Although this historic landmark sat vacant for many years, reconstruction efforts on the structure have breathed new life into the courthouse and it stands as an excellent example of adaptive reuse in the Commonwealth of Kentucky.
Three previous courthouse buildings occupied the site prior to the one currently standing. The first three structures were ultimately lost due to fire or demolition. The current courthouse was designed by an architectural firm based out of Cleveland, Ohio by the name of Lehman and Schmidt.
The Old Fayette County Courthouse was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1983. The building is still in use but has since been used for a variety of other activities and programs, undergoing many conservation and adaptive reuse efforts in the past few decades.
The Old Fayette County Courthouse has gone under many renovations and reconstructions since its original construction in 1899. The first series of renovations occurred in the 1960s. This renovation unfortunately eliminated some of the building's character-defining features. Most of these elements were simply removed rather than restored, not following the Secretary of the Interior's Standards for Rehabilitation. For example, the rotunda was sealed off to create room for heating and cooling equipment and the marble staircase was removed. A large elevator shaft was placed in the center taking away the once breathtaking views of the rotunda. A fourth floor was also added to the property at this time.
These renovations were made in an attempt to create more space for the courts but the Lexington court system stopped using the space in 2001. After the courts left, the Lexington History Museum resided in the Old Fayette County Courthouse until it too had to close because of lead paint and other issues with the structure.
In 2016, the groundbreaking decision for Lexington was made--the Old Fayette County Courthouse was to be completely rehabilitated and adaptively reused. In late 2017, the building went under a hefty thirty-three million dollar renovation according to the Old National Bank Website. A very important factor to this extensive project was the use of the Federal Historic Tax Credit as well as Kentucky’s Historic Preservation Tax Credit due to its placement on the National Register of Historic Places.
In late 2018, the newly renovated Old Fayette County Courthouse finally opened its doors and became a hub for public use in Lexington, Kentucky’s historic downtown. Although the exact fate of the courthouse was unclear just months before the start of the renovation, the long awaited adaptive reuse project is now home to a variety of different businesses that exemplify the spirit of the Bluegrass. At the ribbon cutting ceremony in November of 2018, Lexington Mayor Jim Gray stated, “We knew the good bones were here, but the bones had to be rearranged into something modern, inviting and compelling. Whatever we did here needed to be a beacon for the future and not just a curio of the past.”