Frankfort, capital of Kentucky, lies within the S-loops of the Kentucky River as it thrusts first against the eastern and then against the western bluffs that border its deep and narrow valley.
It is probable that Christopher Gist was the first white man to view the lovely valley in which Frankfort lies; his journal tells of being in this region in 1751. More than 20 years later, in 1773, Governor Dunmore of Virginia sent a survey party into the West to look into the land; Robert McAfee and his group surveyed and claimed some 600 acres, including the site of the present Capitol. In the following year, land-hungry adventurers accepted the opportunity, and "squatted" in miserable shelters on the land, seeking thus to get by the law which required "settlement and improvement." The Indians were not slow to sense the menace. Shawnee, Miami, Delaware and Wyandotte went on the warpath, murdering and burning at large. So grave was the situation that Virginia was compelled to send militia and "Regulars" to restore peace and protect the settlers, Lord Dunmore himself heading one regiment.
In 1773 Hancock Taylor had surveyed, in behalf of Robert McAfee, lands that are now within the downtown section of the north side. The following year it was discovered that the McAfee claim, always shadowy, had lapsed, and Humphrey Marshall, while working as attorney for the estate of Francis McConnell, secured a grant from the Province of Virginia. The McConnell heirs considered this a breach of trust and a lawsuit resulted, which the court settled by giving heirs half the profits Marshall had realized from his title to the land. Prior to the settlement of this suit, known as Patrick vs. Marshall, General James Wilkinson, friend of Washington and one time commander of American Armies in the West, later involved in the Burr conspiracy, purchased the lands from Marshall. This purchase, made in 1786, gave Wilkinson a not-too-clear title to the major portion of that part of Frankfort lying north of the river — the downtown district.
Wilkinson immediately set about organizing the new town. He secured passage of an act of the Virginia Legislature (1786) which set aside 100 acres as a town site, provided a ferry and fixed its rates. When he found the Kentucky River flooding parts of the city as planned, he put in a drainage system. The name Frankfort was chosen by Wilkinson in memory of a pioneer who, some years earlier, had been shot by Indians, and whose surname, Frank, had already been given to a ford within the area chosen as the town site. By a slight change the name "Franks Ford" became "Frankfort." Within this tract the streets were laid out and named in honor of the general and his friends. Ann Street, running north and south on the west side of the New Capital Hotel, was named for his wife, and Mero Street for the Spanish Governor of the Province of Louisiana who was involved with Wilkinson and others in the historic Burr conspiracy. The name of Wapping Street was suggested by a visiting Englishman, for a street in London famous in that day.
Wilkinson visioned Frankfort as a port of the Bluegrass country, connected directly with the rising towns on the Ohio River — also with New Orleans, with the West Indies and the Atlantic Coast. The advent of steam boating encouraged these early ambitions, but the Lexington and Ohio Railroad entered Frankfort in 1835, concentrating transfer and wholesale business at the Ohio River points. Nevertheless the town prospered; tobacco, salt, pork, skins and hemp gave place in business importance to livestock and lumbering. About the middle of the 19th century Frankfort again became an important primary tobacco market for a time. The vast timberlands of the upper Kentucky River and its tributaries made Frankfort a leading sawmill town during the period 1865-1900. The industry vanished, replaced by furniture and shoe manufacturing in the early 1900s.
June 1, 1792, Kentucky became the 15th State of the Union, and the first west of the Alleghenies. The first session of the legislature convened at Lexington "to fix a place for the permanent seat of government." Five commissioners were appointed to consider applications for various points that included Ledgerwood's bend, Delaney's Ferry, Petersburg, Louisville, Lexington, Danville and Leestown. The commissioners demanded a free site and the expense of erecting necessary buildings. December 5th, Frankfort was adjudged to be "the most proper place" and on December 22nd, the legislature adjourned "to hold its next session in the house of Andrew Holmes, at Frankfort, on the Kentucky River."