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Definition: Kentucky from The Macquarie Dictionary

a state in the eastern central United States.

104~623 km2 Frankfort

Ky Ken.

Kentuckian adjective noun


Summary Article: Kentucky
From The Hutchinson Unabridged Encyclopedia with Atlas and Weather Guide

State in south-central USA, bounded to the north by the Ohio River, across which are the states of Ohio, Indiana, and Illinois; to the east, by the Tug Fork and Big Sandy rivers, which separate it from West Virginia; to the southeast by Virginia, with the Cumberland Gap at the extreme south; from this point along its southern boundary, as far as the Mississippi River, it is bordered by Tennessee; across a small stretch of the Mississippi, on the west, it faces the New Madrid region of Missouri; area 102,895 sq km/39,728 sq mi; population (2010) 4,339,367; capital Frankfort. Kentucky is nicknamed the Bluegrass State after the blue blossoms on the lush grass of the area around Lexington. The state extends over 640 km/400 mi from east to west, and in the east is part of the Cumberland Plateau of the Appalachian Mountains; the Bluegrass Region is in the northeast. Kentucky has massive deposits of bituminous coal and is one of the leading US coal producers. Service industries are the leading sources of revenue; other industries include transport equipment, bourbon, and food products. Agricultural output includes tobacco, horses, and dairy products. Major cities are Louisville, Lexington-Fayette, Owensboro, Bowling Green, Covington, Hopkinsville, Paducah, Henderson, Florence, and Jeffersontown. Kentucky was originally home to the Shawnee and Cherokee American Indians. The state was divided over the slavery question and there were many partisan feuds during the Civil War. Kentucky was admitted to the Union in 1792 as the 15th US state.

Physical Kentucky's eastern third is part of the Cumberland Plateau section of the Appalachian Mountain system, a region of secluded valleys and hills, with uplands rising to 1,264 m/4,145 ft at Black Mountain on the Virginian border. Kentucky's major internal rivers, the Cumberland, Kentucky, and Licking, flow west or northwest across the state from this mountainous region.

On the northwest of the Cumberland Plateau, and extending from northeast to southwest across the state, is a belt of lower plateaux. In the northeast is the famous Bluegrass Region, an area of phosphate-rich soil which imparts its colour to the grass. To the southwest of the Bluegrass is the Pennyroyal (or Pennyrile) region, named after a small herb of the mint family which is common there. Agriculture is important in this region, although it is made more difficult by the underlying limestone in the soil, through which water drains very quickly. Numerous underground passages and caverns run below the limestone in the area, the largest of which is Mammoth Cave.

To the northwest of the Pennyroyal, along the Ohio River, is an area of coalfields which has been extensively strip-mined and is the source of two-thirds of the state's coal reserves. The plateaux of central Kentucky are crossed by scattered hills called the Knobs, and ringed by an escarpment known as the Highland Rim (which continues south to encircle Tennessee's Nashville Basin). In the east, this runs along the western edge of the Cumberland Plateau; in the west, it divides the plateau from the valley of the Cumberland and Tennessee rivers, where side by side they cut north across Kentucky to meet the Ohio River. Between the rivers is the ‘Land Between the Lakes’, developed as a tourist and leisure area by the Tennessee Valley Authority. West of the rivers is lowland west Kentucky, at the extreme north coastal plain of the Gulf of Mexico and the Mississippi Alluvial Plain.

The climate in Kentucky is temperate, with plentiful rainfall. The state was once mostly covered in forest, and many species of hardwood and pine trees remain. Deer are found in forested areas, as well as small animals such as foxes, squirrels, rabbits, opossums, and woodchucks. The marshes at the southwestern border of Kentucky provide breeding grounds for several species of waterfowl, including the American egret and double-crested cormorant.

Features There are ten state forests and 49 state parks in Kentucky. The Daniel Boone National Forest extends northeast from Kentucky's southern border, while the Cumberland Gap National Park extends south into Virginia and Tennessee and includes the Cumberland Falls, often known as the ‘Niagara of the South’. Daniel Boone'sWilderness Road to the Old West ran through the Gap, which was an important military objective to both sides in the American Civil War. Mammoth Cave National Park includes the world's longest cave system and has been made a World Heritage Site.

Other sites of interest include Red River Gorge, Breaks Interstate Park, and the ‘Land between the Lakes’, a national recreation area featuring a living history farm, a herd of bison, a planetarium, and observation areas.

Horseracing is Kentucky's most important sport, and racehorse breeding is widespread, with several hundred horse farms, including Calumet, Spendthrift, and Normandy. The Kentucky Derby Museum in Louisville includes a collection of Derby memorabilia and puts on theatre presentations, hands-on displays, and exhibits. The Kentucky Derby itself is held at Churchill Downs at Louisville on the first Saturday in May. The Bluegrass country around Lexington is the home of some of the world's finest racehorses.

The mansion at Manchester in the foothills of the Cumberland Mountains is said to be the inspiration for Tara, Scarlett O'Hara's home in Gone with the Wind. Many parks were landscaped by Frederick Law Olmsted, including Shawnee Park. The Abraham Lincoln National Historic Site at Hodgenville includes a cabin representative of his birthplace. The Shaker Village of Pleasant Hill, Harrodsburg, near Louisville, is a restoration of the original Shaker community founded in the 1880s and boasts 19th-century cast-iron architecture in West Main Street, including the Hart Block (1884). Bardstown (1818), the Colonial mansion visited by songwriter Stephen Foster in 1852, was the inspiration for his song, now the state anthem, ‘My Old Kentucky Home’. Constitution Square in Danville is the site where Kentucky's first constitution was adopted in 1792. There are replicas of the log courthouse, the meeting house, and the jail as they would have looked in pioneer days. Old Louisville is a Victorian historical district in the city centre.

Other buildings of interest include Jefferson County Courthouse (1835); the Cathedral of the Assumption (1849–52); Farmington (1810), designed by Thomas Jefferson; the Cherokee Triangle (with houses built 1870–1910); the American Life and Accident Building (1973); the Humana Building (1985); Gratz Park historic district in Lexington, with two houses from 1814; Transylvania University (1780), the first college to be founded west of the Allegheny Mountains; the University of Kentucky at Lexington, Louisville; Fort Knox, the US gold bullion repository; Maker's Mark Distillery; and the Jim Beam American Outpost and Distillery Museum.

Culture The mountains of Appalachia, which spread across the states of Kentucky, Virginia, West Virginia, and North Carolina, are the home of old-time, or hillbilly, music. This banjo and fiddle music was created out of the pain of poverty and isolation by the poor whites who were left behind when the blacks were driven out after the abolition of slavery. Hillbilly music is thought to be the origin of folk, country, and even (mixed with African music) the blues. When the ‘hillbillies’ came down to the towns looking for work, they brought with them the music which had been handed down from generation to generation, in which women and girls played a large instrumental and vocal part. In the years between the two world wars, however, it was thought inappropriate for women to be entertainers, and so the early public performers were men.

From hillbilly evolved the distinctive, more organized bluegrass music, originated by Bill Monroe in the 1930s to give respectability and commercial appeal to the homemade style of hillbilly. The music is still thriving, and the Celtic and European mix of styles of the original hillbillies still shines through. The Owensboro International Bluegrass Music Festival plays host to thousands of musicians and fans in the heart of Bluegrass country every autumn.

Kentucky has a strong agricultural and rural heritage, and many activities include horses, notably the Derby and other horse-racing events. Louisville is the base for the Kentucky Derby Festival in April and May. The farming community takes part in the North American International Livestock exhibition in Louisville in December.

There is a long tradition of arts and crafts, celebrated at several festivals throughout the year. These include the Kentucky Guild of Artists and Craftsmen's Spring Fair in Berea in May and the Shaker Festival in South Union in late June. The dramatic arts and storytelling are celebrated at the Humana Festival of New American Plays in March and the Corn Island Storytelling Festival in September, both based in Louisville. The Scottish community of Kentucky meets for the Glasgow Highland Games in Glasgow in June.

GovernmentKentucky's state constitution Kentucky's first constitution was adopted in 1792 with further amendments in 1799 and 1850. The present constitution was adopted in 1891.

Structure of state government Kentucky's state legislature consists of a 38-member Senate and a 100-member House of Representatives. Senators serve four years and representatives two years. Two senators and six representatives go to the US Congress and the state has eight electoral votes in presidential elections.

Kentucky's governor and lieutenant governor serve four-year terms. Democrat Steve Beshear took the governorship in December 2007. The most important elected officials are the attorney general, the auditor of public accounts, the commissioner of agriculture, and the secretary of state. All elected officials, including the governor, can serve an unlimited number of terms but not more than two consecutively. Kentucky is one of five US states which elects its state officials in odd-numbered years.

Politically, the state is generally Democrat-leaning, but it has frequently favoured Republican candidates in recent presidential elections.

Kentucky has 120 counties, each managed by a fiscal court presided over by the county judge executive assisted by justices of the peace or commissioners. Cities are classified according to population and the legislature determines the form of government the cities may have – whether it is the mayor–alderman or the mayor–council, commission, or city manager form.

The judicial branch comprises a supreme court, with one chief justice, one deputy chief justice, and five associate justices; a court of appeals; circuit courts; district courts; and a family court.

Economy Service industries are the leading source of revenue in Kentucky, with manufacturing and agriculture still holding important places in the economy. Major industries include automobiles, transport equipment, chemicals and allied products, machinery, bourbon, and food processing. The Toyota car factory in Georgetown (1988), is the company's largest manufacturing centre outside Japan. Agricultural commodities include tobacco, horses and mules, cattle and calves, cereals, soybeans, and dairy products. Several mineral products, including stone, lime, cement, sand, gravel, and clay, are extracted. Kentucky also produces natural gas and crude oil. Coal mining began on a large scale in the 1870s, and continued through the 20th century in spite of violent labour strife in the 1930s and post-war decline. In the 1970s strip mining replaced underground extraction. Kentucky remains one of the major coal producers in the USA, although production statewide in 2013 was down more than a third on the 2008 figure.

In 1900, Kentucky ranked first among Southern states in income per head of population, but wealth was divided unevenly, and the Great Depression of the 1930s hit hard; Southern markets could not afford Kentucky's products and by 1940 it had the lowest per capita income in the USA. At the start of the 21st century Kentucky remained one of the poorer states, though improved roads, education, television, and various government programmes have gone some way to relieve the isolation of its rural communities.

HistoryAmerican Indians and pioneers Kentucky was home to the Shawnee and Cherokee and other indigenous peoples such as the Delaware and Iroquois. They are believed to have been living in the western forests of what is now Kentucky as long as 12,000 years ago. Kentucky was the first region west of the Allegheny Mountains to be settled by pioneers. Several English and French pioneers visited the region during the 17th and 18th centuries. English explorers included Colonel Abram Wood, Gabriel Arthur, and John P Salley, and Frenchmen who came to the area included Father Jacques Marquette, Louis Joliet, and René Robert Cavelier, Sieur de la Salle. In 1750, Thomas Walker entered Kentucky through the Cumberland Gap, making a thorough exploration of the area. Simon Kenton explored the northeast in 1773, and James Harrod founded Harrodsburg, the first permanent settlement in Kentucky, in 1774.

In 1775, Daniel Boone, who blazed what became known as the Wilderness Road, running from Virginia through the Cumberland Gap to the Ohio River, led a group who settled along the Kentucky River, calling his town Boonesboro. The Wilderness Road became the principal route of westward migration.

The American Revolution At the beginning of the revolution in 1775, American Indians repeatedly attacked the Kentucky settlers, but Boone and Kenton defended their communities. In 1776, Kentucky became a county of Virginia and many Virginians moved to Kentucky. American Indians supplied with British guns continued to attack the settlers until George Rogers Clark led a small band of men in 1778 against three British settlements in the northwest, capturing them and cutting off the Indians' supplies of arms.

Slaves, tobacco, and bourbon After it attained its statehood in 1792, Kentucky maintained its heritage as a slave-holding state, with the majority of slaves concentrated in the Bluegrass and the Jackson Purchase, the largest hemp- and tobacco-producing areas. The white population increased and more areas of land were opened for settlement. The superior pasture in central Kentucky meant that horse breeding became popular in the 1880s, and the introduction of steamboats around this time facilitated the movement of crops and livestock to markets along the Ohio and Mississippi rivers. By the mid-19th century, Kentucky was producing almost all of the USA's hemp for rope-making, and by the 1860s it was the leading state in tobacco production, although periodic depressions in tobacco prices meant that many farms failed and there was a sharp rise in the numbers of tenant farmers. The growth of Kentucky's agricultural and manufacturing industries was boosted by the vast market for its bourbon whiskey in New Orleans, down the Mississippi.

The Civil War Kentucky hoped to stay neutral at the outbreak of the American Civil War in 1861, but it was a border state positioned between Southern slavery and Northern industrialism – a slave-holding state with a considerable popular leaning towards abolition. It was caught in the middle, becoming racked by guerrilla warfare and partisan feuds. Confederate troops invaded western Kentucky in the summer of 1861 and Union troops under Ulysses S Grant occupied Paducah in the southwest. Although Kentucky stayed in the Union, about 75,000 Kentuckians fought for the Union and 35,000 for the Confederacy. There were divisions within families, and fathers, sons, and brothers fought each other in battle. Heavy losses were sustained on both sides in the Battle of Perryville in 1862, and the Confederate troops finally withdrew to Tennessee.

After the Civil War, Kentucky felt let down by the government, which freed slaves without compensating their owners, and allowed their soldiers to stay in the state indefinitely. In fact, many Kentuckians regretted their support for the Union side and their allegiances began to turn towards the South, where there were strong cultural and economic ties with slavery.

Kentucky was badly affected by the post-Civil-War depression that hit the South, resulting in a loss of trade, particularly in hemp. Trade was also badly affected by the decrease in traffic along the Mississippi and Ohio rivers.

Railways and tobacco wars In the 1890s, the existence of railways meant that eastern Kentucky's resources could be developed and exploited. Speculators had bought up vast tracts of land in the Appalachian Plateau, however, and much of the profits left the state. In the late 19th century, a group of tobacco firms held a monopoly over all tobacco sales in the state. Their stranglehold eventually drove western Kentucky tobacco farmers to take action in what was called the Black Patch War (1904–09). The barns, fields, and warehouses of the farmers who had sold to the monopoly were burned down by night. The monopoly collapsed, and tobacco auctions took their place, dramatically improving the lot of Kentucky's tobacco farmers.

Depression, war, and tourism The Depression of the 1930s was hard on Kentucky. Many farms were abandoned, with farmers leaving to pursue work in the cities, in the forests, or on the roads. Miners lost their jobs and factories opened up, marking the beginning of a move from an agricultural to a manufacturing economy. During World War II, however, the farms and mines became productive again in Kentucky's war effort and the factories produced war materials. Tourism became a major industry in the 1960s.

Famous peoplesport Muhammad Ali (1942– ), boxer

the arts John James Audubon (1785–1851), naturalist and artist; D W Griffith (1875–1948), film director; Irvine S Cobb (1876–1944), writer; Robert Penn Warren (1905–1989), novelist; Bill Monroe (1911–1996), bluegrass musician; Rosemary Clooney (1928–2002), singer; Loretta Lynn (1935– ), singer; Hunter S Thompson (1939–2005), writer; Diane Sawyer (1945– ), journalist; Crystal Gayle (1951– ), singer; George Clooney (1961– ), actor; Johnny Depp (1963– ), actor

science Casey Jones (1864–1900), railway engineer; Thomas Hunt Morgan (1866–1945), Nobel Prize-winning geneticist

society and education Daniel Boone (1734–1820), pioneer; Kit Carson (1809–1868), frontiersman; Carry Nation (1846–1911), temperance leader

economics ‘Colonel’ Harland Sanders (1890–1980), fast-food pioneer

politics and law Jefferson Davis (1808–1889), president of the Confederacy; Abraham Lincoln (1809–1865), 16th president of the USA; Louis Brandeis (1856–1941), jurist; Wiley Blount Rutledge (1894–1949), Supreme Court justice; John M Harlan (1933–1911), jurist.


Cumberland Falls


horse racing

Kentucky – flag

Kentucky mountains

tobacco plants


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