Livingston County, Kentucky has had four county seats - Eddyville (now in Lyon County), 1799-1804; Centreville, 1804-1809; Salem, 1809-1842 and Smithland, 1842- to the present. However, the county came very close to having its seat of justice moved a fifth time.
On the 7th day of March 1884, an act was passed which authorized the voters of Livingston County to vote on the question of the removal of the county seat, including building a court house, jail and clerk's office. In accordance with this act, the judges of the County Courts of McCracken, Marshall, Lyon and Crittenden Counties met to fix the location "deemed practicable for the location of sd. county seat."
After careful consideration, the judges decided the word "practicable" meant "accessible" and they should select a site near the territorial center of the county that would be most accessible to all the people of the county. That territorial center fell about one and a half miles from the Cumberland River on the North side. Unfortunately, that site was inaccessible. After visiting other sites, they settled on a location near the North bank of the Cumberland River on a tract of land belonging to the estate of George G. Rappolee, near Hampton at a site named "Cleveland.". It was felt that this point gave access to people residing on the Cumberland and Ohio rivers by boat as well as by public road.
The land on which the prospective county seat would be located had been left to Eliza M. Rappolee by her late husband during her natural life. The widow and the executors of her husband's estate agreed to sell the property to Livingston County for $25, provided the land was adopted as a county seat. That was in October 1884.
Nothing happened for several years except for the payment of $50 each to the four judges who fixed the new seat of justice. Five years later, in 1889, repairs were being made to the courthouse and jailer's residence as if there was no hurry to relocate the county seat. It wasn't until January 1894 that C.O. Lowery, Livingston County clerk, presented a petition asking for an election on the removal of the county seat from Smithland to Hampton. At the November 1894 election, voters signaled their willingness to relocate the county seat. 889 voted yes and 848 voted no.
In the end, it all came down to money. Apparently, the citizens realized that building a new courthouse and jail would cost them money by way of higher taxes and decided "whereas the said county of Livingston now has a good and sufficient Court house & jail equal to all demands for the transacting of public business and it appearing to the satisfaction of the court that the levying and collecting of sd. tax for the purpose aforesaid would be very detrimental to the interest of the tax payer ..."
There was no further mention of building a new courthouse for many years. Today, the county clerk still operates in the old courthouse, built in 1845. In the fall of this year, it will move to the new county office building next door.
Copyright on text and photographs
by Brenda Joyce Jerome, CG
Western Kentucky Genealogy Blog