Madison County, Kentucky

Madison County

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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 Fayette, Clark, Estill, Jackson, Rockcastle, Garrard, and 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 1990.

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