This Day in History — August 12

Matthew Kennedy, Jr., an architect who designed some of the most important buildings in early Kentucky history, was born August 12, 1781 in Virginia. The son of Matthew and Jane Buchanan Kennedy of August County, Virginia, he moved to Kentucky at fifteen, settling in Lexington around 1796. It is believed that Matthew began building around 1800, though none of his work prior to 1814 has survived. After he had obtained notarity with his work, he adopted the title “Architect” and was the first to Kentuckian to do so.

In Kentucky’s infancy, a committee was appointed to choose the new capital for the Commonwealth. Several men, including Robert Todd of Fayette County, debated towns such as Lexington, Frankfort, Louisville, Leestown, Legerwood’s Bend (Mercer County) and Delany’s Ferry and Petersberg both in Woodford County. In 1814, Matthew Kennedy’s design was chosen and he built the second Kentucky statehouse in Frankfort.

In 1816, he returned to Lexington to oversee construction of Transylvania College’s main building in Gratz Park. Matthew’s design was chosen over Benjamin Latrobe, an architect who was designing on an international level. In 1824Kennedy went on to design the Grand Masonic Hall in Lexington and his last major public building was the medical hall for Transylvania which he contstructed in 1827.

In addition to buildings for public use, Matthew Kennedy also developed a distinct style for residences. He constructed his own house circa 1815. The 2 2l/2 story late Federal style house brick house with a raised basement and covered by a hipped roof was a template for his other residential construction. None of his public buildings survive, but many of his residences, including the Matthew Kennedy House at 216 North Limestone in Lexington, still exist. He built a large number of these houses in the Bluegrass region from 1816 until his retirement in the early 1840s, including Grassland in Fayette County and houses in Frankfort, Bardstown and Lebanon.

Matthew Kennedy died on April 17, 1853 and was buried in Cave Hill Cemetery in Louisville.

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