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The Famous Stairway

Architect and Laborer


The Architect, Gideon Shryock

Gideon Shryock born in Lexington, Kentucky was the son of Mathias Shryock, a carpenter who migrated from Frederick County, Virginia.  After a primary education, Gideon, worked as a building apprentice in the carpentry business of his father and uncle, Michael Gaugh.  In 1823 Gideon went to Philadelphia to study under William Strickland.  He returned, after a year or so, to Kentucky a professionally trained architect.

In 1824, Kentucky's statehouse had burned for the second time and funds were raised for rebuilding. Shryock submitted his Greek Revival design for the new statehouse. The focal point of the design was a centered, curved free standing stairway under the dome. When the project was completed in 1830,  Shryock became the Kentucky's most prominent architect.  Other projects designed by Gideon Shryock were Morrison Hall, at Transylvania University, and the courthouses for Franklin and Jefferson County, Kentucky. Gideon Shryock died on June 19, 1880 and is buried in the Cave Hill Cemetery, in Louisville, Kentucky.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                           

The Laborer, John Brawner

Somewhere in the history of every great building is the blood and sweat of the common laborer.  The physical work of many unknown individuals that make the plans and dreams of the architect come to life. Located in the Brawner family surname files maintained at the Kentucky Historical Society is the story of one of those hard working individuals.

John Brawner, a civil engineer, draftsman, stone cutter and mason.  He and his wife Anna Magruder Brawner migrated to Henry County, Kentucky prior to 1816.  He settled on a Revolutionary land grant and acquired a considerable estate of slaves and livestock.  John Brawner died during the Civil War years at his home on Flat Creek.  In 1930, J. E. Brawner of San Antonio, Texas relayed the following story, which was told by his father, concerning the circular stairway in the Old Capitol Building.  "My father was doing the stone work at the Capitol and as the building progressed the question of the stairway arose. This was discussed as to how, in the limited space, a stairway of sufficient size could be required. My father, being called into conference by the architect, was asked to consider plans for the stairway and to present a draft. Procuring plans of the building he returned home, worked at the draft all night and took the draft of the stairway to the architect. He was instructed to build it, and he did so".  Mr. J. E. Brawner, states he was born in 1854 and his father in 1816.  And, during a visit with a relative in Frankfort during the 1860's, he and his father visited the Old Capitol where his father repeated the story of the stairway.  He stated, "Never forget the fact that your grandfather designed and built this stairway".


Sources:
Brawner Surname File, KHS Library
Capital On The Kentucky, by Kramer
The Kentucky Encyclopedia, by Kleber


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