“Cantuckey”, wonderland south of Ohio, “a new Canaan flowing with rivers of salt and bearing trees of sugar, whose loam was fine as flour to the hand” beckoned to the restless frontiers-men into the early days following the Revolutionary War. Early scouts returned with tales of its fabulous wealth of trees, animals, birds, fruits, berries and grasses. Small wonder that pioneers, inspired by these tales pressed on in groups large enough for self-protection, to this new “land flowing with milk and honey”. They came from several directions; across the Ohio from the several settlements on its northern shores, down the Ohio River on flat-boats, through the Cumberland Gap with its breath-taking view of the new land so beautiful, so rich, and so full of promise, over the narrow mountain trails winding through the thick forests. Forests abundant in large and sturdy trees, many wild animals such as the elk and deer, panthers, bears; birds of every sort including turkey, pheasant, quail, partridge and pigeon; edible berries in abundance, strawberry, blackberry and raspberry, these and many others represented food and shelter for the newcomer.
To this land of promise, from various places, came the groups of families and friends who settled in the region later called Alexandria. The huge trees furnished them with wood for their log cabins and their fireplaces; the animals, birds and berries supplied their food; and the fibers of the nettle were spun into clothing. Life was not as pleasant or as easy as they had hoped. They were constantly on the alert for Indians of several tribes who used this area as their hunting ground as well as battleground, and who resented the intrusion of the white man. The war-like Indians, wild animals, poisonous snakes, and the very weather itself demanded nothing but the strongest and staunchest of body, soul and mind. These pioneer ancestors were men and women of courage, endurance, perserverance and far-sightedness.
Among the early settlers of the region where Alexandria now stands were the Spilmans, who came from Fairfax and King George Counties in Virginia via the Ohio; the Morins from Culpeper County, Virginia, who came down the Ohio River landing at the Limestone (Maysville) in the fall of 1790 and then inland; the Bakers of Westmoreland County, Pennsylvania; the Reileys of Cecil County, Maryland and Washington County, Pennsylvania; the Reileys of Cecil County, Maryland and Virginia; the Thatchers; the Shaws from Virginia; and the Bealls. Heads of these pioneer families were Frank and James Spilman, Conyers and Jacob White; Benjamin Beall; Daniel Thatcher; Edward Morin; John Reiley; John Baker; and John, James, David, and Robert Shaw. Descendants of these early families still live in Alexandria today.
Frank Spilman is said to have given this settlement the name of Alexandria as early as 1793, having come with his family from Alexandria, Virginia. The first written record found referring to the town as Alexandria, is in the old records of the Alexandria Baptist Church bearing the date of 1820. In 1828 Frank Spilman left in his will “twelve acres to be reserved as a site for the town of Alexandria”. It wasn’t until February 22, 1834 that an act of the State Legislature, incorporating the Town of Alexandria, was approved.
One familiar with this historical town can recall some of the landmarks which no longer stand. The first log home built by Frank Spilman stood in front of the old cemetery adjacent to the First Baptist Church on Alexandria Pike in the heart of town. Another log cabin built by members of the Spilman family, and later covered with clapboards, was an Old State Road about a half mile west of town. This old home, last owned by the family of Marshall Keiser and his wife Mary Spilman, was destroyed by fire about 1940. The old brick Christian Church, stood on a lot next door to the present Evangelical and Reformed Church on West Main St. The Methodist Episcopal Church North which was erected in 1867 on Alexandria Pike on property which had belonged to the Spilman and White families, was razed about 1935 after having been used for some time as the Town Hall, and on its site the present Baptist Parsonage was erected. The Griffey Hotel, with its long veranda facing across the valley, stood on West Main Street, west of Jefferson Street. It was a very popular place in the early days of Alexandria as the County Seat. It was run by William Griffey and his wife, Dorinda Brown. On court days a crowd would assemble there to feast on the wonderful home cooking of Dorinda Griffey, whose “corn bread was better than cake”.
The oldest place still standing, near the heart of town, is the old log cabin, now covered with clapboards, opposite the Campbell County High School, which was built by Daniel Thatcher. It was owned by members of his family until 1934 when William Thatcher died. It was recognized by the porches across the front. Stairs between the porches orginally were the only means of gaining entrance to the two rooms on the second floor. Later, this method was considered not secure from intruders and they were removed. Stairs to the second floor were then constructed inside the house. Behind this old home lies the Thatcher family cemetery. At one time this log cabin was the only inn at which turkey and cattle drovers were allowed to stop and spend the night. Thousands of turkeys went by there in droves coming up from down state. The old well, from which water was drawn for the turkeys and stock, is still in use.
Later, Daniel Thatcher built another log cabin across the road from his first one and slightly to the north. A much larger clapboard house was then built directly in front of the small cabin which was also given a frame covering. At this farm, which he called “High View Farm” he had a distillery, the mash of which he fed to his cattle and pigs. Here Daniel Thatcher lived until his death in 1813, having given the first log cabin to this son,Daniel Allen Thatcher and his wife, Eliza Reiley. Today, this farm, part of the original acreage purchased by Daniel Thatcher in 1806, is owned by Jack Thatcher.
At the end of the roadway directly west of the Court House stands a one story, old red brick building. This was the first church building constructed in Alexandria, and it is one of the oldest public buildings in the entire State. It was built in the early part of the nineteenth century for the Baptist Church.
Today a number of old homesteads still stand, some of brick, some of wood. Among these in the heart of town is the old brick house on the corner of Jefferson and West Main Streets, built by Dr. John Orr around 1840. Directly back of this house is a small wood house which he used as his office. About 1890 this homestead was bought by Edgar Allen Thatcher and remained in his family until the death of his daughter, Miss Goldie Thatcher, in 1944. About fifteen years prior to her death the Citizens Telephone company of Kentucky became located in this old homestead. The company of Kentucky became located in this old homestead.
Scattered throughout some of the sites of the original churches are many small family burial plots. In some of these the stones and inscriptions are in a good state of preservation. Others are overrun with weeds, never receiving any care, with the stones more often unreadable, broken and in some cases completely destroyed. Perhaps one of the largest of these old graveyards is the one adjacent to the First Baptist Church on Washington Street. Originally this was the Spilman family burial plot. Later, it was given to the Baptist Church. The deed states that should it no longer be used as a cemetery the property would revert back to the Spilman heirs. The old white wooden fence which used to be around this cemetery is gone. The oldest stone which bears the date of 1803 is that of James Spilman who came from King George County, Virginia with his wife Sarah and family. The Alexandria Cemetary, located on Spilman Drive, about a half of a mile west of the center of town, was incorporated March 28, 1873.
The second oldest road established in Kentucky was the Old State Road, from Newport to Winchester, through Alexandria, Falmouth, Cynthiana, and Paris. This road was established by an act of the Legislature in 1836. Up to 1840 the Old State Road in Campbell County was little more than a trail-way. Commissioners for this road were named in 1846 with the following from Alexandria: Henry E. Spilman, William Griffey, Benjamin D. Beall, Fred Brown and John Thomas. Among those who served as directors during the early history of the Pike were Andrew Smalley and Dr. John Orr of Alexandria. The original survey and right-of-way traversed part of the present route of Alexandria Pike. It was over this Old State Road and on to Lexington, that the stagecoaches made their colorful and adventuresome trips for the years. Toll gates were set up on the Alexandria Pike, the Licking Pike, and Persimmon Grove Pike. The last of these was closed down in 1922.
It wasn’t until 1840 that the decision was made to make Alexandria the County Seat of Campbell County. This county was nineteenth in order of formation in the State and was formed in 1794 out of parts of Mason, Scott and Harrison Counties. It embraced so much territory that later, Pendelton, Booone, and Kenton counties were erected from it. It was named in honor of Colonel John Campbell who came from Virginia. Prior to 1840 several other towns had held the honor of being the County Seat. The first courts of Campbell County met by law at Wilmington, on the Licking, twenty-two miles from Newport, but the County Seat was removed shortly afterwards to Newport. In 1827 a law was passed fixing it at Visalia, a site supposed to be about the center of the County. A controversy then arose as to the proper site, and in 1840 it was finally decided to have Newport as the County Seat again. That same year Kenton County was erected out of part of Campbell, and again the “center” idea prevailed. Thus, in that year of 1840 Alexandria became the County Seat and so remains, although most of the courts are held in Newport.
The construction of the original Courthouse in Alexandria was started about the latter part of 1840. It was made of red brick which was burned at the brick kiln owned by the Spilman family. This kiln is now the site of St. Mary’s Roman Catholic Church on Jefferson Street. The Reverend James Jolly, minister of the Alexandria Baptist Church at one time, is said to have done most of the building himself, having been a mason and bricklayer by trade. The first term of the County Court meeting at Alexandria was held in the old brick Baptist Church, starting on Monday, May 25, 1840 (the Zinn stable). The first court was held in the newly constructed Court House on December 26, 1842. On November 14, 1845, the heirs of Frank and Rebecca Spilman, deeded the property on which the Court House stood to the Town of Alexandria.
In the year 1928, the old Court House was remodeled. The original beautiful colonial doorway was removed, pillars were erected and the clerk’s and sheriff’s offices were added, and the now jail and living quarters for the jailor and his family were constructed. (These were moved in 1979). Towering above it all was added the clock tower. The old white wood fence which was around the grounds was dismantled, and the large locust tres which had stood for years on the lawn in front of the Court House were cut down.
In this old court House are housed a number of valuable records covering business transacted by the courts and officials of Campbell County from the day of the first meeting of the court, June 1, 1795 at the home of Squire John Grant. There are records of early marriages, deeds and wills. The valuable Boone, Henry, and Clay Records have been in this historical old building for years. Here, also, was housed the gallows.
The paper signed by Daniel Boone, dated December 10, 1789, shows that this pioneer hero of school boys had his financial difficulties. Kentucky was part of Virginia when Patrick Henry was governing that state in 1779. The document was signed by him makes a grant of Campbell County land to one Robert Johnson. Henry Clay’s signature is affixed to a document as executor of the estate of a certain James Morrison. He sued John Leathers, who had been the first treasurer of Kentucky for $1950.00 due the estate. Leather’s signature also appears on the promissory note made to Clay. This paper bears the date October 25, 1824 in which year Clay was considered presidential timber after a spectacular career in politics.
The old jail, built at the time of the Civil War to house war prisoners, was built on property opposite the Court House. It was made of huge logs and lined with sheet metal. Later the log structure was covered with brick and the sheet metal removed. A clapboard house was then built on its front for the jailor and his family. Today, it is used as a private residence.
The Alexandria Fair is an old institution. By special act of the Kentucky Legislature, the Agricultural Society of Campbell County was organized in 1856. It was organized for the benefit of the farmer. Once a year the farmer was able to display his stock and farm produce at the Fair. Many sales and exchanges were made. Premiums were given for the best animals, and all handwork made by the housewives. The Fair lasted for the better part of a week. During that time, the young folks, who never took much interest in the stock show or other features of the Fair, had a joyous good time, especially in the evenings. The band went to the home of some of the officials of the Fair and serenaded them. Luncheon parties and dances were part of the good fun they had. The first Alexandria Fair was held on the Fair Grounds on October 14-17, 1856. Among the first officers of the Agricultural Society were George W. Reiley, Richard Tarvin Baker, Edward Morin, Alexander Caldwell, Edward Spilman, James Shaw, Charles Murnan, and H.K. Rachford, all from Alexandria. The Fair has been held year after year, except for the period during the Civil War, increasing in size and it’s offerings. The original grandstand was still in use until 1949, when it was rebuilt on the same site. The bandstand was originally in the center of the arena. In 1972, the entire bandstand was burned to the ground. The following year a concrete bleacher type stand was built and the ring on present day fairs.
Today the population in the city is over 8300 and continues to be a rich agricultural area, but with many new businesses on the increase.
History compiled 1945 by Elizabeth Morrow Cooley.