Knox County, the forty-first in order of formation, is in southeastern Kentucky; bounded by Clay, Laurel, Whitley, and Bell counties, it has an area of 388 square miles. It was created on December 19, 1799, from Lincoln County and was named after Gen. Henry Knox of Massachusetts, the nation's first secretary of war. BARBOURVILLE is the county seat. Knox County originally embraced all the upper Cumberland Valley and several counties were later created from its territory--Clay (1806), Rockcastle (1810), Whitley (1818), Harlan (1819), Laurel (1825), and Bell (1867).

Knox County's topography is hilly and mountainous, and it is on the watershed of the Cumberland River. Highest elevations are in the southern and eastern sections, which reach about 2,000 feet above sea level. Lowest elevations are along the Cumberland River, which runs from east to west through the south-central portion of the county. Soil conditions are generally well adapted to agriculture in the valleys. Tobacco is the main cash crop; beef cattle are the principal livestock. Approximately three-fourths of the county is forested. Coal and timber are the county's most profitable natural resources, followed by natural gas.

The primary manufactured products in 1990 were steel wire and fiber products, food service equipment, brassieres and girdles, industrial sealants, lumber, roofing materials, machine parts, and fishing and pleasure boats. Other industries included railroad car repair and coal processing.

Rail transportation through the county is provided by CSX Transportation. The Cumberland Gap Parkway (U.S. 25E) is the county's main highway and connects with I-75 near Knox County's northwestern border, not far from the Tri-County Industrial Park.

The population of Knox County has remained stable since 1940, with natural increase and immigration offset by emigration to industrial sites, a trend that had slowed by 1990. A major city is CORBIN, located partially in Knox County but extending into Laurel and Whitley counties. Other communities include Artemus, Bimble, Bryant's Store, Cannon, Dewitt, Flat Lick, Girdler, Gray, Green Road, Heidrick, Hinkle, Mills, Scalf, Trosper, Walker, and Woolum.

A large number of residents trace their ancestry to English, Scotch-Irish, and German settlers. The main religious denomination is Southern Baptist, followed by Pentecostal congregations and other Baptist groups.

Primary and secondary public education is provided by the Knox County Schools and the Barbourville Independent School District. Union College, founded in 1879 in Barbourville, is a four-year school affiliated with the United Methodist church.

The area known as Knox County was the home of prehistoric Native Americans, and remains of villages and mounds have been located. The first English explorers who came to the region were Dr. Thomas WALKER and companions.

In the 1760s parties of the Long Hunters roamed the region for months at a time and often followed the Warriors' Path to the Flat Lick-Stinking Creek area. In 1775 Daniel Boone blazed the trail later known as the Wilderness Road through Knox County. The county's frontier heritage is celebrated each October with the Daniel Boone Festival, established in 1948. Daniel Boone Trail Memorial Park is located at Flat Lick, and the Knox Historical Museum in Barbourville contains many items relating to the frontier era.

Knox County's population grew steadily after the Civil War, reaching 10,587 in 1880. In 1888 the Louisville & Nashville Railroad (now CSX Transportation) completed lines through the county, generating a land boom. Another boom occurred around 1900 with the discovery of oil. A large mining community flourished in the Artemus-Kay Jay area from 1900 to the late 1940s.

Knox County's notable citizens include Joseph Eve, the nation's only chargd d'affaires to the Republic of Texas; Caleb Powers, involved in the assassination of Gov. William Goebel (1900); and U.S. congressmen James Love, Green Adams, George M. Adams, John H. Wilson, and John M. Robison. Knox County has provided the state with two Kentucky governors, James Black (1919) and Flem Sampson (1927-31).

The completion of I-75 in the early 1970s brought business growth near Corbin. The fourlaning of U.S. 25E in the early 1990s brought similar growth to the Barbourville area.

The population of Knox County was 23,689 in 1970; 30,239 in 1980; and 29,676 in 1990.

See K.S. Sol Warren, A History of Knox County, Kentucky (Barbourville, Ky., 1976).


From The Kentucky Encyclopedia, edited by John Kleber. Copyright 1992. Reprinted with permission of The University Press of Kentucky.