Eastern Kentucky Coalfield

  (Redirected from Eastern Mountain Coal Fields)

The Eastern Kentucky Coalfield is part of the Central Appalachian bituminous coalfield, including all or parts of 30 Kentucky counties and adjoining areas in Ohio, West Virginia, Virginia and Tennessee.[3] It covers an area from the Allegheny Mountains in the east across the Cumberland Plateau to the Pottsville Escarpment in the west. The region is known for its coal mining; most family farms in the region have disappeared since the introduction of surface mining in the 1940s and 1950s.

Counties of the Eastern Mountain Coal Fields of Kentucky[1][2]

The Daniel Boone National Forest is located on rough but beautiful terrain along and east of the Pottsville Escarpment. There are many natural arches and sandstone cliffs that are excellent for rock climbing and rappeling. The Red River Gorge, part of the National Forest, is known worldwide in rock climbing circles.

The Sheltowee Trace Trail runs 420–430 km (260–270 mi) north and south, through the region.

During the American Civil War most of this region leaned toward the Union due to its makeup at the time of mostly small farmers, but more than 2,000 men from this area formed the 5th. Kentucky Vol. Inf., known as the Army of Eastern Kentucky, under Gen. Humphrey Marshall, C.S.A.. During the Great Depression, New Deal programs and the organizing of the United Mine Workers of America made many of the eastern counties Democratic.

Eastern Kentucky has a rich musical heritage. Many nationally acclaimed country music singers and musicians are from the area. These include: Loretta Lynn, Crystal Gayle, The Judds, Ricky Skaggs, Keith Whitley, Patty Loveless, Dwight Yoakam, Tom T. Hall, Billy Ray Cyrus, Jean Ritchie, Sturgill Simpson, Tyler Childers, Chris Stapleton, and George S. Davis.

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 in the hills of eastern Kentucky (and made up virtually every county in this region).[4] In the 1980 census, 1,267,079 Kentuckians out of a total population of 2,554,359 cited that they were of English ancestry, making them 49 percent of the state at that time. Large numbers of people of Scottish and Irish ancestry settled the area as well.[5]


The Eastern Kentucky Coalfield covers 31 counties with a combined land area of 13,370 sq mi (34,628 km2), or about 33.1 percent of the state's land area. Its 2000 census population was 734,194 inhabitants, or about 18.2 percent of the state's population. The largest city, Ashland, has a population of 21,981. Other cities of significance in the region include Pikeville, London, and Middlesboro. The state's highest point, Black Mountain, is located in the southeastern part of the region in Harlan County.


FIPS code[6] County seat[7] Established[7] Origin Etymology Population[7] Area[7] Map

Bell County 013 Pineville 1867 Harlan County and Knox County Joshua Fry Bell, Kentucky legislator (1862–1867) 30,060 361 sq mi
(935 km2)
Boyd County 019 Catlettsburg 1860 Greenup County, Carter County and Lawrence County Linn Boyd, United States Congressman (1835–1837; 1839–1855) and Lieutenant Governor of Kentucky (1859) 49,752 160 sq mi
(414 km2)
Breathitt County 025 Jackson 1839 Clay County, Perry County and Estill County John Breathitt, Governor of Kentucky (1832–1834) 16,100 495 sq mi
(1,282 km2)
Carter County 043 Grayson 1838 Greenup County and Lawrence County William Grayson Carter, Kentucky state senator (1834–1838) 26,889 411 sq mi
(1,064 km2)
Clay County 051 Manchester 1807 Madison County, Floyd County, and Knox County Green Clay (1757–1828), military general and surveyor 24,556 471 sq mi
(1,220 km2)
Elliott County 063 Sandy Hook 1869 Morgan County, Lawrence County, and Carter County John Lisle Elliott or John Milton Elliott (1820–1885), legislators 6,748 234 sq mi
(606 km2)
Floyd County 071 Prestonsburg 1800 Fleming County, Montgomery County, and Mason County John Floyd (1750–1783), surveyor and pioneer 42,441 394 sq mi
(1,020 km2)
Greenup County 089 Greenup 1803 Mason County Christopher Greenup, Governor of Kentucky (1804–1808) 36,891 346 sq mi
(896 km2)
Harlan County 095 Harlan 1819 Knox County Silas Harlan (1753–1782), soldier in the Battle of Blue Licks 33,202 467 sq mi
(1,210 km2)
Jackson County 109 McKee 1858 Madison County, Estill County, Owsley County, Clay County, Laurel County, and Rockcastle County Andrew Jackson, President of the United States (1829–1837) 13,495 346 sq mi
(896 km2)
Johnson County 115 Paintsville 1843 Floyd County, Lawrence County, and Morgan County Richard Mentor Johnson, Vice President of the United States (1837–1841) 23,445 262 sq mi
(679 km2)
Knott County 119 Hindman 1884 Perry County, Letcher County, Floyd County, and Breathitt County James Proctor Knott, Governor of Kentucky (1883–1887) 17,649 352 sq mi
(912 km2)
Knox County 121 Barbourville 1799 Lincoln County Henry Knox, United States Secretary of War (1785–1794) 31,795 388 sq mi
(1,005 km2)
Laurel County 125 London 1825 Rockcastle County, Clay County, Knox County and Whitley County Mountain laurel trees that are prominent in the area 52,715 436 sq mi
(1,129 km2)
Lawrence County 127 Louisa 1821 Greenup County and Floyd County James Lawrence (1781–1813), naval commander during the War of 1812 15,569 419 sq mi
(1,085 km2)
Lee County 129 Beattyville 1870 Breathitt County, Estill County, Owsley County, and Wolfe County Robert E. Lee (1807–1870), Confederate general or Lee County, Virginia 7,916 210 sq mi
(544 km2)
Leslie County 131 Hyden 1878 Clay County, Harlan County and Perry County Preston Leslie, Governor of Kentucky (1871–1875) 12,401 404 sq mi
(1,046 km2)
Letcher County 133 Whitesburg 1842 Perry County and Harlan County Robert P. Letcher, Governor of Kentucky (1840–1844) 25,277 339 sq mi
(878 km2)
Magoffin County 153 Salyersville 1860 Floyd County, Johnson County and Morgan County Beriah Magoffin, Governor of Kentucky (1859–1862) 13,332 310 sq mi
(803 km2)
Martin County 159 Inez 1870 Floyd County, Johnson County, Pike County, and Lawrence County John P. Martin, United States Congressman (1845–1847) 12,578 231 sq mi
(598 km2)
McCreary County 147 Whitley City 1912 Pulaski County, Wayne County and Whitley County James McCreary, Governor of Kentucky (1912–1916) 17,080 428 sq mi
(1,109 km2)
Menifee County 165 Frenchburg 1869 Bath County, Montgomery County, Morgan County, Powell County and Wolfe County Richard H. Menefee, United States Congressman (1837–1839) 6,556 204 sq mi
(528 km2)
Montgomery County 173 Mount Sterling 1796 Clark County[8] Richard Montgomery (1736–1775), military general killed at the Battle of Quebec 22,554 199 sq mi
(515 km2)
Morgan County 175 West Liberty 1822 Bath County and Floyd County Daniel Morgan (1736–1802), Revolutionary War general 13,948 381 sq mi
(987 km2)
Owsley County 189 Booneville 1843 Breathitt County, Clay County, and Estill County William Owsley, Governor of Kentucky (1844–1848) 4,858 198 sq mi
(513 km2)
Perry County 193 Hazard 1820 Floyd County and Clay County Oliver Hazard Perry (1785–1819), Admiral in the War of 1812 29,390 342 sq mi
(886 km2)
Pike County 195 Pikeville 1821 Floyd County Zebulon Pike (1779–1813), discoverer of Pike's Peak 68,736 788 sq mi
(2,041 km2)
Powell County 197 Stanton 1852 Clark County, Estill County, and Montgomery County Lazarus Whitehead Powell, Governor of Kentucky (1851–1855) 13,237 180 sq mi
(466 km2)
Rowan County 205 Morehead 1856 Fleming County and Morgan County John Rowan, Congressman from Kentucky (1809–1811; 1825–1831)) 22,094 281 sq mi
(728 km2)
Whitley County 235 Williamsburg 1818 Knox County William Whitley (1749–1813), Kentucky pioneer 35,865 440 sq mi
(1,140 km2)
Wolfe County 237 Campton 1860 Breathitt County, Owsley County, and Powell County Nathaniel Wolfe (1808–1865), member of the Kentucky General Assembly 7,065 223 sq mi
(578 km2)

Major citiesEdit

Ashland, the region's largest city

The following list consists of Eastern Kentucky cities with populations over 4,000 according to the U.S. Census estimates released in 2016:[9]

Rank City Population 2016 County
1 Ashland 21,038 Boyd
2 Middlesboro 9,626 Bell
3 London 8,157 Laurel
4 Morehead 7,758 Rowan
5 Corbin 7,398 Whitley and Knox
6 Flatwoods 7,311 Greenup
7 Mount Sterling 7,242 Montgomery
8 Pikeville 7,106 Pike
9 Williamsburg 5,313 Whitley
10 Hazard 5,300 Perry
11 Paintsville 4,203 Johnson
12 Grayson 4,043 Carter

Protected areasEdit

Natural Bridge State Resort Park

Historical parksEdit

State resort parksEdit

State recreational parksEdit

Levi Jackson Wilderness Road State Park



The region's economy is centered around the vast amount of natural resources available, which includes coal, timber, natural gas, and oil. Recently, tourism has become a leading industry in the region, due to the region's unique cultural history and the creation of state parks.

Calgon Carbon constructed the Big Sandy Plant near Ashland in 1961 and it has since become the world's largest producer of granular activated carbon. The facility produces in over 100 million pounds of granular activated carbon annually.[10]

Persistent povertyEdit

Most of the counties in the Eastern Kentucky Coalfield are classified as "persistent poverty counties". The definition of a persistent poverty county by the Economic Research Service of the United States Department of Agriculture is that 20 percent or more of the total county population has been living in poverty since the 1980 census.[11]

A June 2014 article in The New York Times identified six counties in the Kentucky Coal Field as among the "hardest places to live in the United States." The lowest-ranking counties were Breathitt, Clay, Jackson, Lee, Leslie, and Magoffin. They ranked among the bottom ten counties nationwide. The factors which accounted for the low ranking of those six counties were unemployment, prevalence of disabilities, obesity, income, and education.[12] The Times declared Clay County the hardest place to live in the U.S.[13]

Appalachian Regional CommissionEdit

The Appalachian Regional Commission was formed in 1965 to aid economic development in the Appalachian region, which was lagging far behind the rest of the nation on most economic indicators. The Appalachian region currently defined by the Commission includes 420 counties in 13 states, including all counties in Kentucky's Eastern Coalfield. The Commission gives each county one of five possible economic designations—distressed, at-risk, transitional, competitive, or attainment—with "distressed" counties being the most economically endangered and "attainment" counties being the most economically prosperous. These designations are based primarily on three indicators—three-year average unemployment rate, market income per capita, and poverty rate.[14]

From 2012 to 2014, "Appalachian" Kentucky—which includes all of the Eastern Coalfield and several counties in South Central Kentucky and a few in the eastern part of the Bluegrass region—had a three-year average unemployment rate of 9.8%, compared with 7.6% statewide and 7.2% nationwide.[14] In 2014, Appalachian Kentucky had a per capita market income of $18,889, compared with $28,332 statewide and $38,117 nationwide. From 2010 to 2014, Appalachian Kentucky had an average poverty rate of 25.4%—the highest of any of the ARC regions—, compared to 18.9% statewide and 15.6% nationwide. Twenty-five Eastern Mountain Coal Field counties—Bell, Breathitt, Carter, Clay, Elliott, Floyd, Harlan, Jackson, Johnson, Knott, Knox, Lawrence, Lee, Leslie, Letcher, Magoffin, Martin, McCreary, Menifee, Morgan, Owsley, Powell, Rowan, Whitley, and Wolfe—were designated "distressed," while four - Laurel, Montgomery, Perry, and Pike — were designated "at-risk." Two Eastern Coalfield counties were designated "transitional" — Boyd and Greenup. No counties in the Eastern Coalfields region were given the "attainment" designation or were designated "competitive."

The following table illustrates the economic status of each county.

County Population (2010) Unemployment Rate (2012–14)[14] Per Capita
Market Income (2014)[14]
Poverty Rate (2010–14)[14] Status (2017)[14]
Bell 28,691 11.9% $14,644 32.7% Distressed
Boyd 49,542 8.6% $24,337 19.1% Transitional
Breathitt 13,878 13.7% $14,386 31.5% Distressed
Carter 27,720 12.0% $18,014 18.7% Distressed
Clay 21,730 13.3% $11,531 35.7% Distressed
Elliott 7,852 13.5% $10,529 39.6% Distressed
Floyd 39,451 11.7% $18,473 29.5% Distressed
Greenup 36,910 9.3% $23,879 18.0% Transitional
Harlan 29,278 15.4% $13,620 32.1% Distressed
Jackson 13,494 15.4% $13,496 31.7% Distressed
Johnson 23,356 10.1% $19,008 25.3% Distressed
Knott 16,346 13.5% $14,271 26.5% Distressed
Knox 31,883 11.9% $15,549 33.8% Distressed
Laurel 58,849 9.2% $21,051 23.3% At-Risk
Lawrence 15,860 10.5% $15,399 23.5% Distressed
Lee 7,887 11.7% $11,750 33.4% Distressed
Leslie 11,310 15.0% $15,357 23.9% Distressed
Letcher 24,519 14.2% $15,955 24.5% Distressed
Magoffin 13,333 16.3% $11,139 26.8% Distressed
Martin 12,929 9.4% $14,826 33.9% Distressed
McCreary 18,306 12.4% $9,763 37.7% Distressed
Menifee 6,306 11.2% $15,656 28.8% Distressed
Montgomery 26,499 8.2% $23,093 25.2% At-Risk
Morgan 13,923 10.3% $13,451 29.7% Distressed
Owsley 4,755 11.9% $10,528 39.2% Distressed
Perry 28,712 12.3% $20,131 26.6% Distressed
Pike 68,736 10.6% $21,285 24.1% At-Risk
Powell 12,613 10.1% $18,403 27.5% Distressed
Rowan 23,333 7.8% $18,642 26.0% At-Risk
Whitley 35,637 10.0% $17,321 24.1% Distressed
Wolfe 7,355 13.3% $10,532 44.3% Distressed


Most of the counties in the Eastern Kentucky Coalfield rank in the lowest ten percent of U.S. counties in average life expectancy. Both men and women have average life spans that are several years less than the average life span in the United States. Moreover, many counties have seen a decline in the life expectancy of men and/or women since 1985. Factors influencing the health of residents include a high prevalence of smoking and obesity and a low level of physical activity.[15]

Post-secondary educationEdit

Morehead State University

Public universitiesEdit

Private colleges and universitiesEdit

Community and technical collegesEdit

Political ClimateEdit

As a whole, East Kentucky was long a Democratic stronghold. The only two counties in the state to vote against Mitch McConnell in each of his six senatorial campaigns thus far have been Wolfe and Elliott Counties, both in East Kentucky. However, the region has swung hard to the right recently. In 2004, eleven counties in East Kentucky supported Democratic candidate John F. Kerry, and in 2008, even as the nation as a whole shifted Democratic, the number of East Kentucky counties supporting Democratic candidate Barack Obama fell to just four, and in 2012 fell to just one.[16] Every county in East Kentucky supported Donald Trump in 2016 with at least 50% of the vote. In fact, each of the three most Republican counties in Kentucky (in terms of vote proportion) were all in East Kentucky (namely Leslie, Jackson and Martin Counties). Each gave less than a tenth of their vote to Hillary Clinton, the Democratic candidate. Elliott County, Kentucky, serves as a good represenation of the political transformation throughout the region. It had the longest streak in the nation of any county to vote Democratic[17]. It has in recent years, however, shifted hard to the right, just like the rest of East Kentucky. In 2008 Elliott County was the most Democratic county in the state, giving over 60% of the vote to Barack Obama. In 2012, however, it supported him by a margin of just three percentage points (the lowest percentage for a Democrat in county history) and lost the title of most Democratic in the state to Jefferson County, home to Lousville, Kentucky, the most populous city in the state. And by 2016, it supported Donald Trump with over 70% of the county vote. In local elections (like East Kentucky), though it has trended more Republican, it still remains a Democratic stronghold. In the State Senate election, it gave Democrat Rocky Adkins 86% of the vote. As of Noember 2012, just 4.2% of registered voters were Republicans, the lowest proportion for any county in the state. By October 2016, this proportion had more than doubled (to 8.2%), and by April 2019 it stood at 10.6%. Indeed, Elliott County voters, just like most East Kentucky voters, are socially conservative and economically more liberal.

Notable residentsEdit

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ "Wayback Machine". archive.org. 28 March 2008. Archived from the original on 28 March 2008. Retrieved 7 May 2018. Cite uses generic title (help)CS1 maint: BOT: original-url status unknown (link)
  2. ^ "National Digital Newspaper Program: The Kentucky Edition, More about KY-NDNP: regions". Uky.edu. November 6, 2007. Archived from the original on October 1, 2013. Retrieved November 5, 2013.
  3. ^ Eastern Mountain Coal Fields Archived 2013-10-01 at the Wayback Machine Retrieved on 2010-1-30
  4. ^ James Paul Allen and Eugene James Turner, We the People: An Atlas of America's Ethnic Diversity (Macmillan, 1988), 41.
  5. ^ "Archived copy" (PDF). Archived (PDF) from the original on 2012-02-24. Retrieved 2012-02-10.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  6. ^ "EPA County FIPS Code Listing". EPA. Archived from the original on 2004-09-22. Retrieved 2007-04-09.
  7. ^ a b c d National Association of Counties. "NACo – Find a county". Archived from the original on 2007-07-11. Retrieved 2007-07-22.
  8. ^ "Montgomery County, Kentucky Genealogy". Kentucky Comprehensive Genealogy Database. Archived from the original on 2008-10-13. Retrieved 2007-01-26.
  9. ^ Annual Estimates of the Resident Population: April 1, 2010 to July 1, 2016 Population Estimates U.S. Census Bureau. Retrieved 2015-08-13
  10. ^ Calgon Carbon Big Sandy Plant Retrieved 2014-03-21.
  11. ^ "Geography of Poverty", "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2017-02-17. Retrieved 2017-02-17.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link), accessed 17 February 2017
  12. ^ Lowrey, Annie (2014-06-29). "What's the Matter With Eastern Kentucky?". NYtimes.com. Archived from the original on 2017-12-01.
  13. ^ Flippen, Alan (June 26, 2014), "Where Are the Hardest Places to Live in the U.S.?" The New York Times.
  14. ^ a b c d e f County Economic Status, Fiscal Year 2017: Appalachian Kentucky Archived 2017-05-14 at the Wayback Machine. ARC. Retrieved: 2017-07-14.
  15. ^ "Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation", "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2017-02-24. Retrieved 2017-02-17.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link), accessed 17 February 2017
  16. ^ Nelson, Eliot. "Not So Solid South: Democratic Party Survives In Rural Elliott County, Kentucky".
  17. ^ Nelson, Eliot. "Not So Solid South: Democratic Party Survives In Rural Elliott County, Kentucky".
  18. ^ Earle Combs / Baseball Legend

External linksEdit

Coordinates: 37°45′N 83°05′W / 37.750°N 83.083°W / 37.750; -83.083