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Owen Historical Society News: First version of courthouse had a drive-thru

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By Bonnie Strassell

It stood in the courthouse yard for many years and as the city of Owenton grew and prospered, the tree spread its branches outward and settled its massive trunk on the grassy lawn. It wasn’t long before its foliage offered relief from baking summer days and in the autumn its display of brilliant colors heralded the approach of winter.
But over the years time and the elements weakened its roots and a recent storm lifted the stalwart giant, hurling it to the ground and leaving many saddened at its demise.
Perhaps the tree was a sapling when the courthouse was built in 1858. Before this time court was held in public and private buildings – first at Hesler, then in Owenton.
In July of 1858, the fiscal court decided the growing population of Owen County needed a courthouse. A committee was appointed to find a contractor for the work and the cost allotted for the project was not to exceed $11,000. The contract was awarded to N.C. Cook and with the help of a loan from a Lexington businessman and the Kentucky General Assembly; the Owen County Courthouse became a reality.
Originally, a two-story barn-like structure with two wings, the dirt floor allowed farmers to ride their horses through the building right up to the offices to pay their taxes. Although Owen County was decidedly pro South in the Civil War, the Union Army confiscated the courthouse and used it for a barracks during the war.
In 1876, necessary repairs and changes were made to the courthouse, expanding walls, dividing rooms for offices and adding a cupola and portico.
The WPA helped reconstruct the entire building in 1936, digging a basement and installing rest rooms and a furnace.
In 1944, John Perry donated trees and shrubs to add beauty to the courthouse lawn and this act of kindness also provided company for our lonely old tree.
The history of the Owen County Courthouse, a discussion of the new judicial center, and the implications of the 1976 Kentucky Judicial Amendment are the topics of a program to be presented Thursday evening at 7 p.m. at the I.O.O.F. Hall by Owen County Judge-executive Carolyn Keith. Carolyn is a native Owen countian who grew up on a farm in New Columbus and is no stranger to hard work.
Her dream was to become a teacher and after obtaining a degree at Georgetown College, Carolyn taught history, social studies, sociology, and psychology in Owen County schools. When circuit court clerk Thelma Marston asked Carolyn to help out in the courthouse, she started on the road to the sometimes-complex world of the judicial system. Carolyn was circuit court clerk from 1988-2005 and began her career as county judge-executive in 2009. The high regard for Owen County and its people and her determination to serve both is reflected in the warm smile and animated voice of this trim, well-dressed Owen countian.
Please join us Thursday evening to welcome Carolyn Keith.
We want to thank all of those who helped make our first cemetery tour a success. The day was beautiful, the tour guides were excellent and the ghosts of Owen countians were active. However, what made the day complete was the interest and participation of our visitors who attentively listened to our colorful history.
Mark two important upcoming dates.
Oct. 21, 2 p.m. the historical society will dedicate a model of the Falls City II at the museum.  Listen to the music of Stephen Foster as his ghost makes an appearance and enjoy refreshments with your family and friends.
A pulled pork BBQ dinner is the fare for a historical society fundraiser Nov. 4 from 11 a.m.-2 p.m. at the I.O.O.F. Hall. Plan on attending and support the historical society as you feast on a pork BBQ sandwich, cole slaw, baked beans, chips, a drink, and dessert. The cost is $8 and $5 for those under 12 years old.
We are continually grateful to all of you who have donated funds, family histories, and artifacts to our historical society. Please know that without your help we would be unable to achieve our vision of preserving the history of Owen County.
If you haven’t seen our website, visit us at www.owencohistory.com.
I’m sure you will be pleased with the work of our webmaster Christina Rice.
Be prepared to view Owen County history in its finest form.