Owsley County, Kentucky
|This article needs additional citations for verification. (March 2014)|
|Owsley County, Kentucky|
Owsley County courthouse in Booneville, Kentucky
Location in the state of Kentucky
Kentucky's location in the U.S.
|• Total||198.09 sq mi (513 km2)|
|• Land||198.09 sq mi (513 km2)|
|• Water||0.00 sq mi (0 km2)|
|• Density||24/sq mi (9/km²)|
|Time zone||Eastern: UTC-5/-4|
Owsley County is a county located in the Eastern Coalfield region of Kentucky. As of the 2010 census, the population was 4,755. The county seat is Booneville. The county was organized on January 23, 1843 from Clay, Estill, and Breathitt counties and named for William Owsley (1782–1862), the judge of the Kentucky Court of Appeals and Governor of Kentucky (1844–48).
According to the 2010 census reports, Owsley County has the second highest level of child poverty of any county in the United States.
- 1 History
- 2 Alcohol prohibition
- 3 Geography
- 4 Demographics
- 5 Notable People Associated with Owsley County
- 6 Tourist Attractions
- 7 Cemeteries
- 8 Communities
- 9 Schools
- 10 See also
- 11 References
- 12 External links
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Owsley County was formed in 1843 from portions of Clay, Breathitt, and Estill Counties and was named for Governor William Owsley. Owsley County was Kentucky's 96th county. Parts of Owsley County were used to form Jackson County in 1858 and Lee County in 1870.
The first settlers in Owsley County were John Renty Baker and John Abner. They first settled in 1780 near the present Clay County line at Courtland. The exact year of their settlement is unknown, however, a gravestone found in a cemetery on Upper Buffalo Creek reads, "Milly, wife of John Abner, died March 1846."
John Renty Baker along with his sons, who were all gunsmiths, also invented and developed hand-operated machines to cut the rifle barrels. John Renty's father, Robert Baker, according to some (as the origins of the rifle are unclear) developed the rifle that became known as the "Kentucky Rifle".
John Renty Baker was known as one of the "Longhunters", spending more than a year at a time in the forests of Tennessee and Kentucky trapping and hunting. In "The Conquest of the Old Southwest", it is stated that in 1766 John Baker hunted with Daniel Boone's brother-in-law, John Stewart. He lived on the Green River among the Cherokees in what is now Kentucky and made trips down the Cumberland River to Spanish Natchez to sell their furs.
After the death of his wife, John Renty Baker became a recluse and lived in a rockhouse (rockshelter) near the mouth of Buffalo Creek and died there in 1820. He fathered at least 21 children that are documented.
The Bakers are the source of many colorful stories. They were involved in one of the longest and bloodiest family feuds in U.S. history, which began in 1843 when Dr. Thomas Baker (a grandson of Julius Bob) shot John Bales. Dr. Baker and John Bales were both married to daughters of John White and the two young couples became more intimate than was usual in this mountain country. Dr. Baker became insanely jealous of his wife and Bales. Finally in a fit of rage, he deserted her and began suit for divorce but suddenly withdrew it. He went to the salt works, where Bates worked in Manchester, called him to the door and shot him with an old-fashioned "pepper box" pistol. Bates died, but while he was dying he cursed Baker and authorized $10,000 from his estate to be used toward his capture and conviction. The feud lasted for 59 years and cost more than 100 lives.
The first settler in the city of Booneville was James Moore, Sr. The site of their home is located just outside of Booneville in front of the Booneville Homes apartments. Moore's son James Jr. built a two room cabin on the opposite side of the river from his parents. This home still stands, although it has been remodeled through the years, and is owned by Mayor Charles Long and his wife.
The Moores' land included all of Booneville, east across the South Fork River and toward Lerose. The community was known as Moore's Station and was later named Booneville after Daniel Boone. James Moore, Jr. was the first postmaster. Elias Moore donated land for a seat for the new county in 1843 and the town was incorporated as Booneville in 1846. The Owsley Court House Post Office opened in 1844 and was renamed Booneville in 1846. In 1858, Owsley County lost some of its territory to Jackson County and in 1860 to Wolfe County. In 1870, when Lee County was formed, again Owsley County lost some of its territory.
The Moores, Bowmans, Bakers, Gabbards, and Reynolds were the first permanent settlers.
Most land patents came from Virginia. The three types included military service, grants from settlement or preemption, or warrants from the treasury. There are still families here who have their original land grants.
In January 1929, and again on January 5, 1967, there were courthouse fires. All records were lost in the 1929 fire.
Although 97% of communities within the U.S. allow the legal sale of alcohol, Owsley County has not. This includes the City of Booneville, the county seat. The county had repeatedly denied, through democratic elections, the repeal of alcohol prohibition laws enacted in 1920. This changed on March 6, 2013 when the county held a wet/dry election by which a majority of county voters voted to designate the county "wet". The vote was 632 "wet", 518 "dry". This will permit the sale of alcohol when the fiscal court sets ordinances to regulate the distribution of alcoholic products.  Consumption is legal and has been since 1933 when the Twenty-first Amendment was implemented.
Drunk driving has, during its time designated as a dry county, remained more prevalent than in wet counties as a result of the increased drive necessary to obtain cheaper, legally-sold alcohol. A study in Kentucky suggested that residents of dry counties have to drive farther from their homes to consume alcohol, thus increasing impaired driving exposure.
Since the recent construction of a golf course located on Kentucky Route 11, this portion of Kentucky law may be relevant: According to Kentucky Revised Statutes (KRS) 242.123, an individual precinct within any dry territory—which can be a dry county, or a dry portion of an otherwise wet county—that contains a USGA-regulation golf course may vote to allow the sale of alcoholic beverages, by the drink on that specific course. As of the last officially published update on Kentucky wet and dry counties by the Kentucky Office of Alcoholic Beverage Control (ABC) in October 2011, 24 golf courses in 15 different counties were approved for such sales at the local level, with two awaiting state approval.
- Lee County (north)
- Breathitt County (east)
- Perry County (southeast)
- Clay County (south)
- Jackson County (west)
According to the 2000 census, the county has a total area of 198.09 square miles (513.1 km2), all land. The South Fork of the Kentucky River passes through the county. Most of the precipitation that falls on the county ends up in this tributary of the Kentucky River. Some, however, on the northwest side of the county is in the Kentucky River watershed. Flood plains along the banks of the South of the Kentucky River and several streams provide the level land necessary for development/farming.
National Protected Area
- Daniel Boone National Forest, (the same national forest that encompasses the frequently-visited rock climbing and hiking destination known as the Red River Gorge)
The county is located in the Eastern Mountain Coal Fields which is a part of the Appalachian Plateau (more precisely, the Cumberland Plateau). The elevation of the highest summit in the county appears to be between 1730' +/- 10' due to the 20' closed contour interval according to this map:. It is located on the county's extreme southern boundary with Clay County. The lowest elevation (650' +/- 10') appears to be at the point where the South Fork crosses the Owsley/Lee border on the north side of the county. 
|This section does not cite any references or sources. (March 2014)|
As of the census of 2000, there were 4,858 people, 1,894 households, and 1,388 families residing in the county. The population density was 24 per square mile (9.3 /km2). There were 2,247 housing units at an average density of 11 per square mile (4.2 /km2). The racial makeup of the county was 99.22% White, 0.10% Black or African American, 0.06% Native American, 0.04% Asian, 0.02% Pacific Islander, 0.02% from other races, and 0.54% from two or more races. 0.72% of the population were Hispanics or Latinos of any race.
There were 1,894 households out of which 32.6% had children under the age of 18 living with them, 54.8% were married couples living together, 12.7% had a female householder with no husband present, and 26.7% were non-families. 24.5% of all households were made up of individuals and 10.7% had someone living alone who was 65 years of age or older. The average household size was 2.51 and the average family size was 2.98.
The age distribution was 24.6% under the age of 18, 8.9% from 18 to 24, 27.0% from 25 to 44, 24.5% from 45 to 64, and 15.0% who were 65 years of age or older. The median age was 38 years. For every 100 females there were 101.8 males. For every 100 females age 18 and over, there were 96.7 males.
General Income Information
The median income for a household in the county was $15,805, which is the third lowest in the nation and the lowest among counties with a non-Hispanic white majority population, and the median income for a family was $18,034. Males had a median income of $25,100 versus $18,203 for females. The per capita income for the county was $10,742. About 41.7% of families and 45.4% of the population were below the poverty line, including 56.3% of those under age 18 and 34.5% of those age 65 or over.
Sources of Governmental Income
In 2009, government benefits accounted for 53.07% of personal income.
Sources of Non-Governmental Income
Though deep mines in thin coal seams once provided jobs and income for local residents, this is not the case in present-day Owsley County. There are some surface coal mining sites in the county—one notable strip mine is visible from the road and presently operating 3 miles north of Booneville on Kentucky Route 11.
Gas and oil wells are particularly dense on the north side of the county, though few are in operation.
Timber is an integral part of the local economy. There is a sawmill located in the Lerose community on Kentucky Route 30 East. Several log-yards are visible where timber is staged for further processing.
Tobacco farming was a popular trend until the government "buy-out" reduced the number of tobacco farms in the early 2000s. Subsistence farming has for a considerable time, been an integral part of local culture. Larger scale commercial farms are few and far between. Marijuana is a substantial cash crop. This has become increasingly more appealing for local residents since income from tobacco has greatly been reduced in recent years.
Notable People Associated with Owsley County
Earle Bryan Combs, born May 13, 1899 at Pebworth in Owsley County, played baseball for the New York Yankees from 1924 to 1935 and was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1970. He was an ideal leadoff hitter for the legendary teams of the 1920s and 1930s. During this time, he played with Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig. He averaged nearly 200 hits and 70 walks a season helping him compile a .325 career batting mark. He is featured in the National Baseball Hall of Fame. A plaque to honor his birthplace stands on Highway 11 in Pebworth.
Combs left Owsley County to pursue an education in 1917 at the age of 18. After he left the county, he never returned for any considerable amount of time. Eventually in 1954, he settled in Richmond, KY after his extensive professional baseball career.
According to Joyce Wilson's book, A Romantic History of Owsley County, Daniel Boone made his way to Owsley County on a two-year hunt from 1769-1771. In 1784 he returned and surveyed some 50,000 acres for James Moore and Col. John Donelson. Boone used a huge rock at the mouth of Sexton's Creek, on which he carved his initials, as his starting point in these surveys. This rock, known as "Boone Rock" or "Goose Rock" is still there, located approximately nine miles south of Booneville on Highway 11 South. However, due to changes in the course of the stream throughout time, the initials are under water and cannot be seen, even during dry seasons.
Boone was impressed with this area and called it "a place where peace crowns the sylvan shade." He owned his own land of which a portion remained in the family until 1819, when Daniel Boone, Jr. transferred the last 1,000 acre tract on Meadow Creek to William Strong.
Daniel Boone's favorite camping spot, known as the "old encampment", is located a half a mile south of Booneville between the highway and the river just below the area known as the "Sag". In later life, Daniel Boone learned that many claims he had to land were invalid because someone else had made official claims before he did.
Daniel Boone's granddaughter, Leah Schull Newman, and other Boone descendants, are buried in the Newman Cemetery located in the Pebworth area on Highway 11 North.
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Dolly Bowling made her first quilt at age nine. The "Dollie Star" is an original pattern she created and patented. Another exceptional quilt which Dollie collaborated on, "The Cherry Tree," is now part of the National Archives in Washington D. C. The quilt was selected as part of a featured exhibition which toured the U.S. in 1997.
James Klotter, Ph.D.
James Klotter currently serves as the Kentucky State Historian and professor of History at Georgetown College in Georgetown, Kentucky. He was an associate editor of the Kentucky Encyclopedia and served as the executive director of the Kentucky Historical Society for many years until his retirement.
Dr. Klotter received his Ph.D. in History from the University of Kentucky. He has honorary degrees from Eastern Kentucky University and Union College. He is the author, coauthor, or editor of a dozen books including: A New History of Kentucky; Kentucky: Decades of Discord, 1865–1900; Kentucky: Portrait in Paradox, 1900–1950; William Goebel: The Politics of Wrath; The Breckinridges of Kentucky; Our Kentucky: A Study of the Bluegrass State; and History Mysteries.
Abraham Lincoln Relief Sculpture
|This section does not cite any references or sources. (December 2010)|
The Abraham Lincoln Relief Sculpture, locally known as 'Abe Lincoln Rock' or 'Abraham Lincoln Rock', is located just off Highway 846 in the Conkling community of Owsley County. The sculpture is listed in the inventory of folk art in the Smithsonian American Art Museum. The sculpture was carved by a traveling pack peddler, Granville Johnson, in the 1930s. Local Legend has it that Johnson had come to Owsley County ill and in need of assistance. The John Williams family cared for him on their farm located south of Booneville. As he began to recover his strength, Mr. Johnson would take a hammer and chisel and climb the hill behind the Williams' home each day. Once recovered well enough to travel again he revealed the sculpture, which he had created as a gift of appreciation to the family.
The Owsley County Fiscal Court purchased the sculpture and surrounding land in 2008 from Clyde and Dianna Combs. There are no signs informing would-be visitors of its actual location; therefore, it's almost an impossibility to find for any potential tourists who wish to visit the site.
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Owsley County has one Christian Private school currently operating. Sugar Camp Baptist Church maintains a primary educational facility off of Hwy. 30 East.
- "State & County QuickFacts". United States Census Bureau. Retrieved March 6, 2014.
- "Find a County". National Association of Counties. Retrieved 2011-06-07.
- "Table 1: 2011 Poverty and Median Income Estimates - Counties". Small Area Income and Poverty Estimates. U.S. Census Bureau. 2011.
- The Register of the Kentucky State Historical Society, Volume 1. Kentucky State Historical Society. 1903. p. 36.
- Gary, S.L.S., et al.Consideration of driver home county prohibition and alcohol-related vehicle crashes. Accident Analysis and Prevention, 2003, 35(5), 641–648.
- "Census 2000 U.S. Gazetteer Files: Counties". United States Census. Retrieved 2011-02-13.
- "U.S. Decennial Census". Census.gov. Retrieved August 6, 2013.
- "Annual Estimates of the Resident Population: April 1, 2010 to July 1, 2012". Census.gov. Retrieved August 6, 2013.
- "American FactFinder". United States Census Bureau. Retrieved 2008-01-31.
- , The New York Times. Where Americans Most Depend on Government Benefits. Published: February 11, 2012. See the share of Americans' income that comes from government benefit programs like Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security, veterans' benefits and food stamps.
- Earle Combs Statistics - Baseball-Reference.com
- Potts, Monica (July–August 2012). "Pressing On the Upward Way". The American Prospect (Washington, D.C.: The American Prospect, Inc.).
- Williamson, Kevin D. (December 16, 2013). "The White Ghetto". National Review (New York: National Review, Inc.).
- Eastern Kentucky Arts Project
- Owsley Family Historical Society website
- Owsley History & Ancestry
- Owsley County History and Genealogical Society
- The Kentucky Highlands Project