To all of of visitors, let us extend a hearty welcome to Breathitt County, Kentucky, home of the Honey Festival, Lees College, Panbowl Lake, and friendly people. You are in one of the most historic of the Eastern Kentucky mountain counties. A rich history is to be told about almost anything you see or anywhere you visit in our beautiful county. Many books have recorded our history (most out of print - see list below) as it happened through the last 200 years and even before. As you travel our hollows and valleys you'll find a sincere people, a friendly breed always glad to help. Ours is a rough kind of beauty. No state parks, no organized resorts, but natural beauty everywhere. You'll see what most natives take for granted--one of the prettiest little places on this great planet of ours. Enjoy yourself and come often.
More and more people are discovering the rugged beauty of the mountain country of the Cumberland Plateau of the Appalachian Chain. The many hollows and peaks found here are almost unique. They form a patchwork of ups and downs that shelter vast numbers of beautiful natural and man-made attractions. Breathitt Co. is located near the center of Eastern Kentucky, and thus is somewhat of a hub to the region. Huge in size, small in population, Breathitt Co. offers remoteness, but also the quaintness of small villages and towns. Modern highways, railways, and a new airport keep this paradise just minutes from the big town scene.
Until just a few years ago it was very easy to travel through our region and find the mountain people conversing in a quaint Anglo-Saxon talk, singing Elizabethan ballads, and carrying on a life style long forgotten by the outside world. indeed, the outside world of 95 years ago could not believe that ours was a forgotten world - long passed over by modern America. And for awhile the whole nation was caught up in a romance with our section.
Books and plays were the rage in America at the time just if they told of the mountains, the mountain men, and their feuds. However. only recent inreaches of modern day civilization have all but removed that quaint Anglo-Saxon race from Breathitt Co. True, a few of their characteristics might be seen occasionally, but the real rugged mountaineer is no more. The recent past is so remote that even to the area's current residents (whose blood lines remain the same) it seems something out of a story-book. Still, though, a persistent traveler may find traces here and there of the Breathitt Co. of 100 years ago noted throughout the nation, in works of Charles N. Buck, John Fox, Jr., and many others, as the capitol of the Feud Lands.
For those who choose to remain here in Breathitt for any short length of time, a feeling of being home is quickly felt. Some unseen power of Breathitt's mountains and hollows draws most everyone to feel in this manner. Just ask the thousands of natives who travel home each chance they get from Ohio, Michigan and from all points, why they still cannot break those magical ties with dear old Breathitt County. There just doesn't seem to be anyplace like it.
Breathitt County is located in the eastern part of Kentucky in the heart of the coalfields. Although it is without elevations of great prominence, Breathitt County is usually referred
to as "Mountain Country." Its elevations range from 690 feet to 1530 feet above sea level. Breathitt is bordered by six counties. These go together to form Breathitt's irregular shape. The county was created in 1839, the 89th, out of parts of Clay, Perry, and Estill Counties. The county was named after John Breathitt, Governor of Kentucky from 1832 until February 21, 1834, the date of his death at the Governor's Mansion in Frankfort. The land area is 309,120 acres or 483 square miles. Jackson, located near the very center of the county on the North Fork of the Kentucky River serves as county seat - after having first being called Breathitt Town. The town's name was changed to Jackson, after Andrew Jackson, in 1845.
The topography may be described as ranging from rolling in the north-east to hilly and rugged in other sections. Breathitt ranks thirteenth in size of counties in Kentucky. In 1980 the population was 21,000 for the county including around 4,500 people in the Jackson area. Although our county has not been as famous a producer of coal in the past as some of the upper counties such as Pike, Harlan, Letcher, and Perry, today Breathitt Co. supports several small mining concerns.
In its past, Breathitt Co. has had several big booms of different types. The first boom occurred near the turn of the century with the big timber boom. Then in the early 1920s a deep-mine coal boom followed. In the late 1950s a gas and oil boom was in progress on the Middle Fork. And finally in the late 1960s through today a stripmining coal boom has been on and off--up and down. Who knows what tomorrow will bring to our fair land?
1. In The Land Of Breathitt - published about 1939 for our county's centennial birthday, this is the formal history of the county. (It was reprinted about 1975)
2. Recollections Of Breathitt - published by Green Trimble in 1916. This small booklet gives a good look at Breathitt County in 1837, two years before it became a county. (Been reprinted several times)
3. Behold He Cometh In The Clouds - published in 1911, this book by George Washington Noble tells about the author and his experiences in the Civil War.
4. Memories - by Cora M. Noble was printed about 1963. It tells of Mrs. Noble's life which in turn tells about the upper part of Breathitt County.
5. Jackson - The Queen City Of The Mountains - was one of a series of 'city books' written in 1913 by Louis Pitcher. Give a good view of Jackson 80 years ago.
6. Bloody Breathitt Feuds - here is a rare 4-volume set of books by E. L. Noble published in the 1930's and 1940's which deal with the many murders and feuds which have made Breathitt County famous.
7. Scenes of Old Jackson - is a pictorial history of Jackson published in 1973 by Charles Hayes. Each photo is 8x10 in black and white.
8. Hanging of Bad Tom Smith - published in 1969 by Charles Hayes, this book depicts the first and last legal hanging in Breathitt County.
9. Breathitt County Journal - a set of eleven booklets published in 1987-90 to celebrate our county's 150th birthday by Charles Hayes.
There are various other books on family history and special events.
1. The Jackson Hustler - founded in 1887 was the county's first newspaper. Ended in 1913. Only four issues survive today.
2. Breathitt Co. News - founded in 1903, ended in 1909? - Much of this newspaper is saved on microfilm.
3. Jackson Democrat - founded 1907? ended 1908? - Not an issue survives today.
4. Jackson Times - established in 1913, survives today. Most issues are saved on microfilm.
5. Breathitt Co. Enquirer - founded in 1971 ended in 1972. Almost two years are saved on microfilm.
6. Breathitt Co. Banner - founded about 1985, ended a few months later.
7. Citizen-Voice - for a short time in 1980's.
8. Breathitt County Voice - established about 1993, survives today. Not sure if it is being saved on microfilm or not.
In addition, the Breathitt County Historical & Genealogical Society, 121 Turner Lane, Jackson, KY 41339 has many publications for sale. For example: U.S. Census records, graveyard books, a quarterly publication, and books on the Neace and Deaton families, etc. (Contact the Society.) Dues per year - $7.00.
Some readers of The Kentucky Explorer have expressed an interest in my branch of the Hay/Hays/Hayes family of Breathitt County. Therefore, I have included a link to a family history page.
Plans are to expand this Breathitt County site from time to time. If you have suggestions, Please contact me, Charles Hayes, Jr.--Editor & Publisher of The Kentucky Explorer Magazine at [email protected]
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