This article is about the U.S. state. For other uses, see Kentucky (disambiguation).
Commonwealth of Kentucky
Flag Seal
Nickname(s): Bluegrass State
Motto(s): United we stand, divided we fall
Deo gratiam habeamus
(Let us be grateful to God)
Official language English[1]
Demonym Kentuckian
Capital Frankfort
Largest city Louisville
Largest metro Louisville metropolitan area

Ranked 37th

  Total 40,409 sq mi
(104,659 km2)
  Width 140 miles (225 km)
  Length 379 miles (610 km)
  % water 1.7
  Latitude 36° 30′ N to 39° 09′ N
  Longitude 81° 58′ W to 89° 34′ W

Ranked 26th

  Total 4,425,092 (2015 est)[2]
  Density 110/sq mi  (42.5/km2)
Ranked 22nd
  Highest point Black Mountain[3][4]
4,145 ft (1263 m)
  Mean 750 ft  (230 m)
  Lowest point Mississippi River at Kentucky Bend[3][4]
257 ft (78 m)
Before statehood part of Virginia
Admission to Union June 1, 1792 (15th)
Governor Matt Bevin (R)
Lieutenant Governor Jenean Hampton (R)

Kentucky General Assembly

  Upper house Senate
  Lower house House of Representatives
U.S. Senators Mitch McConnell (R)
Rand Paul (R)
U.S. House delegation 5 Republicans, 1 Democrat (list)
Time zones


 • eastern half Eastern: UTC −5/−4
 • western half Central: UTC −6/−5
ISO 3166 US-KY
Abbreviations KY, Ky.

Kentucky (i/kənˈtʌki/, kən-TU-kee), officially the Commonwealth of Kentucky, is a state located in the east south-central region of the United States. Kentucky is one of four U.S. states constituted as a commonwealth (the others being Virginia, Pennsylvania, and Massachusetts). Originally a part of Virginia, in 1792 Kentucky became the 15th state to join the Union. Kentucky is the 37th most extensive and the 26th most populous of the 50 United States.

Kentucky is known as the "Bluegrass State", a nickname based on the bluegrass found in many of its pastures due to the fertile soil. One of the major regions in Kentucky is the Bluegrass Region in central Kentucky, which houses two of its major cities, Louisville and Lexington. It is a land with diverse environments and abundant resources, including the world's longest cave system, Mammoth Cave National Park, the greatest length of navigable waterways and streams in the contiguous United States, and the two largest man-made lakes east of the Mississippi River.

Kentucky is also known for horse racing, bourbon distilleries, coal, the historic site My Old Kentucky Home, automobile manufacturing, tobacco, bluegrass music, college basketball, and Kentucky Fried Chicken.

My Old Kentucky Home, a widely known historic mansion for which Kentucky's state song, "My Old Kentucky Home" was written in 1852 by Stephen Foster
Narrow country roads bounded by stone and wood plank fences are a feature in the Kentucky Bluegrass region.


In 1776, the counties of Virginia beyond the Appalachian Mountains became known as Kentucky County,[5] named for the Kentucky River. The precise etymology of the name is uncertain,[6] but likely based on an Iroquoian name meaning "(on) the meadow" or "(on) the prairie"[7][8] (cf. Mohawk kenhtà:ke, Seneca gëdá’geh (phonemic /kẽtaʔkeh/), "at the field").[9]


A map of Kentucky

Kentucky is situated in the Upland South.[10][11] A significant portion of eastern Kentucky is part of Appalachia.

Kentucky borders seven states, from the Midwest and the Southeast. West Virginia lies to the east, Virginia to the southeast, Tennessee to the south, Missouri to the west, Illinois and Indiana to the northwest, and Ohio to the north and northeast. Only Missouri and Tennessee, both of which border eight states, touch more.

Kentucky's northern border is formed by the Ohio River and its western border by the Mississippi River. The official state borders are based on the courses of the rivers as they existed when Kentucky became a state in 1792. In several places, the rivers have changed courses away from the original borders. For instance, northbound travelers on U.S. 41 from Henderson, after crossing the Ohio River, will be in Kentucky for about two miles (3.2 km). Ellis Park, a thoroughbred racetrack, is located in this small piece of Kentucky. Waterworks Road is part of the only land border between Indiana and Kentucky.[12]

Kentucky has a non-contiguous part known as Kentucky Bend, at the far west corner of the state. It exists as an exclave surrounded completely by Missouri and Tennessee, and is included in the boundaries of Fulton County. Road access to this small part of Kentucky on the Mississippi River (populated by only 18 people as of 2010)[13] requires a trip through Tennessee. The epicenter of the powerful 1811–1812 New Madrid Earthquakes was near this area, even causing the river to flow backwards in some places. Though the series of quakes did change the area geologically and affect the (small number of) inhabitants of the area at the time, the Kentucky Bend was formed because of a surveying error, not the New Madrid Earthquake.[14]


Kentucky's regions (click on image for color-coding information.)

Kentucky can be divided into five primary regions: the Cumberland Plateau in the east, the north-central Bluegrass region, the south-central and western Pennyroyal Plateau (also known as the Pennyrile or Mississippi Plateau), the Western Coal Fields and the far-west Jackson Purchase.

The Bluegrass region is commonly divided into two regions, the Inner Bluegrass—the encircling 90 miles (145 km) around Lexington—and the Outer Bluegrass—the region that contains most of the northern portion of the state, above the Knobs. Much of the outer Bluegrass is in the Eden Shale Hills area, made up of short, steep, and very narrow hills.

The Eastern Kentucky Coalfield is known for its rugged terrain.
Kentucky's Inner Bluegrass region features hundreds of horse farms.
Metropolis Lake

The Jackson Purchase and western Pennyrile are home to several bald cypress/tupelo swamps.


Köppen climate types of Kentucky

Located within the southeastern interior portion of North America, Kentucky has a climate that can best be described as a humid subtropical climate (Koppen Cfa). Temperatures in Kentucky usually range from daytime summer highs of 87 °F (31 °C) to the winter low of 23 °F (−5 °C). The average precipitation is 46 inches (1,200 mm) a year.[15] Kentucky experiences four distinct seasons, with substantial variations in the severity of summer and winter.[16] The highest recorded temperature was 114 °F (46 °C) at Greensburg on July 28, 1930 while the lowest recorded temperature was −37 °F (−38 °C) at Shelbyville on January 19, 1994. Due to its location, Kentucky has a moderate humid subtropical climate, with abundant rainfall. It has four distinct seasons, but rarely experiences the extreme cold as far northern states, nor the high heat of the states in the Deep South. Temperatures extremely seldom drop below 0 degrees or rise above 100 degrees. Rain- and snowfall totals about 45 inches per year. There are also big variations in climate within the state. The northern parts tend to be about 5 degrees cooler than those in western parts of the state. Somerset in the south-central part receives 10 more inches of rain per year than for instance Covington to the north. Average temperatures for the entire Commonwealth go from the low 30s in January to the high 70s in mid-July. The annual average temperature varies from 55–60 degrees: 55 in the far north as an average annual temperature and 60 degrees in the extreme southwest.[17][18]

In general, Kentuckians experience relatively humid warm rainy summers, and moderately cold and snowy winters. Mean maximum temperatures in July vary from 83 to 90 degrees; the mean minimum July temperatures vary from 61 to 69 degrees. In January the mean maximum temperatures range from 36 to 44 degrees; the mean minimum temperatures range from 36 to 44 degrees. Temperature means vary with northern and far-eastern mountain-regions averaging five degrees cooler year-round, compared to the relatively warmer areas of the southern- and western region of the state. Precipitation also varies north to south with the north averaging 38 to 40 inches, and the south averaging 50 inches. Days per year below the freezing point vary from about sixty days in the southwest to more than a hundred days in the far-north and far-east.[19]

Monthly average high and low temperatures for various Kentucky cities ( °F)
City Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec
Lexington 40/24 45/28 55/36 65/44 74/54 82/62 86/66 85/65 78/58 67/46 54/37 44/28
Louisville 41/25 47/28 57/37 67/46 75/56 83/65 87/70 86/68 79/61 68/48 56/39 45/30
Owensboro 42/25 47/28 57/36 69/45 78/55 86/64 88/68 88/65 81/58 70/46 57/37 45/28
Paducah 42/24 48/28 58/37 68/46 77/55 85/64 89/68 87/65 81/57 71/45 57/36 46/28
Pikeville 46/23 50/25 60/32 69/39 77/49 84/58 87/63 86/62 80/56 71/42 60/33 49/26
Ashland 42/19 47/21 57/29 68/37 77/47 84/56 88/61 87/59 80/52 69/40 57/31 46/23

Natural disasters

Deadliest weather events in Kentucky history Date Death Toll Affected Regions
March 1890 middle Mississippi Valley tornado outbreak March 27, 1890 100+ Louisville, W KY
April 3, 1974 Tornado Outbreak April 3, 1974 72 Statewide
May–June 1917 tornado outbreak sequence May 27, 1917 66 Fulton area
Early-May 1933 tornado outbreak sequence May 9, 1933 Tornado 38 South Central KY
January 2009 Central Plains and Midwest ice storm January 2009 35 Statewide
March 2–3, 2012 tornado outbreak March 2, 2012 22 Statewide
Ohio River flood of 1937 Early 1937 unknown Statewide
Gradyville flood June 7, 1907 20 Gradyville
March 1, 1997 Flooding Early March 1997 18 Statewide

Lakes and rivers

Lake Cumberland is the largest artificial American lake east of the Mississippi River by volume.

Kentucky has more navigable miles of water than any other state in the union, other than Alaska.[20]

Kentucky is the only U.S. state to have a continuous border of rivers running along three of its sides—the Mississippi River to the west, the Ohio River to the north, and the Big Sandy River and Tug Fork to the east.[21] Its major internal rivers include the Kentucky River, Tennessee River, Cumberland River, Green River and Licking River.

Though it has only three major natural lakes,[22] Kentucky is home to many artificial lakes. Kentucky has both the largest artificial lake east of the Mississippi in water volume (Lake Cumberland) and surface area (Kentucky Lake). Kentucky Lake's 2,064 miles (3,322 km) of shoreline, 160,300 acres (64,900 ha) of water surface, and 4,008,000 acre feet (4,944 Gl) of flood storage are the most of any lake in the TVA system.[23]

Kentucky's 90,000 miles (140,000 km) of streams provides one of the most expansive and complex stream systems in the nation.[24]

Natural environment and conservation

Once an industrial wasteland, Louisville's reclaimed waterfront now features thousands of trees and miles of walking trails.

Kentucky has an expansive park system, which includes one national park, two National Recreation areas, two National Historic Parks, two national forests, two National Wildlife Refuges, 45 state parks, 37,696 acres (153 km2) of state forest, and 82 Wildlife Management Areas.

Kentucky has been part of two of the most successful wildlife reintroduction projects in United States history. In the winter of 1997, the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources began to re-stock elk in the state's eastern counties, which had been extinct from the area for over 150 years. As of 2009, the herd had reached the project goal of 10,000 animals, making it the largest herd east of the Mississippi River.[25]

The state also stocked wild turkeys in the 1950s. There were reported to be less than 900 at one point. Once nearly extinct here, wild turkeys thrive throughout today's Kentucky.[26] Hunters officially reported a record 29,006 birds taken during the 23-day season in Spring 2009.[27]

A female gray wolf shot in 2013 in Hart County, Kentucky by a hunter was the first verified sighting of the species in Kentucky in modern times.[28]

Natural attractions

Red River Gorge is one of Kentucky's most visited places
Forest at Otter Creek Outdoor Recreation Area, Meade County, Kentucky


Main article: History of Kentucky

In about the 10th century, the Kentucky's natives' variety of corn became highly productive, supplanting the Eastern Agricultural Complex, and replaced it with a maize-based agriculture in the Mississippian era. French explorers in the 17th century documented numerous tribes living in Kentucky until the Beaver Wars in the 1670s. However, by the time that European colonial explorers and settlers began entering Kentucky in greater numbers in the mid-18th century, there were no major Native American settlements in the region. The Iroquois had controlled much of the Ohio River valley for hunting from their bases in what is now New York. The Shawnee from the northwest and Cherokee from the south also sent parties into the area regularly for hunting. As more settlers entered the area, warfare broke out because the Native Americans considered the settlers to be encroaching on their traditional hunting grounds.[34] Today there are two state recognized tribes in Kentucky, the Southern Cherokee Nation of Kentucky and the Ridgetop Shawnee.[35][36]

A 1790 U.S. government report states that 1,500 Kentucky settlers had been killed by Native Americans since the end of the Revolutionary War.[37] In 1786, George Rogers Clark led a group of 1,200 men in actions against Shawnee towns on the Wabash River to begin the Northwest Indian War.[38]

On December 31, 1776, the region of Virginia beyond the Appalachian Mountains was established as Kentucky County by the Virginia General Assembly.[5] (Kentucky County was abolished on June 30, 1780, when it was divided into Fayette, Jefferson, and Lincoln counties.) On several occasions the region's residents petitioned the General Assembly and the Confederation Congress for separation from Virginia and statehood. Ten constitutional conventions were held in Danville between 1784 and 1792.

One petition, which had Virginia's assent, came before the Confederation Congress in early July 1788. Unfortunately, its consideration came up a day after word of New Hampshire's all-important ninth ratification of the proposed Constitution, thus establishing it as the new framework of governance for the United States. In light of this development, Congress thought that it would be "unadvisable" to admit Kentucky into the Union, as it could do so "under the Articles of Confederation" only, but not "under the Constitution", and so declined to take action.[39]

On December 18, 1789 Virginia again gave its consent to Kentucky statehood. The United States Congress gave its approval on February 4, 1791.[40] (This occurred two weeks before Congress approved Vermont's petition for statehood.[41]) Kentucky officially became the fifteenth state in the Union on June 1, 1792. Isaac Shelby, a military veteran from Virginia, was elected its first Governor.[42]

19th century

Designed by the Washington Monument's architect Robert Mills in 1845, the U.S. Marine Hospital in Louisville is considered the best extant antebellum hospital in the country.

Central Kentucky, the bluegrass region, was the area of the state with the most slave owners, as planters cultivated tobacco and hemp and were noted for their quality livestock. During the 19th century, Kentucky slaveholders began to sell unneeded slaves to the Deep South, with Louisville becoming a major slave market and departure port for slaves being transported downriver.

Kentucky was one of the border states during the American Civil War.[43] Although frequently described as never having seceded, representatives from several counties met at Russellville calling themselves the "Convention of the People of Kentucky" and passed an Ordinance of Secession on November 20, 1861.[44] They established a Confederate government of Kentucky with its capital in Bowling Green.[45]

Though Kentucky was represented by the central star on the Confederate battle flag,[46] it remained officially "neutral" throughout the war due to the Union sympathies of a significant number of the Commonwealth's citizens. Some 21st-century Kentuckians observe Confederate Memorial Day on Confederate President Jefferson Davis' birthday, June 3, and participate in Confederate battle re-enactments.[47][48] Both Confederate President Jefferson Davis and U.S. President Abraham Lincoln were born in Kentucky.

On January 30, 1900, Governor William Goebel, flanked by two bodyguards, was mortally wounded by an assassin while walking to the State Capitol in downtown Frankfort. Goebel was contesting the Kentucky gubernatorial election of 1899, which William S. Taylor was initially believed to have won. For several months, J. C. W. Beckham, Goebel's running mate, and Taylor fought over who was the legal governor, until the Supreme Court of the United States ruled in May in favor of Beckham. After fleeing to Indiana, Taylor was indicted as a co-conspirator in Goebel's assassination. Goebel is the only governor of a U.S. state to have been assassinated while in office.[49]

20th century

Statue of William Goebel in Frankfort

The Black Patch Tobacco Wars, a vigilante action, occurred in Western Kentucky in the early 20th century. As a result of the tobacco industry monopoly, tobacco farmers in the area were forced to sell their crops at prices that were too low. Many local farmers and activists united in a refusal to sell their crops to the major tobacco companies.

An Association meeting occurred in downtown Guthrie,[50] where a vigilante wing of "Night Riders", formed. The riders terrorized farmers who sold their tobacco at the low prices demanded by the tobacco corporations. They burned several tobacco warehouses throughout the area, stretching as far west as Hopkinsville to Princeton. In the later period of their operation, they were known to physically assault farmers who broke the boycott. Governor Augustus E. Willson declared martial law and deployed the Kentucky National Guard to end the wars.

Law and government

Kentucky is one of four U.S. states to officially use the term commonwealth. The term was used for Kentucky as it had also been used by Virginia, from which Kentucky was created. The term has no particular significance in its meaning and was chosen to emphasize the distinction from the status of royal colonies as a place governed for the general welfare of the populace.[51]

The commonwealth term was used in citizen petitions submitted between 1786 and 1792 for the creation of the state. It was also used in the title of a history of the state that was published in 1834 and was used in various places within that book in references to Virginia and Kentucky.[52] The other two states officially called "commonwealths" are Massachusetts and Pennsylvania.

Kentucky is one of only five states that elects its state officials in odd-numbered years (the others being Louisiana, Mississippi, New Jersey, and Virginia). Kentucky holds elections for these offices every 4 years in the years preceding Presidential election years. Thus, Kentucky held gubernatorial elections in 2011 and 2015.

Executive branch

The governor's mansion in Frankfort

The executive branch is headed by the governor who serves as both head of state and head of government. The lieutenant governor may or may not have executive authority depending on whether the person is a member of the Governor's cabinet. Under the current Kentucky Constitution, the lieutenant governor assumes the duties of the governor only if the governor is incapacitated. (Before 1992 the lieutenant governor assumed power any time the governor was out of the state.) The governor and lieutenant governor usually run on a single ticket (also per a 1992 constitutional amendment), and are elected to four-year terms. The current governor is Republican Matt Bevin, and the lieutenant governor is Jenean Hampton.

Other elected constitutional offices include the Secretary of State, Attorney General, Auditor of Public Accounts, State Treasurer and Commissioner of Agriculture. Currently, Democrat Alison Lundergan Grimes serves as the Secretary of State. The commonwealth's chief prosecutor, law enforcement officer, and law officer is the Attorney General, currently Democrat Andy Beshear. The Auditor of Public Accounts is Republican Mike Harmon. Republican Allison Ball is the current Treasurer. Republican Ryan Quarles is the current Commissioner of Agriculture.

Legislative branch

Kentucky's legislative branch consists of a bicameral body known as the Kentucky General Assembly.

The Senate is considered the upper house. It has 38 members, and is led by the President of the Senate, currently Robert Stivers (R).

The House of Representatives has 100 members, and is led by the Speaker of the House, currently Greg Stumbo (D).

Judicial branch

The judicial branch of Kentucky is called the Kentucky Court of Justice and comprises courts of limited jurisdiction called District Courts; courts of general jurisdiction called Circuit Courts; specialty courts such as Drug Court, Family Court; an intermediate appellate court, the Kentucky Court of Appeals; and a court of last resort, the Kentucky Supreme Court.

The Kentucky Court of Justice is headed by the Chief Justice of the Commonwealth.

Unlike federal judges, who are usually appointed, justices serving on Kentucky state courts are chosen by the state's populace in non-partisan elections.

Federal representation

A map showing Kentucky's six congressional districts.

Kentucky's two U.S. Senators are Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Rand Paul, both Republicans. The state is divided into six Congressional Districts, represented by Republicans James Comer (1st), Brett Guthrie (2nd), Thomas Massie (4th), Hal Rogers (5th) and Andy Barr (6th) and Democrat John Yarmuth (3rd).

In the federal judiciary, Kentucky is served by two United States district courts: the Eastern District of Kentucky, with its primary seat in Lexington, and the Western District of Kentucky, with its primary seat in Louisville. Appeals are heard in the Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit, based in Cincinnati, Ohio.


State sign, Interstate 65

Kentucky's body of laws, known as the Kentucky Revised Statutes (KRS), were enacted in 1942 to better organize and clarify the whole of Kentucky law.[53] The statutes are enforced by local police, sheriffs and deputy sheriffs, and constables and deputy constables. Unless they have completed a police academy elsewhere, these officers are required to complete training at the Kentucky Department of Criminal Justice Training Center on the campus of Eastern Kentucky University.[54] Additionally, in 1948, the Kentucky General Assembly established the Kentucky State Police, making it the 38th state to create a force whose jurisdiction extends throughout the given state.[55]

Kentucky is one of the 32 states in the United States that sanctions the death penalty for certain murders defined as heinous. Those convicted of capital crimes after March 31, 1998 are always executed by lethal injection; those convicted on or before this date may opt for the electric chair.[56] Only three people have been executed in Kentucky since the U.S. Supreme Court re-instituted the practice in 1976. The most notable execution in Kentucky was that of Rainey Bethea on August 14, 1936. Bethea was publicly hanged in Owensboro for the rape and murder of Lischia Edwards.[57] Irregularities with the execution led to this becoming the last public execution in the United States.[58]

Kentucky has been on the front lines of the debate over displaying the Ten Commandments on public property. In the 2005 case of McCreary County v. ACLU of Kentucky, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the decision of the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals that a display of the Ten Commandments in the Whitley City courthouse of McCreary County was unconstitutional.[59] Later that year, Judge Richard Fred Suhrheinrich, writing for the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals in the case of ACLU of Kentucky v. Mercer County, wrote that a display including the Mayflower Compact, the Declaration of Independence, the Ten Commandments, the Magna Carta, The Star-Spangled Banner, and the national motto could be erected in the Mercer County courthouse.[60]

Kentucky has also been known to have unusually high political candidacy age laws, especially compared to surrounding states. The origin of this is unknown, but it has been suggested it has to do with the commonwealth tradition.

A 2008 study found that Kentucky's Supreme Court to be the least influential high court in the nation with its decisions rarely being followed by other states.[61]


Presidential elections results[62]
Year Republican Democrat
2016 62.54% 1,202,942 32.69% 628,834
2012 60.49% 1,087,190 37.80% 679,370
2008 57.37% 1,048,462 41.15% 751,985
2004 59.55% 1,069,439 39.69% 712,733
2000 56.50% 872,492 41.37% 638,898
1996 44.88% 623,283 45.84% 636,614
1992 41.34% 617,178 44.55% 665,104
1988 55.52% 734,281 43.88% 580,368
1984 60.04% 822,782 39.37% 539,589
1980 49.07% 635,274 47.61% 616,417
1976 45.57% 531,852 52.75% 615,717
1972 63.37% 676,446 34.77% 371,159
1968 43.79% 462,411 37.65% 397,541
1964 35.65% 372,977 64.01% 669,659
1960 53.59% 602,607 46.41% 521,855

Where politics are concerned, Kentucky historically has been very hard-fought and leaned slightly toward the Democratic Party since 1860, when the Whig Party dissolved. The state was not included among the "Solid South" as the eastern section tended to support Republican candidates. As of October 2016, 51.23% of the state's voters were officially registered as Democrats, 40.47% were registered Republican, and 8.30% were registered with some other political party or as independents.[63] Despite this, the state often supports Republican candidates for federal offices.

From 1964 through 2004, Kentucky voted for the eventual winner of the election for President of the United States. In the 2008 election, however, the state lost its bellwether status when John McCain, who won Kentucky, lost the national popular and electoral vote to Barack Obama (McCain carried Kentucky 57 to 41%).116 of Kentucky's 120 counties supported former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney in the 2012 election while he lost to Barack Obama nationwide.[64][65]

The Commonwealth supported the previous three Democratic candidates elected to the White House, all elected from Southern states: Lyndon B. Johnson (Texas) in 1964, Jimmy Carter (Georgia) in 1976, and Bill Clinton (Arkansas) in 1992 and 1996. In recent presidential elections, the state has become a Republican stronghold, supporting that party's presidential candidates by double-digit margins from 2000 through 2016. At the same time, it has continued to elect Democratic candidates to state and local office in many jurisdictions.

Voter registration and party enrollment as of October 2016[63]
Party Number of voters Percentage
Democratic 1,693,778 51.23%
Republican 1,338,054 40.47%
Other 274,288 8.30%
Total 3,306,120 100%


Kentucky Population Density Map
Historical population
Census Pop.
Est. 20154,425,0922.0%
Source: 1790–2000[66]
2015 Estimate[2]

The United States Census Bureau estimates that the population of Kentucky was 4,425,092 on July 1, 2015, a 1.98% increase since the 2010 United States Census.[2]

As of July 1, 2015, Kentucky had an estimated population of 4,425,092, which is an increase of 11,635, from the prior year and an increase of 85,725, or 1.98%, since the year 2010. This includes a natural increase since the last census of 77,156 people (that is 287,222 births minus 210,066 deaths) and an increase due to net migration of 59,604 people into the state. Immigration from outside the United States resulted in a net increase of 27,435 people, and migration within the country produced a net increase of 32,169 people. As of 2004, Kentucky's population included about 95,000 foreign-born persons (2.3%). In 2008, the population density of the state was 101.7 people per square mile. (39.7/km²)[68] In 2015, the population density of the state was 110 people per square mile (42.5/km²).[2]

Kentucky's total population has grown during every decade since records began. However, during most decades of the 20th century there was also net out-migration from Kentucky. Since 1900, rural Kentucky counties have experienced a net loss of over 1 million people from migration, while urban areas have experienced a slight net gain.[69]

The center of population of Kentucky is located in Washington County, in the city of Willisburg.[70]

Race and ancestry

Race/Ethnicity (2010)
White, non-Hispanic 86.3%
Black or African American 7.8%
Hispanic or Latino (of any race) 3.1%
Asian 1.1%
American Indian and Alaska Native  0.2%
Pacific Islander 0.1%
Kentucky racial breakdown of population
Racial composition 1990[71] 2000[72] 2010[73] 2015 (Est.)[74]
White 92.0% 90.1% 87.8% 88.1%
Black 7.1% 7.3% 7.8% 8.3%
Asian 0.5% 0.7% 1.1% 1.4%
Native 0.2% 0.2% 0.2% 0.3%
Native Hawaiian and
other Pacific Islander
0.1% 0.1%
Other race 0.2% 0.6% 1.3% -
Two or more races 1.0% 1.7% 1.8%

According to U.S. Census Bureau official statistics, the largest ancestry in 2013 was American totalling 20.2%.[75] In 1980, before the status of ethnic American was an available option on the official census, the largest ancestries in the commonwealth were English (49.6%), Irish (26.3%), and German (24.2%)[76][77][78][79][80][81][82] In the state's most urban counties of Jefferson, Oldham, Fayette, Boone, Kenton, and Campbell, German is the largest reported ancestry. Americans of Scots-Irish and English stock are present throughout the entire state. Many claim Irish ancestry because of known "Scots-Irish" among their ancestors, who were descendants of immigrants from Scotland, via some years in Ireland. Southeastern Kentucky was populated by a large group of multi-racial settlers, sometimes called Melungeons, in the early 19th century. As of the 1980s the only counties in the United States where over half of the population cited "English" as their only ancestry group were all in the hills of eastern Kentucky (and made up virtually every county in this region).[83]

Groups such as the Ridgetop Shawnee in the early 21st century organised as a non-profit to increase awareness of Native Americans in Kentucky. In the 2000 census, there were 20,000 people in the state who identified as Native American (0.49%). In June 2011, Jerry "2 Feather" Thornton, a Cherokee, led a team in the Voyage of Native American Awareness 2011 canoe journey, to begin on the Green River in Rochester, Kentucky and travel through to the Ohio River at Henderson.[84]

African Americans, who made up 25% of Kentucky's population before the Civil War, primarily in the Bluegrass region, declined in number during the 20th century. Many migrated to the industrial North and Midwest in the Great Migration for jobs. Today, less than 9% of the state's total population is African American, and it is highly urbanized, concentrated near Louisville. 52% of the state's African-American population is in the Louisville Metro Area; 44.2% is in Jefferson County. The county had a population that is 20% African American. Other areas with high concentrations, beside Christian and Fulton counties and the Bluegrass region, are the cities of Paducah and Lexington. Some mining communities in far Southeastern Kentucky have populations that are between five and 10 percent African American.


In 2000, 96.1% of all residents five years old and older spoke only English at home, a decrease from 97.5% in 1990.[85]

Pronunciation of "Butler County, Kentucky" by Dorothy Murphy, lifelong resident of Central City, Kentucky.

Speech patterns in the state generally reflect the first settlers' Virginia and Kentucky backgrounds. South Midland features are best preserved in the mountains, but some common to Midland and Southern are widespread.[85] After a vowel, the /r/ may be weak or missing. For instance, Coop has the vowel of put, but the root rhymes with boot. In southern Kentucky, earthworms are called redworms, a burlap bag is known as a tow sack or the Southern grass sack, and green beans are called snap beans. In Kentucky English, a young man may carry, not escort, his girlfriend to a party.[85]

Spanish is the second-most-spoken language in Kentucky, after English.[85]


Lexington Theological Seminary (then College of the Bible), 1904.

As of 2010, the Association of Religion Data Archives (ARDA)[86] reported the following groupings of Kentucky's 4,339,367 residents:

Kentucky is home to several seminaries. Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville is the principal seminary for the Southern Baptist Convention. Louisville is also the home of the Louisville Presbyterian Theological Seminary, an institution of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.). Lexington has two seminaries, Lexington Theological Seminary (affiliated with the Disciples of Christ), and the Baptist Seminary of Kentucky. Asbury Theological Seminary, a multi-denominational seminary in the Methodist tradition, is located in nearby Wilmore.

In addition to seminaries, there are several colleges affiliated with denominations:

Louisville is home to the headquarters of the Presbyterian Church (USA) and their printing press. Louisville also has Muslim,[87] Jewish, and Hindu communities.

The Christian creationist apologetics group Answers in Genesis, along with its Creation Museum, is headquartered in Petersburg, Kentucky.


The best selling car in the United States, the Toyota Camry, is manufactured in Georgetown, Kentucky.
The best selling truck in the United States, the Ford F-Series, is manufactured in Louisville, Kentucky.

Early in its history Kentucky gained recognition for its excellent farming conditions. It was the site of the first commercial winery in the United States (started in present-day Jessamine County in 1799) and due to the high calcium content of the soil in the Bluegrass region quickly became a major horse breeding (and later racing) area. Today Kentucky ranks 5th nationally in goat farming, 8th in beef cattle production,[88] and 14th in corn production.[89] Kentucky has also been a long-standing major center of the tobacco industry – both as a center of business and tobacco farming.

Today Kentucky's economy has expanded to importance in non agricultural terms as well, especially in auto manufacturing, energy fuel production, and medical facilities.

Kentucky ranks 4th among U.S. states in the number of automobiles and trucks assembled.[90] The Chevrolet Corvette, Cadillac XLR (2004–2009), Ford Escape, Ford Super Duty trucks, Ford Expedition, Lincoln Navigator, Toyota Camry,[91] Toyota Avalon,[91] Toyota Solara, Toyota Venza,[91] and Lexus ES 350[91] are assembled in Kentucky.

Kentucky has historically been a major coal producer, but employment by "King Coal" has been in a 30-year decline there, and the number of people employed in the coal industry there dropped by more than half between 2011 and 2015.[91]

As of 2010, 24% of electricity produced in the U.S. depended on either enriched uranium rods coming from the Paducah Gaseous Diffusion Plant (the only domestic site of low grade uranium enrichment), or from the 107,336 tons of coal extracted from the state's two coal fields (which combined produce 4% percent of the electricity in the United States).[92]

Kentucky produces 95% of the world's supply of bourbon whiskey, and number of barrels of bourbon being aged in Kentucky (more than 5.7 million) exceeds the state's population.[91][93] Bourbon has been a growing market – with production of Kentucky bourbon rising 170 percent between 1999 and 2015.[91]

Kentucky exports reached a record $22.1 billion in 2012, with products and services going to 199 countries.[94]

According to the Kentucky Cabinet for Economic Development, the primary state agency in Kentucky responsible for creating new jobs and new investment in the state, new business investment in Kentucky in 2012 totaled nearly $2.7 billion, with the creation of more than 14,000 new jobs. One such investment was L'Oréal in Northern Kentucky, which added 200 jobs on top of the 280 already in existing facilities in Florence and Walton.[95]

Fort Knox, a United States Army post best known as the site of the U.S. Bullion Depository, which is used to house a large portion of the United States official gold reserves, is located in Kentucky between Louisville and Elizabethtown. In May 2010, the Army Human Resource Center of Excellence, the largest office building in the state at nearly 900,000 square feet (84,000 m2) opened at Fort Knox. The new complex employs nearly 4,300 soldiers and civilians.[96]

Kentucky contains two of the twenty U.S. Federal PenitentiariesUSP Big Sandy (in the east in Martin County near Inez) and USP McCreary (in the south in McCreary County in the Daniel Boone National Forest).

The total gross state product for 2010 was $163.3 billion, 28th in the nation.[97] Its per-capita personal income was US$28,513, 43rd in the nation.[98] An organization called the Institute for Truth in Accounting estimated that the state government's debts exceeded its available assets by US$26,300 per taxpayer as of 2011, ranking the state as having the 5th highest such debt burden in the nation.[99]

As of October 2016, the state's unemployment rate is 5.1%.[100] In 2014, Kentucky was found to be the most affordable U.S. state in which to live.[101]


There are 6 income tax brackets, ranging from 2% to 6% of personal income.[102] The sales tax rate in Kentucky is 6%.[103]

Kentucky has a broadly based classified property tax system. All classes of property, unless exempted by the Constitution, are taxed by the state, although at widely varying rates.[104] Many of these classes are exempted from taxation by local government. Of the classes that are subject to local taxation, three have special rates set by the General Assembly, one by the Kentucky Supreme Court and the remaining classes are subject to the full local rate, which includes the tax rate set by the local taxing bodies plus all voted levies. Real property is assessed on 100% of the fair market value and property taxes are due by December 31. Once the primary source of state and local government revenue, property taxes now account for only about 6% of the Kentucky's annual General Fund revenues.[105]

Until January 1, 2006, Kentucky imposed a tax on intangible personal property held by a taxpayer on January 1 of each year. The Kentucky intangible tax was repealed under House Bill 272.[106] Intangible property consisted of any property or investment that represents evidence of value or the right to value. Some types of intangible property included: bonds, notes, retail repurchase agreements, accounts receivable, trusts, enforceable contracts sale of real estate (land contracts), money in hand, money in safe deposit boxes, annuities, interests in estates, loans to stockholders, and commercial paper.

Government-promoted slogans

In December 2002, the Kentucky governor Paul Patton unveiled the state slogan "It's that friendly",[107] in hope of drawing more people into the state based on the idea of southern hospitality. This campaign was neither a failure nor a success. Though it was meant to embrace southern values, many Kentuckians rejected the slogan as cheesy and ineffective.[107] It was quickly seen that the slogan did not encourage tourism as much as initially hoped for. So government decided to create a different slogan to embrace Kentucky as a whole while also encouraging more people to visit the Bluegrass.[108]

In 2004, then Governor Ernie Fletcher launched a comprehensive branding campaign with the hope of making the state's $12–14 million advertising budget more effective.[109] The resulting "Unbridled Spirit" brand was the result of a $500,000 contract with New West, a Kentucky-based public relations advertising and marketing firm, to develop a viable brand and tag line.[110] The Fletcher administration aggressively marketed the brand in both the public and private sectors. Since that time, the "Welcome to Kentucky" signs at border areas have an "Unbridled Spirit" symbol on them.


At 464 miles (747 km) long, Kentucky Route 80 is the longest route in Kentucky, pictured here west of Somerset.


Kentucky is served by six major interstate highways (I-24, I-64, I-65, I-69, I-71, and I-75), nine parkways, and four bypasses and spurs (I-264, I-265, I-275, and I-471). The parkways were originally toll roads, but on November 22, 2006, Governor Ernie Fletcher ended the toll charges on the William H. Natcher Parkway and the Audubon Parkway, the last two parkways in Kentucky to charge tolls for access.[111] The related toll booths have been demolished.[112]

Ending the tolls some seven months ahead of schedule was generally agreed to have been a positive economic development for transportation in Kentucky. In June 2007, a law went into effect raising the speed limit on rural portions of Kentucky Interstates from 65 to 70 miles per hour (105 to 113 km/h).[113]

Road tunnels include the interstate Cumberland Gap Tunnel and the rural Nada Tunnel.


High Bridge over the Kentucky River was the tallest rail bridge in the world when it was completed in 1877.

Amtrak, the national passenger rail system, provides service to Ashland, South Portsmouth, Maysville and Fulton. The Cardinal (trains 50 and 51) is the line that offers Amtrak service to Ashland, South Shore, Maysville and South Portsmouth. The City of New Orleans (trains 58 and 59) serve Fulton. The Northern Kentucky area is served by the Cardinal at the Cincinnati Museum Center at Union Terminal. The Museum Center is just across the Ohio River in Cincinnati.

As of 2004, there were approximately 2,640 miles (4,250 km) of railways in Kentucky, with about 65% of those being operated by CSX Transportation. Coal was by far the most common cargo, accounting for 76% of cargo loaded and 61% of cargo delivered.[114]

Bardstown features a tourist attraction known as My Old Kentucky Dinner Train. Run along a 20-mile (30 km) stretch of rail purchased from CSX in 1987, guests are served a four-course meal as they make a two-and-a-half hour round-trip between Bardstown and Limestone Springs.[115] The Kentucky Railway Museum is located in nearby New Haven.[116]

Other areas in Kentucky are reclaiming old railways in rail trail projects. One such project is Louisville's Big Four Bridge. When the bridge's Indiana approach ramps opened in 2014, completing the pedestrian connection across the Ohio River, the Big Four Bridge rail trail became the second-longest pedestrian-only bridge in the world.[117] The longest pedestrian-only bridge is also found in Kentucky—the Newport Southbank Bridge, popularly known as the "Purple People Bridge", connecting Newport to Cincinnati, Ohio.[118]


Kentucky's primary airports include Louisville International Airport (Standiford Field (SDF)) of Louisville, Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport (CVG) of Cincinnati/Covington, and Blue Grass Airport (LEX) in Lexington. Louisville International Airport is home to UPS's Worldport, its international air-sorting hub.[119] Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport is the largest airport in the state, and is hub to passenger airline Delta Air Lines and headquarters of its Delta Private Jets. The airport is one of DHL Aviation's three super-hubs, serving destinations throughout the Americas, Europe, Africa, and Asia, making it the 7th busiest airport in the U.S. and 36th in the world based on passenger and cargo operations. CVG is also a focus city for Frontier Airlines and is the largest O&D airport and base for Allegiant Air, along with home to a maintenance for American Airlines subsidiary PSA Airlines and Delta Air Lines subsidiary Endeavor Air. There are also a number of regional airports scattered across the state.

On August 27, 2006, Blue Grass Airport was the site of a crash that killed 47 passengers and 2 crew members aboard a Bombardier Canadair Regional Jet designated Comair Flight 191, or Delta Air Lines Flight 5191, sometimes mistakenly identified by the press as Comair Flight 5191.[120] The lone survivor was the flight's first officer, James Polehinke, who doctors determined to be brain damaged and unable to recall the crash at all.[121]

A barge hauling coal in the Louisville and Portland Canal, the only manmade section of the Ohio River.


As the state is bounded by two of the largest rivers in North America, water transportation has historically played a major role in Kentucky's economy. Louisville was a major port for steamships in the nineteenth century. Today, most barge traffic on Kentucky waterways consists of coal that is shipped from both the Eastern and Western Coalfields, about half of which is used locally to power many power plants located directly off the Ohio River, with the rest being exported to other countries, most notably Japan.

Many of the largest ports in the United States are located in or adjacent to Kentucky, including:

As a state, Kentucky ranks 10th overall in port tonnage.[122][123]

The only natural obstacle along the entire length of the Ohio River is the Falls of the Ohio, located just west of Downtown Louisville.

Subdivisions and settlements


Kentucky is subdivided into 120 counties, the largest being Pike County at 787.6 square miles (2,040 km2), and the most populous being Jefferson County (which coincides with the Louisville Metro governmental area) with 741,096 residents as of 2010.[124]

County government, under the Kentucky Constitution of 1891, is vested in the County Judge/Executive, (formerly called the County Judge) who serves as the executive head of the county, and a legislature called a Fiscal Court. Despite the unusual name, the Fiscal Court no longer has judicial functions.

Consolidated city-county governments

Kentucky's two most populous counties, Jefferson and Fayette, have their governments consolidated with the governments of their largest cities. Louisville-Jefferson County Government (Louisville Metro) and Lexington-Fayette Urban County Government (Lexington Metro) are unique in that their city councils and county Fiscal Court structures have been merged into a single entity with a single chief executive, the Metro Mayor and Urban County Mayor, respectively. Although the counties still exist as subdivisions of the state, in reference the names Louisville and Lexington are used to refer to the entire area coextensive with the former cities and counties. Somewhat incongruously, when entering Lexington-Fayette the highway signs read "Fayette County" while most signs leading into Louisville-Jefferson simply read "Welcome to Louisville Metro".

Major cities

The Metro Louisville government area has a 2010 population of 741,096. Under United States Census Bureau methodology, the population of Louisville was 566,503. The latter figure is the population of the so-called "balance"—the parts of Jefferson County that were either unincorporated or within the City of Louisville before the formation of the merged government in 2003. In 2010, the Louisville Combined Statistical Area (CSA) has a population of 1,451,564; including 1,061,031 in Kentucky, which is nearly one-fourth of the state's population. Since 2000, over one-third of the state's population growth has occurred in the Louisville CSA. In addition, the top 28 wealthiest places in Kentucky are in Jefferson County and seven of the 15 wealthiest counties in the state are located in the Louisville CSA.[126]

The second largest city is Lexington with a 2010 census population of 295,803 and its CSA, which includes the Frankfort and Richmond statistical areas, having a population of 687,173. The Northern Kentucky area (the seven Kentucky counties in the Cincinnati MSA) had a population of 425,483 in 2010. The metropolitan areas of Louisville, Lexington, and Northern Kentucky have a combined population of 2,173,687 as of 2010, which is 50.1% of the state's total population.

The two other fast growing urban areas in Kentucky are the Bowling Green area and the "Tri Cities Region" of southeastern Kentucky, comprising Somerset, London and Corbin.

Although only one town in the "Tri Cities", namely Somerset, currently has more than 12,000 people, the area has been experiencing heightened population and job growth since the 1990s. Growth has been especially rapid in Laurel County, which outgrew areas such as Scott and Jessamine counties around Lexington or Shelby and Nelson Counties around Louisville. London significantly grew in population in the 2000s, from 5,692 in 2000 to 7,993 in 2010. London also landed a Wal-Mart distribution center in 1997, bringing thousands of jobs to the community.

In northeast Kentucky, the greater Ashland area is an important transportation, manufacturing, and medical center. Iron and petroleum production, as well as the transport of coal by rail and barge, have been historical pillars of the region's economy. Due to a decline in the area's industrial base, Ashland has seen a sizable reduction in its population since 1990. The population of the area has since stabilized, however, with the medical service industry taking a greater role in the local economy. The Ashland area, including the counties of Boyd and Greenup, are part of the Huntington-Ashland, WV-KY-OH, Metropolitan Statistical Area (MSA). As of the 2000 census, the MSA had a population of 288,649. More than 21,000 of those people (as of 2010) reside within the city limits of Ashland.

The largest county in Kentucky by area is Pike, which contains Pikeville and suburb Coal Run Village. The county and surrounding area is the most populated region in the state that is not part of a Micropolitan Statistical Area or a Metropolitan Statistical Area containing nearly 200,000 people in five counties: Floyd County, Martin County, Letcher County, and neighboring Mingo County, West Virginia. Pike County contains slightly over 68,000 people.

Only three U.S. states have capitals with smaller populations than Kentucky's Frankfort (pop. 25,527), those being Augusta, Maine (pop. 18,560), Pierre, South Dakota (pop. 13,876), and Montpelier, Vermont (pop. 8,035).


The library at the University of Kentucky, Kentucky's flagship university.
The University of Louisville is Kentucky's urban research university.
Main article: Education in Kentucky

Kentucky maintains eight public four-year universities. There are two general tiers: major research institutions (the University of Kentucky and the University of Louisville) and regional universities, which encompasses the remaining 6 schools. The regional schools have specific target counties that many of their programs are targeted towards (such as Forestry at Eastern Kentucky University or Cave Management at Western Kentucky University), however most of their curriculum varies little from any other public university.

UK and UofL have the highest academic rankings and admissions standards although the regional schools aren't without their national recognized departments – examples being Western Kentucky University's nationally ranked Journalism Department or Morehead State University offering one of the nation's only Space Science degrees. UK is the flagship and land grant of the system and has agriculture extension services in every county. The two research schools split duties related to the medical field, UK handles all medical outreach programs in the eastern half of the state while UofL does all medical outreach in the state's western half.

The state's sixteen public two-year colleges have been governed by the Kentucky Community and Technical College System since the passage of the Postsecondary Education Improvement Act of 1997, commonly referred to as House Bill 1.[127] Before the passage of House Bill 1, most of these colleges were under the control of the University of Kentucky.

Transylvania University, located in Lexington, is the oldest university west of the Allegheny Mountains, founded in 1780. Transylvania is a liberal arts university, consistently ranked in the top tier in the country.

Berea College, located at the extreme southern edge of the Bluegrass below the Cumberland Plateau, was the first coeducational college in the South to admit both black and white students, doing so from its very establishment in 1855.[128] This policy was successfully challenged in the United States Supreme Court in the case of Berea College v. Kentucky in 1908.[129] This decision effectively segregated Berea until the landmark Brown v. Board of Education in 1954.

There are 173 school districts and 1,233 public schools in Kentucky.[130] For the 2010 to 2011 school year, there were approximately 647,827 students enrolled in public school.[131]

Kentucky has been the site of much educational reform over the past two decades. In 1989, the Kentucky Supreme Court ruled that the state's education system was unconstitutional.[132] The response of the General Assembly was passage of the Kentucky Education Reform Act (KERA) the following year. Years later, Kentucky has shown progress, but most agree that further reform is needed.[133]


Main article: Culture of Kentucky

Although Kentucky's culture is generally considered to be Southern, it is unique in that it is also influenced by the Midwest and Southern Appalachia in certain areas of the state. The state is known for bourbon and whiskey distilling, tobacco, horse racing, and college basketball. Kentucky is more similar to the Upland South in terms of ancestry that is predominantly American.[134]

Nevertheless, during the 19th century, Kentucky did receive a substantial number of German immigrants, who settled mostly in the Midwest, along the Ohio River primarily in Louisville, Covington and Newport.[135] Only Maryland, Delaware and West Virginia have higher German ancestry percentages than Kentucky among Census-defined Southern states, although Kentucky's percentage is closer to Arkansas and Virginia's than the previously named state's percentages. Scottish Americans, English Americans and Scotch-Irish Americans have heavily influenced Kentucky culture, and are present in every part of the state.[136] As of the 1980s the only counties in the United States where over half of the population cited "English" as their only ancestry group were all in the hills of eastern Kentucky (and made up virtually every county in this region).[83]

Kentucky was a slave state, and blacks once comprised over one-quarter of its population. However, it lacked the cotton plantation system and never had the same high percentage of African Americans as most other slave states. With less than 8% of its current population being black, Kentucky is rarely included in modern-day definitions of the Black Belt, despite a relatively significant rural African American population in the Central and Western areas of the state.[137][138][139]

Kentucky adopted the Jim Crow system of racial segregation in most public spheres after the Civil War, but the state never disenfranchised African American citizens to the level of the Deep South states, and it peacefully integrated its schools after the 1954 Brown v. Board of Education verdict, later adopting the first state civil rights act in the South in 1966.[140]

Old Louisville is the largest Victorian Historic neighborhood in the United States.

The biggest day in American horse racing, the Kentucky Derby, is preceded by the two-week Derby Festival[141] in Louisville. Louisville also plays host to the Kentucky State Fair[142] and the Kentucky Shakespeare Festival.[143] Bowling Green, the state's third-largest city and home to the only assembly plant in the world that manufactures the Chevrolet Corvette,[144] opened the National Corvette Museum in 1994.[145] The fourth-largest city, Owensboro, gives credence to its nickname of "Barbecue Capital of the World" by hosting the annual International Bar-B-Q Festival.[146]

Old Louisville, the largest historic preservation district in the United States featuring Victorian architecture and the third largest overall,[147] hosts the St. James Court Art Show, the largest outdoor art show in the United States.[148] The neighborhood was also home to the Southern Exposition (1883–1887), which featured the first public display of Thomas Edison's light bulb,[149] and was the setting of Alice Hegan Rice's novel, Mrs. Wiggs of the Cabbage Patch and Fontaine Fox's comic strip, the "Toonerville Trolley.[150]

Hodgenville, the birthplace of Abraham Lincoln, hosts the annual Lincoln Days Celebration, and also hosted the kick-off for the National Abraham Lincoln Bicentennial Celebration in February 2008. Bardstown celebrates its heritage as a major bourbon-producing region with the Kentucky Bourbon Festival.[151] Glasgow mimics Glasgow, Scotland by hosting the Glasgow Highland Games, its own version of the Highland Games,[152] and Sturgis hosts "Little Sturgis", a mini version of Sturgis, South Dakota's annual Sturgis Motorcycle Rally.[153]

The residents of tiny Benton pay tribute to their favorite tuber, the sweet potato, by hosting Tater Day.[154] Residents of Clarkson in Grayson County celebrate their city's ties to the honey industry by celebrating the Clarkson Honeyfest.[155] The Clarkson Honeyfest is held the last Thursday, Friday and Saturday in September, and is the "Official State Honey Festival of Kentucky".


Main article: Music of Kentucky

The breadth of music in Kentucky is indeed wide, stretching from the Purchase to the eastern mountains.

Renfro Valley, Kentucky is home to Renfro Valley Entertainment Center and the Kentucky Music Hall of Fame and is known as "Kentucky's Country Music Capital", a designation given it by the Kentucky State Legislature in the late 1980s. The Renfro Valley Barn Dance was where Renfro Valley's musical heritage began, in 1939, and influential country music luminaries like Red Foley, Homer & Jethro, Lily May Ledford & the Original Coon Creek Girls, Martha Carson, and many others have performed as regular members of the shows there over the years. The Renfro Valley Gatherin' is today America's second oldest continually broadcast radio program of any kind. It is broadcast on local radio station WRVK and a syndicated network of nearly 200 other stations across the United States and Canada every week.

The U.S. 23 Country Music Highway Museum in Paintsville provides background on the country music artists from Eastern Kentucky

Contemporary Christian music star Steven Curtis Chapman is a Paducah native, and Rock and Roll Hall of Famers The Everly Brothers are closely connected with Muhlenberg County, where older brother Don was born. Merle Travis, Country & Western artist known for both his signature "Travis picking" guitar playing style, as well as his hit song "Sixteen Tons", was also born in Muhlenberg County. Kentucky was also home to Mildred and Patty Hill, the Louisville sisters credited with composing the tune to the ditty Happy Birthday to You in 1893; Loretta Lynn (Johnson County), Brian Littrell and Kevin Richardson of the Backstreet Boys, and Billy Ray Cyrus (Flatwoods).

However, its depth lies in its signature sound—Bluegrass music. Bill Monroe, "The Father of Bluegrass", was born in the small Ohio County town of Rosine, while Ricky Skaggs, Keith Whitley, David "Stringbean" Akeman, Louis Marshall "Grandpa" Jones, Sonny and Bobby Osborne, and Sam Bush (who has been compared to Monroe) all hail from Kentucky. The International Bluegrass Music Museum is located in Owensboro,[156] while the annual Festival of the Bluegrass is held in Lexington.[157]

Kentucky is also home to famed jazz musician and pioneer, Lionel Hampton (although this has been disputed in recent years).[158] Blues legend W. C. Handy and R&B singer Wilson Pickett also spent considerable time in Kentucky. The R&B group Midnight Star and Hip-Hop group Nappy Roots were both formed in Kentucky, as were country acts The Kentucky Headhunters, Montgomery Gentry and Halfway to Hazard, The Judds, as well as Dove Award-winning Christian groups Audio Adrenaline (rock) and Bride (metal). Heavy Rock band Black Stone Cherry hails from rural Edmonton, Indie rock band My Morning Jacket with lead singer and guitarist Jim James also originated out of Louisville, on the local independent music Scene. Rock bands Cage the Elephant, Sleeper Agent, and Morning Teleportation are also from Bowling Green. The bluegrass groups Driftwood and Kentucky Rain, along with Nick Lachey of the pop band 98 Degrees are also from Kentucky. King Crimson guitarist Adrian Belew is from Covington. Noted singer and actress Rosemary Clooney was a native of Maysville, her legacy being celebrated at the annual music festival bearing her name.

In eastern Kentucky, old-time music carries on the tradition of ancient ballads and reels developed in historical Appalachia.


Kentucky has played a major role in Southern and American literature, producing works that often celebrate the working class, rural life, nature, and explore issues of class, extractive economy, and family. Major works from the state include Uncle Tom's Cabin (1852) by Harriet Beecher Stowe, widely seen as one of the impetuses for the American Civil War; The Little Shepherd of Kingdom Come (1908) by John Fox, Jr., which was the first novel to sell a million copies in the United States; All the King's Men by Robert Penn Warren (1946) rated as the 36th greatest novel by Modern Library; The Dollmaker (1954) by Harriette Arnow later adapted into a popular film starring Jane Fonda; Night Comes to the Cumberlands (1962) by Harry Caudill, which led to The War on Poverty, and others. Thomas Merton lived most of his life and wrote most of his books during his time as a monk at the Abbey of Our Lady of Gethsemani near Bardstown, Kentucky. Hunter S. Thompson is also a native of the state. In recent years writers from Kentucky have consistently published widely read and critically acclaimed books. These authors include Wendell Berry, Silas House, Barbara Kingsolver, Maurice Manning, and Bobbie Ann Mason, among others.

Well-known playwrights from Kentucky include Marsha Norman ('Night Mother) and Naomi Wallace (One Flea Spare).


Main article: Cuisine of Kentucky

Kentucky's cuisine is generally similar to traditional southern cooking, although in some areas of the state it can blend elements of both the South and Midwest.[159][160] One original Kentucky dish is called the Hot Brown, a dish normally layered in this order: toasted bread, turkey, bacon, tomatoes and topped with mornay sauce. It was developed at the Brown Hotel in Louisville.[161] The Pendennis Club in Louisville is the birthplace of the Old Fashioned cocktail. Also, western Kentucky is known for its own regional style of barbecue.

Louisville is well known for its many boutique, locally owned restaurants including Jack Fry's, Ramsi's Cafe on the World (both on Bardstown Road), The English Grill, Mayan Cafe, Bistro Le Relais and Proof on Main Street.

Harland Sanders, a Kentucky colonel, originated Kentucky Fried Chicken at his service station in North Corbin, though the first franchised KFC was located in South Salt Lake, Utah.[162]


Main article: Sports in Kentucky
Kentucky's Churchill Downs hosts the Kentucky Derby

Kentucky is the home of several sports teams such as Minor League Baseball's Triple-A Louisville Bats and Class A Lexington Legends and the Class A Bowling Green Hot Rods. They are also home to the Frontier Leagues Florence Freedom and several teams in the MCFL. The Lexington Horsemen and Louisville Fire of the now-defunct af2 had been interested in making a move up to the "major league" Arena Football League, but nothing has come of those plans.

The northern part of the state lies across the Ohio River from Cincinnati, which is home to a National Football League team, the Bengals, and a Major League Baseball team, the Reds. It is not uncommon for fans to park in the city of Newport and use the Newport Southbank Pedestrian Bridge, locally known as the "Purple People Bridge", to walk to these games in Cincinnati. Also, Georgetown College in Georgetown was the location for the Bengals' summer training camp, until it was announced in 2012 that the Bengals would no longer use the facilities.[163]

As in many states, especially those without major league professional sport teams, college athletics are prominent. This is especially true of the state's three Division I Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS) programs, including the Kentucky Wildcats, the Western Kentucky Hilltoppers, and the Louisville Cardinals. The Wildcats, Hilltoppers, and Cardinals are among the most tradition-rich college men's basketball teams in the United States, combining for 11 National championships and 24 NCAA Final Fours; all three are high on the lists of total all-time wins, wins per season, and average wins per season.

The Kentucky Wildcats are particularly notable, leading all Division I programs in all-time wins, win percentage, NCAA tournament appearances, and being second only to UCLA in NCAA championships. Louisville has also stepped onto the football scene in recent years, including winning the 2007 Orange Bowl as well as the 2013 Sugar Bowl. Western Kentucky, the 2002 national champion in Division I-AA football (now Football Championship Subdivision (FCS)), completed its transition to Division I FBS football in 2009.

The Kentucky Derby is a horse race held annually in Louisville on the first Saturday in May. The Valhalla Golf Club has hosted several editions of the PGA Championship, Senior PGA Championship and Ryder Cup since the 1990s.

The NASCAR Sprint Cup Series has a race at the Kentucky Speedway in Sparta, Kentucky, which is within an hour driving distance from Cincinnati, Louisville and Lexington. The race is called the Quaker State 400. The NASCAR Nationwide Series and the Camping World Truck Series also race there, and previously the IndyCar Series.

Ohio Valley Wrestling in Louisville was the primary location for training and rehab for WWE professional wrestlers from 2000 until 2008, when WWE moved its contracted talent to Florida Championship Wrestling. In November 2011, OVW became the primary developmental territory for Total Nonstop Action Wrestling (TNA).

State symbols

Insignia Symbol Binomial nomenclature Year Adopted[164]
Official state bird Cardinal Cardinalis cardinalis 1926
Official state butterfly Viceroy butterfly Limenitis archippus 1990
Official state dance Clogging 2006
Official state beverage Milk 2005
Official state fish Kentucky spotted bass Micropterus punctulatus 2005
Official state fossil Brachiopod undetermined 1986
Official state flower Goldenrod Soldiago gigantea 1926
Official state fruit Blackberry Rubus allegheniensis 2004
Official state gemstone Freshwater pearl 1986
State grass Kentucky bluegrass Poa pratensis Traditional
Official state motto "United we stand, divided we fall" 1942/1792
Official state slogan "United we stand, divided we fall" 2004[165]
Official state Latin motto "Deo gratiam habeamus" ("Let us be grateful to God") 2002
Official state horse Thoroughbred Equus caballus 1996
Official state mineral Coal 1998
Official state outdoor musical The Stephen Foster Story 2002
Official state instrument Appalachian dulcimer 2001
State nickname "The bluegrass state" Traditional
Official state rock Kentucky agate 2000
Official state soil Crider soil series 1990
Official state tree Tulip poplar Liriodendron tulipifera 1994
Official wild animal game species Gray squirrel Sciurus carolinensis 1968
Official state song "My Old Kentucky Home" (revised version) 1928/1986
Official state silverware pattern Old Kentucky blue grass: the Georgetown pattern 1996
Official state music Bluegrass music 2007[166]
Official state automobile Chevrolet Corvette 2010

Official state places and events

Unless otherwise specified, all state symbol information is taken from Kentucky State Symbols.

Kentucky colonel

Main article: Kentucky colonel

Kentucky colonel is the highest title of honor bestowed by the Commonwealth of Kentucky. Commissions for Kentucky colonels are given by the Governor and the Secretary of State to individuals in recognition of noteworthy accomplishments and outstanding service to a community, state or the nation. The sitting governor of the Commonwealth of Kentucky bestows the honor of a colonel's commission, by issuance of letters patent.


See also


  1. "Kentucky State Symbols". Kentucky Department for Libraries and Archives. Archived from the original on July 31, 2007. Retrieved November 29, 2006.
  2. 1 2 3 4 "Table 1. Annual Estimates of the Resident Population for the United States, Regions, States, and Puerto Rico: April 1, 2010 to July 1, 2015" (CSV). U.S. Census Bureau. December 26, 2015. Retrieved December 26, 2015.
  3. 1 2 "Elevations and Distances in the United States". United States Geological Survey. 2001. Archived from the original on October 15, 2011. Retrieved October 21, 2011.
  4. 1 2 Elevation adjusted to North American Vertical Datum of 1988.
  5. 1 2 "About Kentucky". Ezilon Search. Retrieved November 29, 2006.
  6. Harper, Douglas. "Kentucky". Online Etymology Dictionary. Retrieved February 25, 2007. "Kentucky". Oxford English Dictionary. Retrieved February 25, 2007.
  7. Mithun, Marianne. 1999. Languages of Native North America. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, pg. 312
  8. "Kentucky". Microsoft Encarta Online Encyclopedia 2006. Archived from the original on November 1, 2009. Retrieved February 25, 2007.
  9. McCafferty, Michael (2008). Native American Place Names of Indiana. University of Illinois Press. p. 250.
  10. ed. in chief Frederick C. Mish (2003). Merriam-Webster's Collegiate Dictionary (11th ed.). Merriam–Webster. p. 1562. ISBN 978-0-87779-809-5. Retrieved January 17, 2013.
  11. The North American Midwest: A Regional Geography. New York: Wiley Publishers. 1955.
  12. "Map of [1494–1557] Waterworks Rd Evansville, IN". Retrieved January 1, 2009.
  13. "Exclaves". Virginia Quarterly Review. 89 (4): 22–23. October 1, 2013. ISSN 0042-675X.
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Surveys and reference

Specialized scholarly studies

External links

Preceded by
List of U.S. states by date of admission to the Union
Admitted on June 1, 1792 (15th)
Succeeded by

Coordinates: 37°30′N 85°00′W / 37.5°N 85°W / 37.5; -85

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