Alexandria and Newport Courthouses
This article is by Jim Reis and is reprinted here with his permission.
Campbell County was carved out of Mason, Scott and Harrison counties in 1794. The earliest county government meetings were held in the home of John Grant at Wilmington, a pioneer settlement established on December 7, 1793. Wilmington was laid out on a 50 acre site along the Licking River. about 22 miles south of Newport. Back then, Kenton County was part of Campbell County and Wilmington was close to the county's geographic center.
But traveling to Wilmington was inconvenient and county officials quickly decided to move further court sessions to Newport. Court sessions were held in the home of Jacob Fowler, a woodsman and surveyor who owned the first tavern in Newport. In 1789 he built what was probably the first cabin in Newport near the confluence of the Licking and Ohio rivers.
The county seat was officially moved to Newport in 1797. The site of the courthouse location of the current courthouse, was donated to the county by James Taylor, the founder of Newport. Around 1800, a public whipping post, stocks and several log buildings used primarily as jails, were built on the site. The first courthouse was built there in 1815 and was a two-story brick building with a cupola and bell.
The county seat was moved out of Newport in 1823 by a group that wanted the county courthouse located closer to the center of the county. This time, officials selected Visalia, a small rural community on the west side of the Licking River in what is Kenton County. But Visalia, like Wilmington, was just far from everything. Within a year, a 10 man committee was selected to settle the issue. After some study, four members of the committee supported Wilmington for the county seat and one wanted to start all over with a new site. But Newport got five votes and the courthouse.
The county government returned to Newport and remained there until 1840. That was the year the General Assembly carved Kenton County out of Campbell County. Legislators designated Alexandria as the official county seat of Campbell County. The original courthouse at Alexandria was started in 1840 and was built of red brick fired at the kiln owned by the Spilman family. The kiln was on the site of what is now St. Mary's Church on Jefferson Street. Reverend James Jolly, a trained mason and bricklayer and at one time minister of Alexandria Baptist Church, is said to have done most of the building. The courthouse holds many valuable records which date back to 1794. Papers bearing the signatures of Daniel Boone and Henry Clay are housed there.
The transition from Newport to Alexandria wasn't smooth. It took a court order and a visit from the sheriff to get the county clerk out to Alexandria. And Newport backers continued to lobby for their own courthouse. That finally happened in 1883, when construction began on a Newport Courthouse. It was completed the next. That Victorian building, with its four sided clock tower, marble floors and stained glass window, still serves as a courthouse. The building was sandblasted and restored in 1972.
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