By: Matthew E. Becher & Lori McEntee
Originally published: July 12, 2007 in the Boone County Recorder
Today's stable of well-known Northern Kentucky builders includes names such as Arlinghaus, Drees, Fischer, and Hemmer, but if we look back 50 or 100 years, the Nicholson name would have been at the top of the list. In the first half of the 20th Century, George P. Nicholson and his sons constructed more of southern Boone County's built environment than anyone. The Nicholsons built churches, schools, banks, roads, bridges and countless private residences, primarily in Boone, Kenton, and Gallatin counties. Nicholson's success is attributed to a combination of integrity, reputation, market timing, and his ability to consistently underbid the competition.
George Pendleton Nicholson (1868-1960) was born in Mt. Washington, Ohio, in 1868 to Mary and Dr. Henry Clay Nicholson, the community physician. Henry Clay's mother, Annah Boone, was the daughter of Jacob Boone who came to Kentucky with his first cousin – noted frontiersman Daniel Boone. While Henry Clay was a doctor by profession, inventing was his passion. He patented numerous electrical and canning inventions before and after the Civil War, but his most well-known invention was a quadruplex telegraph which resulted in a patent dispute with Thomas Edison. The legal battle between Nicholson and Edison drained the family's finances and led Henry Clay to move his family to a 108-acre farm in southern Kenton County. The place is now called Nicholson.
George P. Nicholson was 19 when the family moved to Kenton County, and he relocated his own family to Walton in 1906, some 5 years after he finished his first documented public project: the Walton Graded School. George's move to Walton was probably a business decision. At that time, Walton was growing fast and had easy access to two railroad lines and the Covington-Lexington Turnpike. Nicholson became a prolific builder and ultimately handed off the family business to his sons Raymond and Kyle.
The decades leading up to the Great Depression were Nicholson's most productive. During that span, Nicholson built dozens of houses in Walton alone. In addition to the 1901 Walton school, Nicholson completed schools in Verona (1914), Erlanger-Elsmere (1928), Park Hills (1928), Forest Hills (1928) and, later, Simon-Kenton Memorial High (1936-37) and Burlington High (1939). Also constructed during this period were the Old Walton City Building (1920), Walton Equitable Bank (1927) and Dixie State Bank (1928). An outstanding mason, Nicholson's most architecturally inspired works were churches, including the old Walton Baptist (1914), Hopeful Lutheran (1917), Walton Christian (1918, rebuilt 1949) and Walton United Methodist Church (late 1920s). After George's death, his sons focused more on residential construction. Next time you are out, especially near Walton, stop and look at a house, church, or school built between 1900 and 1950. Chances are you will be looking at the work of Nicholson & Sons.