Designed by Gideon Shryock, the Old State Capitol introduced Greek Revival architecture to the United States west of the Appalachian Mountains. With its portico and fluted columns, it made the statement that Kentucky was a progressive state, looking to the future. Built of Kentucky River limestone, it features a rotunda on top, which floods the interior of the building with light. Another significant architectural feature is the double, self-supporting staircase.
It was the only pro-Union state capitol to be occupied by the Confederates during the Civil War. When the building was retaken by the Union Army, it was used as a barracks.
The statue of Governor William Goebel in front of the Old State Capitol is a reminder of the deeply divided politics of Kentucky at the end of the 19th century. After a bitterly contested election, Goebel, the Democratic contestant, was shot by an unidentified assailant hiding in an office in the Old Capitol Annex next door as he approached the steps to the Capitol. The legislature declared Goebel the winner. He was sworn in on his death bed and was quickly succeeded by his running mate, J.C. W. Beckham. Goebel was a champion of workers’ rights, especially the rights of railroad workers.