the Courthouse Square, in some fashion.”

The Historic Boone County Courthouse was designed by the McDonald Brothers of Louisville, who were among the most prolific architectural firms to operate in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

The building was styled after the prototype Simpson County Courthouse built six years earlier in Franklin, Kentucky. There is a courthouse in Bandera County, Texas, built in 1891 that is virtually identical to the Historic Boone County structure.

Contact Mark Hansel at mark.hansel@nkytrib.com

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