The History of Gallatin County
Gallatin County was the thirty-first county in order of formation, and is located in north-central Kentucky, with the Ohio River as the northern border and Eagle Creek the southern boundary. It is bordered by Boone, Carroll, Grant, and Owen counties in Kentucky and Switzerland County across the river in Indiana. Gallatin County has an area of approximately 99 square miles. The county was formed on December 14, 1798, from sections of Franklin and Shelby counties and was named in honor of Albert Gallatin, a Swiss native who was a U.S. representative and was secretary of the treasury under Presidents Thomas Jefferson and James Madison. The county seat of Gallatin County is Warsaw.
The land of Gallatin County is marked by wide and fertile floodplains. In 1987, 82 percent of the land was used for agriculture. During the first decade of the nineteenth century, Gallatin County became a center of river trade with New Orleans. Produce, furs, salt pork, soap, and hemp, as well as lumber products were shipped to market from Gallatin County. Abundant deposits of sand, gravel, and limestone contribute to the county's economy, although the major industries continue to be agriculturally oriented. Crops of tobacco and corn are raised. Some small industries, such as furniture making, aided the local economy, as did the expansion of tourism.
The proximity to hostile Indians across the Ohio River proved disastrous for some early settlers; several of the first pioneers in the region were killed. In 1791 Charles Scott built a blockhouse at the confluence of the Ohio and Kentucky rivers and constructed a stockade for further protection. This blockhouse and stockade became the first permanent settlement in the Gallatin County area. It was named Port William, the county's first seat, which became the town of Carrollton in 1838. The first court of Gallatin County was held at the home of Richard Matterson on May 14, 1799. The increase in the population led to formation of the counties of Carroll, Owen, and Trimble from Gallatin County. Warsaw, incorporated in 1831, then became the seat of Gallatin County in 1838.
The Civil War disrupted the lives of Gallatin Countians. There were skirmishes in the county and some of its citizens were arrested for treason. In September 1864, George M. Jessee and his Confederate forces reportedly were in control of Gallatin and several other Kentucky counties. The report went on to state that the Confederates forces were rapidly recruiting volunteers in the area.
After the end of the Civil War, the Ohio River near Warsaw was the scene of one of the worst steamboat accidents in history. Two passenger steamers, the America and the United States, collided. The United States carried a cargo of barrels of kerosene, which caught fire, and soon both boats were in flames. The death toll reached 162.
As the twentieth century progressed, the river trade began to decline, and the steamboat era ended. Gallatin County is traversed by I-71, U.S. 42, and U.S. 127 highways. Construction on the Markland Locks and Dam began in 1956 and was completed in 1964. In 1967 a hydroelectric power plant was built at the dam and provided jobs, but in the 1980s more than 50 percent of the population was employed outside the county. The incorporated towns are Warsaw, Glencoe, and Sparta.
Kentucky County Lines - 1784-1834