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Thomas Jefferson, U.S. President

As Louisville and the nation continue to celebrate the Abraham Lincoln Bicentennial, in Et Cetera we turn our focus to another U.S. President of local influence - Thomas Jefferson.

Thomas Jefferson America’s third Commander-in-Chief was born April 13, 1743, and is the namesake of Jefferson County, Kentucky.

As foreign minister to France, he served during the reign of King Louis XVI, after whom the city of Louisville is named. Statues of both the King and Jefferson stand downtown, outside of the County Courthouse.

In addition to being an “Architect of Democracy”, Thomas Jefferson was a literal architect.

Farmington Historic Home Some experts believe that the Speed family’s home, Historic Farmington, was based on one of his plans. Not only is it similar to a documented Jefferson design, but Lucy Fry Speed had familial ties to him.

Her maternal grandfather, noted Kentucky explorer Dr. Thomas Walker, was once a guardian of the future president.

And, Jefferson designed an addition to her aunt’s home in Charlottesville, Virginia, which was also named Farmington. Today that Farmington is a country club.

Jefferson’s influence also reaches across the river into southern Indiana, where his bronze image stands in Jeffersonville’s Warder Park.

Thomas Jefferson statue in Warder Park The city’s original layout was actually planned by Thomas Jefferson, but his concept was later altered and ultimately abandoned in favor of today’s basic gridiron plat.

Thomas Jefferson died, fittingly enough, on July 4, 1826 – the 50th anniversary of the Declaration of Independence.

He never set foot in the Kentucky county that bears his name.

More details on Thomas Jefferson and Louisville:

  • As governor of Virginia, Thomas Jefferson signed the decree that incorporated the town of Louisville. At that time (1780) the Kentucky territory was still part of Virginia.
  • He drafted the Declaration of Independence at age 33. In 1824, 200 engravings of the document were produced; today less than 30 survive. One of those engravings is framed and on display in Louisville, at the Jefferson County Courthouse.
  • Jefferson became minister to France in 1785, succeeding Benjamin Franklin.
  • One of his most significant accomplishments as President (1801-1809) was sponsorship of the legendary Lewis & Clark Expedition, which launched from Louisville (1803). Explorer and Louisville founder Gen. George Rogers Clark was a friend of the president and recommended his younger brother, William, to co-lead a trek into the Northwest Territory.
  • President Jefferson also purchased Louisiana, which resulted in a boom of trade and traffic on the Ohio River, impacting Louisville.
  • The life-sized statue of Thomas Jefferson that looms in front of the Jefferson County Courthouse was designed by artist Sir Moses Ezekiel and unveiled in 1901. A smaller replica is on display at the University of Virginia, which was founded by Thomas Jefferson in 1819.
  • According to The Encyclopedia of Louisville, construction of the second building to house the Jefferson County Courthouse was co-supervised by Richard Taylor – father of President Zachary Taylor. President Taylor is buried in Louisville.
  • The Jefferson County Courthouse as it stands today was built by Kentucky’s first professional architect, Gideon Shryock (1837). The courthouse shares a design resemblance to Virginia’s State Capital, which was designed by Thomas Jefferson.
  • Just as the Jefferson County Courthouse is the seat of Louisville Metro Government, Jeffersonville is the seat of government in Clark County, Indiana.
  • Including Kentucky, there are more than two dozen counties across the United States named after Thomas Jefferson.
  • Jefferson died at his home (which he designed), Monticello. In 1954, a Louisville bank building (located at the intersection of Eastern Parkway and Preston Street) was practically built in its image.

For even more facts and photos, click here to read “Thomas Jefferson in Jefferson County, Kentucky” by architect Steve Wiser.

Program 320
Louisville Life features actor and musician Hal Sparks, local blacksmith and sculptor Craig Kaviar, Wakefield-Scearce Galleries and more. (#320)