Madison County, the sixth county in order of formation, is located in central
Kentucky, where the Bluegrass meets the foothills of the Appalachians. The
443-square-mile area is bounded by
Jessamine counties. Paint Lick Creek is the western boundary, and
the Kentucky River, a major means of transportation and communication since
settlement times, forms the north and northeast boundaries. Madison County was
created on December 15, 1785, and was named for the Virginia statesman James
Madison, who became the fourth president of the United States. The county court
first met on August 22, 1786, at George Adams's house near the site that would
become the town of Milford. Milford served as the county seat until 1798, when
court was moved to land owned by Col. John Miller, one of the county's first
state representatives. The new county seat was named RICHMOND after Miller's
birthplace of Richmond, Virginia.
Early explorers, including Daniel Boone in 1769, entered from the southern part
of the county along creeks that flow northward to the Kentucky River. As
employees of the Transylvania Company, Boone and other pioneers traveled into
the area in 1775 through the Cumberland Gap. They blazed Boone's Trace to
establish Fort Boonesborough on the south bank of the Kentucky River in the
northern part of the county. In 1779 Boonesborough was the first town in what
was then Kentucky County to be chartered by Virginia. The earliest recorded
religious service (Anglican) in Kentucky took place in Boonesborough in May
1775. The Tates Creek Baptist Church, organized in 1783-85, was the first
founded by any religious denomination.
The county's early history was dominated by Gen. Green Clay, a member of the
county court for nearly forty years. Clay used his political power to develop a
vast economic empire that included large estates, ferries, taverns, and toll
roads. His son, Cassius Marcellus Clay, served as ambassador to Russia during
the Civil War and was an outspoken antislavery advocate. The western pioneer
Christopher ("Kit") Carson was a native of Madison County.
Madison County produced corn, hemp, and tobacco very early in its history. By
1783 distilleries were processing corn; water-powered gristmills were
constructed as early as 1787 along small creeks; and three tobacco warehouses
operated by 1798. The oldest continuous industry in the county, pottery making,
was established around 1809. Burley tobacco and cattle raising remain a major
portion of the county's economic base.
The first ferry rights in Kentucky were granted in 1779 to Boonesborough settler
Col. Richard Callaway, who offered transportation across the Kentucky River.
This and other ferries at various locations operated until the 1950s, when
Valley View ferry on the Tates Creek Road was the only one left in the county.
Bridges gradually replaced ferries; one was built across Paint Lick Creek in
1857. A wood and steel bridge, built in 1870 at Green Clay's ferry landing, was
replaced in 1946 by a reinforced concrete bridge that later became the
northbound lane of I-75. During the last quarter of the nineteenth century,
several railroad lines were built through the county. The first of them, the
Louisville & Nashville Railroad (now CSX Transportation), still operates
north-south freight service.
The first private school in the county, Madison Male Seminary, was chartered in
1798. Even after public education was established in 1830, private academies
flourished, patronized by wealthy families who scorned the "pauper" schools.
In the southern portion of the county, Berea School was founded in 1855 and
became BEREA COLLEGE in 1858 through the efforts of Cassius Clay and the Rev.
John G. FEE. The small community of BEREA, led by Fee, John A.R. Rogers, and his
wife Elizabeth, was staunchly opposed to slavery, at odds with the rest of the
county. In 1859 pro-slavery proponents attacked Berea supporters, forcing the
college to close and the leaders to flee Kentucky until after the Civil War.
Some of the small communities developed along creeks, such as Paint Lick, were
settled in the 1770s. Many early communities, such as Union City, Crooksville,
Kingston, and Kirksville, grew up at road intersections. Other communities
developed around industrial concerns. Bybee village had its genesis in pottery
making around 1843 and grew as a Louisville & Atlantic Railroad depot around
1900. The Red House, Valley View, and Baldwin communities also thrived as
railroad stops. The Bluegrass Ordnance Depot, now the Bluegrass Army Depot, was
established in 1941. Located in the central portion of the county, its 14,650
acres of land are used for storage of materials and ammunitions. Since World War
II, both Richmond and Berea have attracted light manufacturing businesses,
which, along with Eastern Kentucky University and Berea College, were in 1990
the major employers in the county.
The population of the county was 42,730 in 1970; 53,352 in 1980; and 57,508 in
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