New Look for Hall of Governors

The newly renovated Hall of Governors at the Kentucky History Center in Frankfort reopened over the weekend.  The Hall of Governors is literally a wide hallway in the west wing of the history center. It's lined with the portraits of dozens of Kentucky governors. In years past, visitors often breezed through the room, because there was no historical or biographical information accompanying the paintings. That's no longer the case, says Scott Alvey, who's overseeing the hall's redevelopment.

"We as Kentuckians elected these people. And so, they reflect our wills and our ambitions - sometimes good, sometimes bad," said Alvey. "So, we want you to stop and hopefully be more engaged within the process of history."

Workers are rushing to finish the renovations to the hall, which will highlight six distinct periods of Kentucky's development - organizing, building, protecting, improving, advancing and marketing. Scott Alvey says the goal is bring the governors to life, by providing details of their accomplishments and setbacks. That's done through interactive, multi-media kiosks below the paintings.

"We have oral histories from some of the more recent governors," said Alvey. "So, it's in their words that you get to listen to some of the issues that they had to face or some of the personalities that made them good governors."

The walls on which the paintings hang are a deep, rich blue. Above the portraits, encircling the room, is the oath of office to which every governor must swear, including the oft-criticized lines about having never fought a duel with a deadly weapon.

Below the paintings is a timeline, outlining significant events in U.S. and Kentucky history during each governor's administration. Trevor Jones, Director of Museum Collections and Exhibitions, says school children are the facility's bread and butter, so all effort has been made to pique their interests.

"Rather than saying 'there's a portrait of so-and-so,' they can understand what that governor did," said Jones, "Or what that governor didn't do, and why or why not - based on what the governor's role was in state government at the time."

"So, we're going to enter the Hall of Governors now," said McVeigh. "And I take it that you want to enter on the left side?"

"That's chronologically correct," said Jones.

"What are we seeing now?" asked McVeigh.

"Well, we're seeing the first governors of Kentucky," said Jones. "So, we start in 1792 with Isaac Shelby and then we go all the way around..."

Jones is a font of fascinating stories about the governors on display, including Thomas "Stonehammer" Metcalfe, a stonemason of limited education who rose to the governorship in 1828. Jones says Stonehammer is a favorite with the school kids because of his wild, unruly hair.

"He was just respected and well-known as a very stable, steady individual, and that really helped him become governor," said Jones.

Another crowd favorite is Gov. William Goebel, who was felled by an assassin's bullet shortly after a bitterly contested election in 1899.

"We have all the clothes that Goebel was wearing when he was shot," said Jones. "And so we are actually going to display his underwear as part of this exhibition."

The exhibit ends with a portrait of former Gov. Ernie Fletcher. Gov. Steve Beshear's likeness won't be added until after he leaves office. Former Gov. Julian Carroll's portrait is in the gallery. Now a state senator from Frankfort, Carroll is looking forward to seeing the $250,000 renovation funded by the General Assembly.

"I am really anxious to know what they've done to make it even more of greater historical value," said Carroll.

Carroll and several other former governors will get their first view of the renovated exhibit this weekend at the history center's annual Boone Day celebration. The first Boone Day event was held in 1897, and included the first public display of portraits of Kentucky governors.