A Gothic style structure overlooks downtown Frankfort, Ky., as if to stand watch. The castle might look like a fort or defense outpost but really it’s a museum.
The Kentucky Military History Museum houses a collection of militaristic artifacts, documents and exhibits, all tied to Kentucky. The collection includes pieces from over 200 years of military action, spanning a range from the War of 1812 to the more recent conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan, according to the Kentucky Historical Society website.
The museum’s appearance is not completely misleading. The building was once used as the Kentucky State Arsenal and housed all of the state’s military equipment. In 1836, the original State Arsenal located near the Capital was lost to fire. Its reconstruction was ordered in 1850 and Frankfort resident, Daniel C. Cook was commissioned to design the building, according to Kate Carothers in A brief history of the state arsenal in Frankfort. The Arsenal was relocated to its current place on East Main Street.
During the first few years of the civil war, the Arsenal served as a cartridge factory. The women of Frankfort made ammunition for Union troops. Operation of the factory was halted when Confederate troops captured Frankfort for one month in 1862. Soon after in 1864, the Arsenal came under attack from Confederate troops and experienced the only battle in its history. Daniel C. Cook, the architect who designed the Arsenal, was among the Union troops who defended the city.
After the Civil War, the Arsenal was once again used as a munitions factory. It supplied for troops during riots as well as during the Spanish-American War, the Mexican Border Campaign and World War I, according to Carothers’ report. Another fire destroyed the interior of the building as well as its contents in 1934, but exterior was untouched and the inside of the Arsenal was reconstructed.
In the early 1970s, the Department of Military Affairs decided that the Arsenal could no longer be used. The larger, Boone National Guard Center had been constructed and would prove to be a much better location for the state’s military equipment, Carothers reported. The Kentucky Historical Society was in the process of renovating the Old State Capital, which usually housed their collection of military history. The newly vacated Arsenal presented them with an opportunity and thus, the Kentucky Military History Museum was born in 1973.
Today, the museum is under renovation. Upgrades will be made to the heating, ventilation and air conditioning, as well as masonry repair, staircase construction, installation of a fire suppression system and restoration of wood flooring, the Kentucky Historical Society explained on its website. The museum will feature the new exhibit, “Kentucky Military Treasures: Selections from the Kentucky Historical Society Collections.” This exhibit focuses on the personal stories of Kentuckians who served in combat. The museum re-opened to the public in March of 2013.
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By Eric Mulder