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State Guide

The Commonwealth of Kentucky is a state located in the East Central United States of America. Kentucky is normally included in the group of Southern states (in particular the Upland South), but it is sometimes included, geographically and culturally, in the Midwest. Kentucky is one of four U.S. states to be officially known as a commonwealth. Originally a part of Virginia, in 1792 it became the 15th state to join the Union. Kentucky is the 37th largest state in terms of land area, and ranks 26th in population.

Kentucky is known as the "Bluegrass State", a nickname based on the fact that bluegrass is present in many of the lawns and pastures throughout the state. It is a land with diverse environments and abundant resources, including the world's longest cave system, the greatest length of navigable waterways and streams in the Lower 48 states, and the two largest man-made lakes east of the Mississippi River. It is also home to the highest per capita number of deer and turkey in the United States, and the nation's most productive coalfield. Kentucky is also known for thoroughbred horses, horse racing, bourbon distilleries, bluegrass music, automobile manufacturing, tobacco, and college basketball.

Origin of name

The origin of Kentucky's name (variously spelled Cane-tuck-ee, Cantucky, Kain-tuck-ee, and Kentuckee before its modern spelling was accepted) has never been definitively identified, though some theories have been debunked. For example, Kentucky's name does not come from the combination of "cane" and "turkey"; and though it is the most popular belief, it is unlikely to mean "dark and bloody ground", because it does not occur with that meaning in any known Native American language. The most likely etymology is that it comes from an Iroquoian word for "meadow" or "prairie" (c.f. Mohawk kenhtà:ke, Seneca këhta’keh). Other possibilities also exist: the suggestion of early Kentucky pioneer George Rogers Clark that the name means "the river of blood", a Wyandot name meaning "land of tomorrow", a Shawnee term possibly referring to the head of a river, or an Algonquian word for a river bottom.


Kentucky borders states of both the Midwest and the Southeast. West Virginia lies to the east, Virginia to the southeast, Tennessee to the south, Missouri to the west, Illinois and Indiana to the northwest, and Ohio to the north and northeast. Kentucky's northern border is formed by the Ohio River and its western border by the Mississippi River; however, the official border is based on the courses of the rivers as they existed when Kentucky became a state in 1792. In several places, the border does not follow the current course of the appropriate river. Northbound travelers on US 41 from Henderson, upon crossing the Ohio River, will find themselves still in Kentucky until they travel about a half-mile (800 m) farther north. A horse racing track, Ellis Park, is located in this small piece of Kentucky. Waterworks Road is part of the only land border between Indiana and Kentucky.

Kentucky is the only U.S. state to have a non-contiguous part exist as an exclave surrounded by other states. Fulton County, in the far west corner of the state, includes a small part of land, Kentucky Bend, on the Mississippi River bordered by Missouri and accessible via Tennessee, created by the New Madrid Earthquake.

Kentucky can be divided into five primary regions: the Cumberland Plateau in the east, the north-central Bluegrass region, the south-central and western Pennyroyal Plateau, the Western Coal Fields and the far-west Jackson Purchase. The Bluegrass region is commonly divided into two regions, the Inner Bluegrass — the encircling 90 miles (145 km) around Lexington — and the Outer Bluegrass, the region that contains most of the Northern portion of the state, above the Knobs. Much of the outer Bluegrass is in the Eden Shale Hills area, made up of short, steep, and very narrow hills.

Kentucky has 120 counties, third in the U.S. behind Texas' 254 and Georgia's 159. The original motivation for having so many counties was to ensure that residents in the days of poor roads and horseback travel could make a round trip from their home to the county seat and back in a single day. Later, however, politics began to play a part, with citizens who disagreed with the present county government simply petitioning the state to create a new county. The 1891 Kentucky Constitution placed stricter limits on county creation, stipulating that a new county:

  • must have a land area of at least 400 square miles (1,000 km²);
  • must have a population of at least 12,000 people;
  • must not by its creation reduce the land area of an existing county to less than 400 square miles (1,000 km²);
  • must not by its creation reduce the population of an existing county to fewer than 12,000 people;
  • must not create a county boundary line that passes within 10 miles (20 km) of an existing county seat.

These regulations have reined in the proliferation of counties in Kentucky. Since the 1891 Constitution, only McCreary County has been created. Because today's largest county by area, Pike County, is 788 square miles (2,041 km²), it is now impossible to create a new county from a single existing county under the current constitution. Any county created in this manner will by necessity either be smaller than 400 square miles (1,000 km²) or reduce the land area of the old county to less than 400 square miles (1,000 km²). It is still theoretically possible to form a new county from portions of more than one existing county (McCreary County was created from portions of three counties), but the area and boundary restrictions would make this extremely difficult.


Located within the southeastern interior portion of North America, Kentucky has a climate that can best be described as a humid subtropical climate (Koppen Cfa), or that all monthly average high temperatures are above freezing. Monthly average temperatures in Kentucky range from a summer daytime high of 87 °F (30.9 °C) to a winter low of 23 °F (-4.9 °C). The average precipitation is 46 inches (116.84 cm) a year. Kentucky experiences all four seasons, usually with striking variations in the severity of summer and winter from year to year.

Major weather events that have affected Kentucky include:

  • The Mid-Mississippi Valley Tornado Outbreak of March 1890
  • The Ohio River flood of 1937
  • The Super Outbreak of tornadoes in 1974
  • Massive flooding in 1997
  • The North American blizzard of 2003 (mostly ice in Kentucky)

Lakes and rivers

Kentucky’s 90,000 miles (1.4×105 km) of streams provides one of the most expansive and complex stream systems in the nation. Kentucky has both the largest artificial lake east of the Mississippi in water volume (Lake Cumberland) and surface area (Kentucky Lake). It is the only U.S. state to be bordered on three sides by rivers — the Mississippi River to the west, the Ohio River to the north, and the Big Sandy River and Tug Fork to the east. Its major internal rivers include the Kentucky River, Tennessee River, Cumberland River, Green River, and Licking River.

Though it has only three major natural lakes, the state is home to many artificial lakes. Kentucky also has more navigable miles of water than any other state in the union, other than Alaska.

Natural environment and conservation

Kentucky has an expansive park system which includes one national park, two National Recreation areas, two National Historic Parks, two national forests, 45 state parks, 37,696 acres (153 km²) of state forest, and 82 Wildlife Management Areas.

Kentucky has been part of two of the most successful wildlife reintroduction projects in United States history. In the winter of 1997, the state's eastern counties began to re-stock elk, which had been extinct from the area for over 150 years. As of 2006, the state's herd was estimated at 5,700 animals, the largest herd east of the Mississippi River.

The state also stocked wild turkeys in the 1950s. Once extinct in the state, today Kentucky has more turkeys per capita than any other eastern state.

Top tourist attractions in Kentucky

Place Visitors per year
Lake Cumberland 5 million
Land Between the Lakes 4 million
Mammoth Cave National Park 2 million
Big South Fork National River and Recreation Area 2 million
Churchill Downs/ Kentucky Derby Museum 1.8 million
Red River Gorge / Natural Bridge 1.5 million
Louisville Zoo 800,000
Cumberland Falls 750,000
Louisville Science Center 550,000

Significant natural attractions

  • Cumberland Gap, chief passageway through the Appalachian Mountains in early American history.
  • Cumberland Falls State Park, one of the few places in the Western Hemisphere where a "moon-bow" may be regularly seen.
  • Mammoth Cave National Park, featuring the world's longest cave system.
  • Red River Gorge Geological Area, part of the Daniel Boone National Forest.
  • Land Between the Lakes, a National Recreation Area managed by the United States Forest Service.
  • Bernheim Arboretum and Research Forest a 14,000 acre (57 km²) arboretum, forest and nature preserve located in Clermont.
  • Abraham Lincoln Birthplace National Historic Site in Hodgenville.
  • Big South Fork National River and Recreation Area near Whitley City.
  • Trail of Tears National Historic Trail also passes through Kentucky.
  • Black Mountain, state's highest point. Runs along the border of Harlan and Letcher counties.
  • Bad Branch Falls State Nature Preserve, 2,639-acre (11 km²) state nature preserve on southern slope of Pine Mountain in Letcher County. Includes one of the largest concentrations of rare and endangered species in the state, as well as a 60-foot (18 m) waterfall and a Kentucky Wild River.
  • Jefferson Memorial Forest, located south of Louisville in the Knobs region, the largest municipally run forest in the United States.
  • Green River Lake State Park, located in Taylor County.
  • Lake Cumberland, 1,255 miles (2,020 km) of shoreline located in South Central Kentucky.


Although inhabited by Native Americans in prehistoric times, when explorers and settlers began entering Kentucky in the mid-1700s, there were no major Native American settlements in the region. Instead, the country was used as hunting grounds by Shawnees from the north and Cherokees from the south. Much of what is now Kentucky was purchased from Native Americans in the treaties of Fort Stanwix (1768) and Sycamore Shoals (1775). Thereafter, Kentucky grew rapidly as the first settlements west of the Appalachian Mountains were founded, with settlers (primarily from Virginia, North Carolina, Maryland, Delaware, and Pennsylvania) entering the region either over land via Braddock Road and the Cumberland Gap, or by water down the Ohio River from points upstream, or up the Ohio River from the Mississippi. The first part to be settled was the northern part, along the Ohio River, with Lexington and Washington being the first major settlements. A detailed account of this can be read in the memoirs of Spencer Records. Next, the southern part of the state was settled, via the Wilderness Trail, which went along the Great Appalachian Valley and across the Cumberland Gap, blazed by Daniel Boone, traditionally considered one of the founders of the state. Shawnees north of the Ohio River, however, were unhappy about the settlement of Kentucky, and allied themselves with the British in the American Revolutionary War (1775–1783). Kentucky was a battleground during the war; the Battle of Blue Licks, one of the last major battles of the Revolution, was fought in Kentucky.

After the American Revolution, the counties of Virginia beyond the Appalachian Mountains became known as Kentucky County. Eventually, the residents of Kentucky County petitioned for a separation from Virginia. Ten constitutional conventions were held in the Constitution Square Courthouse in Danville between 1784 and 1792. In 1790, Kentucky's delegates accepted Virginia's terms of separation, and a state constitution was drafted at the final convention in April 1792. On June 1, 1792, Kentucky became the fifteenth state to be admitted to the union and Isaac Shelby, a military veteran from Virginia, was elected the first Governor of the Commonwealth of Kentucky.

Kentucky was a border state during the American Civil War. Although frequently described as never having seceded, a group of Kentucky soldiers stationed at Russellville did pass an Ordinance of Secession under the moniker "Convention of the People of Kentucky" on November 20, 1861, establishing a Confederate government of Kentucky with its capital in Bowling Green. Though Kentucky was represented by the central star on the Confederate battle flag. the legitimacy of the Russellville Convention may well be questioned. Only a year earlier, philosopher Karl Marx wrote in a letter to Friedrich Engels that the result of a vote deciding how Kentucky would be represented at a convention of the border states was "100,000 for the Union ticket, only a few thousand for secession." Kentucky officially remained "neutral" throughout the war due to Union sympathies of many of the Commonwealth's citizens. Even today, however, Confederate Memorial Day is observed by some in Kentucky on Confederate President Jefferson Davis' birthday, June 3.

The Black Patch Tobacco Wars occurred from 1904 to 1909. The war was started because the farmers were selling their tobacco at low prices. The "Night Riders" were a group of people who terrorized the farmers who sold their tobacco at low prices. They would go by night and use fear and intimidation to terrorize the farmers. They would burn down fields, warehouses, and barns.

On January 30, 1900, Governor William Goebel, flanked by two bodyguards, was mortally wounded by an assailant while walking to the State Capitol in downtown Frankfort. Goebel was in the process of contesting the election of 1899, initially assumed to be won by William S. Taylor. For several months, J. C. W. Beckham, Goebel's running mate, and Taylor fought over who was the real governor until the Supreme Court of the United States decided in May that Beckham was the rightful governor. Taylor fled to Indiana and was later indicted as a co-conspirator in Goebel's assassination. Goebel remains the only governor of a U.S. state to have been assassinated while in office.

Law and government


Kentucky is a commonwealth, meaning its government is run according to the common consent of its people. It is one out of only four states that call themselves commonwealths. Kentucky is also one of only five states that elects its state officials in odd numbered years (The others are Louisiana, Mississippi, New Jersey, and Virginia). Kentucky holds elections for these offices every 4 years in the years preceding Presidential election years. Thus, the last year when Kentucky elected a Governor was 2007; the next gubernatorial election will occur in 2011, with future gubernatorial elections to take place in 2015, 2019, 2023, etc.

State government

Kentucky's legislative branch consists of a bicameral body known as the Kentucky General Assembly. The Senate is considered the upper house. It has 38 members, and is led by the President of the Senate, currently Republican David L. Williams. The House of Representatives has 100 members, and is led by the Speaker of the House, currently Democrat Jody Richards.

The executive branch is headed by the governor and lieutenant governor. Under the current Kentucky Constitution, the lieutenant governor assumes the duties of the governor only if the governor is incapacitated. (Prior to 1992, the lieutenant governor assumed power any time the governor was out of the state.) The governor and lieutenant governor usually run on a single ticket (also per a 1992 constitutional amendment), and are elected to four-year terms. Currently, the governor and lieutenant governor are Democrats Steve Beshear and Daniel Mongiardo.

The judicial branch of Kentucky is made up of courts of limited jurisdiction called District Courts; courts of general jurisdiction called Circuit Courts; an intermediate appellate court, the Kentucky Court of Appeals; and a court of last resort, the Kentucky Supreme Court. Unlike federal judges, who are usually appointed, justices serving on Kentucky state courts are chosen by the state's populace in non-partisan elections.

The state's chief prosecutor, law enforcement officer, and law officer is the attorney general. The attorney general is elected to a four-year term and may serve two consecutive terms under the current Kentucky Constitution. The current Kentucky attorney general is Democrat Jack Conway.

Federal representation

Kentucky's two Senators are Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and Jim Bunning, both Republicans. The state is divided into six Congressional Districts, represented by Republicans Ed Whitfield (1st), Ron Lewis (2nd), Geoff Davis (4th), and Hal Rogers (5th), and Democrats John Yarmuth (3rd) and Ben Chandler (6th).

Judicially, Kentucky is split into two Federal court districts: the Kentucky Eastern District and the Kentucky Western District. Appeals are heard in the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals based in Cincinnati, Ohio.

Political leanings

Where politics are concerned, Kentucky historically has been very hard fought and leaned slightly toward the Democratic Party, although it was never included among the "Solid South." In 2006, 57.05% of the state's voters were officially registered as Democrats, 36.55% registered Republican, and 6.39% registered with some other political party.

Kentucky has voted Republican in five of the last seven presidential elections but has supported the Democratic candidates of the South. The Commonwealth supported Democrats Jimmy Carter in 1976, and Bill Clinton in 1992 and 1996, but Republican George W. Bush in 2000 and 2004. Bush won the state's 8 electoral votes overwhelmingly in 2004 by a margin of 20 percentage points and 59.6% of the vote.


Kentucky's body of laws, known as the Kentucky Revised Statutes (KRS), were enacted in 1942 to better organize and clarify the whole of Kentucky law.[49] The statutes are enforced by local police, sheriffs, constables, deputy sheriffs and deputy constables. Unless they have completed a police academy elsewhere, these officers are required to complete training at the Kentucky Department of Criminal Justice Training Center on the campus of Eastern Kentucky University. Additionally, in 1948, the Kentucky General Assembly established the Kentucky State Police, making it the 38th state to create a force whose jurisdiction extends throughout the given state.

Kentucky is one of 36 states in the United States that sanctions the death penalty for certain crimes. Those convicted of capital crimes after March 31, 1998 are always executed by lethal injection; those convicted before this date may opt for the electric chair. Only two people have been executed in Kentucky since the U.S. Supreme Court reinstituted the practice in 1976. The most notable execution in Kentucky, however, was that of Rainey Bethea on August 14, 1936. Bethea was publicly hanged in Owensboro for the rape and murder of Lischia Edwards. Irregularities with the execution led to this becoming the last public execution in the United States.

Kentucky has been on the front lines of the debate over displaying the Ten Commandments on public property. In the 2005 case of McCreary County v. ACLU of Kentucky, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the decision of the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals that a display of the Ten Commandments in the Whitley City courthouse of McCreary County was unconstitutional. Later that year, Judge Richard Fred Suhrheinrich, writing for the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals in the case of ACLU of Kentucky v. Mercer County, wrote that a display including the Mayflower Compact, the Declaration of Independence, the Ten Commandments, the Magna Carta, The Star-Spangled Banner, and the national motto could be erected in the Mercer County courthouse.


As of July 1, 2006, Kentucky has an estimated population of 4,206,074, which is an increase of 33,466, or 0.8%, from the prior year and an increase of 164,586, or 4.1%, since the year 2000. This includes a natural increase since the last census of 77,156 people (that is 287,222 births minus 210,066 deaths) and an increase due to net migration of 59,604 people into the state. Immigration from outside the United States resulted in a net increase of 27,435 people, and migration within the country produced a net increase of 32,169 people. As of 2004, Kentucky's population included about 95,000 foreign-born (2.3%).

Kentucky's total population has grown during every decade since records began. However during most decades of the 20th century there was also net out-migration from Kentucky. Since 1900, rural Kentucky counties have experienced a net loss of over 1 million people from migration, while urban areas have experienced a slight net gain.

The center of population of Kentucky is located in Washington County, in the city of Willisburg.

Race and ancestry

The five largest ancestries in the commonwealth are: American (20.9%) (Mostly of British ancestry), German (12.7%), Irish (10.5%), English (9.7%), African American (7.8%). Only eight Kentucky counties list an ancestry other than "American" as the county's largest, those being Christian and Fulton, where African American is the largest reported ancestry, and the state's most urban counties of Jefferson, Oldham, Fayette, Boone, Kenton, and Campbell, where German is the largest reported ancestry.

African Americans, who made up one-fourth of Kentucky's population prior to the Civil War, declined in number as many moved to the industrial North in the Great Migration. Today 44.2% of Kentucky's African American population is in Jefferson County and 52% are in the Louisville Metro Area. Other areas with high concentrations, besides Christian and Fulton Counties, are the city of Paducah, the Bluegrass, and the city of Lexington. Many mining communities in far Southeastern Kentucky also have populations between five and 10 percent African American.


In 2000, The Association of Religion Data Archives reported that of Kentucky's 4,041,769 residents:

  • 33.68% were members of evangelical Protestant churches
    • Southern Baptist Convention (979,994 members, 24.25%)
    • Independent Christian Churches/Churches of Christ (106,638 members, 2.64%)
    • Church of Christ (58,602 members, 1.45%)
  • 10.05% were Roman Catholics
  • 8.77% belonged to mainline Protestant churches
    • United Methodist Church (208,720 members, 5.16%)
    • Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) (67,611 members, 1.67%)
  • 0.05% were members of orthodox churches
  • 0.88% were affiliated with other theologies
  • 46.57% were not affiliated with any church.

Today Kentucky is home to several seminaries. Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville is the principal seminary for the Southern Baptist Convention. Louisville is also the home of the Louisville Presbyterian Theological Seminary. Lexington has two seminaries, Lexington Theological Seminary, and the Baptist Seminary of Kentucky. Asbury Theological Seminary is located in nearby Wilmore. In addition to seminaries, there are several colleges affiliated with denominations. Transylvania in Lexington is affiliated with the Disciples of Christ. In Louisville, Bellarmine and Spalding are affiliated with the Roman Catholic Church. In Owensboro, Kentucky, Kentucky Wesleyan College is associated with the Methodist Church and Brescia University is associated with the Roman Catholic Church. Louisville is also home to the headquarters of the Presbyterian Church (USA) and their printing press. Louisville is also home to a sizable Muslim and Jewish population.

Religious movements

Religious movements were important in the early history of Kentucky. Perhaps the most famous event was the interdenominational revival in August 1801 at the Cane Ridge Meeting house in Bourbon County. As part of what is now known as the "Western Revival", thousands began meeting around a Presbyterian communion service on August 6, 1801, and ended six days later on August 12, 1801 when both humans and horses ran out of food. Some claim that the Cane Ridge revival was propagated from an earlier camp meeting at Red River Meeting House in Logan County.


The total gross state product for 2006 was US$146 billion, 27th in the nation. Its per-capita personal income was US$28,513, 43rd in the nation. Kentucky's agricultural outputs are horses, cattle, tobacco, dairy products, hogs, soybeans, and corn. Its industrial outputs are transportation equipment, chemical products, electric equipment, machinery, food processing, tobacco products, coal, and tourism. The Eastern Kentucky Coal Fields are recognized as being among the most productive in the nation.

Kentucky ranks 4th among U.S. states in the number of automobiles and trucks assembled. The Chevrolet Corvette, Cadillac XLR, Ford Explorer, Ford Super Duty trucks, Toyota Camry, Toyota Avalon, and Toyota Solara are assembled in Kentucky.

Unlike many bordering states which developed a widespread industrial economy, much of rural Kentucky has maintained a farm based economy, with cattle, corn, and soybeans being the main crops. The area immediately outside Lexington is also the leading region for breeding Thoroughbred racing horses, due to the high calcium content in the soil. Despite being the 14th smallest state in terms of land area, Kentucky still ranks 5th in the total number of farms, with more farms per square mile than any other U.S. state. The average farm size in Kentucky is only 153 acres (0.6 km²).

Kentucky ranks 5th nationally in goat farming, 8th in beef cattle production, and 14th in corn production.

State taxes

There are 5 income tax brackets, ranging from 2% to 6% of personal income. The sales tax rate in Kentucky is 6%. Kentucky has a broadly based classified property tax system. All classes of property, unless exempted by the Constitution, are taxed by the state, although at widely varying rates. Many of these classes are exempted from taxation by local government. Of the classes that are subject to local taxation, three have special rates set by the General Assembly, one by the Kentucky Supreme Court and the remaining classes are subject to the full local rate, which includes the tax rate set by the local taxing bodies plus all voted levies. Real property is assessed on 100% of the fair market value and property taxes are due by December 31. Once the primary source of state and local government revenue, property taxes now account for only about 6% of the Kentucky's annual General Fund revenues.

Until January 1, 2006, Kentucky imposed a tax on intangible personal property held by a taxpayer on January 1 of each year. The Kentucky intangible tax was repealed under House Bill 272. Intangible property consisted of any property or investment which represents evidence of value or the right to value. Some types of intangible property included: bonds, notes, retail repurchase agreements, accounts receivable, trusts, enforceable contracts sale of real estate (land contracts), money in hand, money in safe deposit boxes, annuities, interests in estates, loans to stockholders, and commercial paper.

"Unbridled Spirit"

To boost Kentucky’s image, give it a consistent reach, and help Kentucky "stand out from the crowd", former Governor Ernie Fletcher launched a comprehensive branding campaign with the hope of making its $12 - $14 million advertising budget more effective. The "Unbridled Spirit" brand was the result of a $500,000 contract with New West, a Kentucky-based public relations advertising and marketing firm to develop a viable brand and tag line. The administration has been aggressively marketing the brand in both the public and private sectors. The "Welcome to Kentucky" signs at border areas have Unbridled Spirit's symbol on them.

The previous campaign was neither a failure nor a success. Kentucky's "It's that friendly" slogan hoped to draw more people into the state based of the idea of southern hospitality. Though most Kentuckians liked the slogan, as it embraced southern values, it was also not an image that encouraged tourism as much as initially hoped for. Therefore it was necessary to reconfigure a slogan to embrace Kentucky as a whole while also encouraging more people to visit the Bluegrass.



Kentucky is served by five major interstate highways (I-75, I-71, I-64, I-65, I-24), nine parkways, and three bypasses and spurs. The parkways were originally toll roads, but on November 22, 2006, Governor Ernie Fletcher ended the toll charges on the William H. Natcher Parkway and the Audubon Parkway, the last two parkways in Kentucky to charge tolls for access. The related toll booths have been demolished.

Ending the tolls some seven months ahead of schedule was generally agreed to have been a positive economic development for transportation in Kentucky. In June 2007, a law went into effect raising the speed limit on rural portions of Kentucky Interstates from 65 to 70 miles per hour.

Greyhound provides bus service to most major towns in the state.


  • Ashland, Kentucky (Amtrak station)
  • South Portsmouth-South Shore (Amtrak station)
  • Fulton (Amtrak station)

Amtrak, the national passenger rail system, provides service to Ashland, South Portsmouth and Fulton, Kentucky. The Cardinal, Trains 50 and 51, is the line that offers Amtrak service to Ashland and South Portsmouth. Amtrak Trains 58 and 59, the City of New Orleans serves Fulton. The Northern Kentucky area, is served by the Cardinal at the Cincinnati Museum Center at Union Terminal. The Museum Center is just across the Ohio River in Cincinnati.

As of 2004, there were approximately 2,640 miles (4,250.4 km) of railways in Kentucky, with about 65% of those being operated by CSX Transportation. Coal was by far the most common cargo, accounting for 76% of cargo loaded and 61% of cargo delivered.

Bardstown features a tourist attraction known as My Old Kentucky Dinner Train. Run along a 20-mile (30 km) stretch of rail purchased from CSX in 1987, guests are served a four-course meal as they make a two-and-a-half hour round-trip between Bardstown and Limestone Springs. The Kentucky Railway Museum is located in nearby New Haven.

Other areas in Kentucky are reclaiming old railways in rail trail projects. One such project is Louisville's Big Four Bridge. If completed, the Big Four Bridge rail trail will contain the second longest pedestrian-only bridge in the world. The longest pedestrian-only bridge is also found in Kentucky — the Newport Southbank Bridge, popularly known as the "Purple People Bridge", connecting Newport to Cincinnati, Ohio.


Kentucky's primary airports include Louisville International Airport (Standiford Field), Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport, and Blue Grass Airport. Louisville International Airport is home to UPS's Worldport, its international air-sorting hub. There are also a number of regional airports scattered across the state.

On August 27, 2006, Kentucky's Blue Grass Airport in Lexington was the site of a crash that killed 47 passengers and 2 crew members aboard a Bombardier Canadair Regional Jet designated Comair Flight 5191. The lone survivor was the flight's first officer, James Polehinke, who doctors determined to be brain damaged and unable to recall the crash at all. The NTSB's report has not yet been released, but reports state that the air traffic controller on duty at the time of the crash was working on approximately two hours of sleep with outdated charts of the airport. According to FAA rules, should have been working alongside another controller, which he was not.


Being bounded by the two largest rivers in North America, water transportation has historically played a major role in Kentucky's economy. Most barge traffic on Kentucky waterways consists of coal that is shipped from both the Eastern and Western Coalfields, about half of which is used locally to power many power plants located directly off the Ohio River, with the rest being exported to other countries, most notably Japan.

Many of the largest ports in the United States are located in or adjacent to Kentucky, including:

  • Huntington/Tri-State (includes Ashland, KY), largest inland port and 7th largest overall
  • Cincinnati-Northern Kentucky, 5th largest inland port and 43rd overall
  • Louisville-Southern Indiana, 7th largest inland port and 55th overall

As a state, Kentucky ranks 10th overall in port tonage.

The only natural obstacle along the entire length of the Ohio River was the Falls of the Ohio, located just west of Downtown Louisville.


Kentucky is subdivided into 120 counties, the largest being Pike County, Kentucky at 787.6 square miles, and the most populous being Jefferson County, Kentucky (the county containing Louisville Metro) with 693,604 residents as of 2000.

County government, under the Kentucky Constitution of 1891, is vested in the County Judge/Executive), (formerly called the County Judge) who serves as the executive head of the county, and a legislature called a Fiscal Court. Despite the unusual name, the Fiscal Court no longer has judicial functions.

Cities and towns

The Greater Louisville Metro Area holds a very disproportionate share of Kentucky's population, growth and wealth, and is by definition Kentucky's primate city. The city has a 2006 estimated population of 554,496, while the Louisville Combined Statistical Area (CSA) has a population of 1,356,798; including 1,003,025 in Kentucky, which is nearly 1/4 of the state's population. Since 2000 over 1/3 of the state's population growth has occurred in the Louisville CSA. In addition, the top 28 wealthiest places in Kentucky are in Jefferson County and seven of the 15 wealthiest counties in the state are located in the Louisville CSA.

The second largest city is Lexington with a 2006 census estimated population of 270,789 and its CSA having a population of 645,006. The Northern Kentucky area (the seven Kentucky counties in the Cincinnati CSA) had an estimated population of 408,783 in 2006. The metropolitan areas of Louisville, Lexington, and Northern Kentucky have a combined population of 2,169,394 as of 2006, which is 51.5% of the state's total population.

The two other fast growing urban areas in Kentucky are the Bowling Green area and the "Tri Cities Region" of southeastern Kentucky, comprising Somerset, London, and Corbin.

The largest county in Kentucky, is Pike, which contains Pikeville, home of Hillbilly Days. It also contains the small towns of Elkhorn City, South Williamson, and Coal Run.

Although only one town in the "Tri Cities", namely Somerset, currently has more than 10,000 people, the area has been experiencing heightened population and job growth since the 1990s. Growth has been especially rapid in Laurel County, which outgrew areas such as Scott and Jessamine counties around Lexington or Shelby and Nelson Counties around Louisville. London is currently on pace to double its population in the 2000s from 5,692 in 2000 to 10,879 in 2010. London also landed a Wal-Mart distribution center in 1997, bringing thousands of jobs to the community.

In northeast Kentucky, the greater Ashland area is an important transportation, manufacturing, and medical center. Iron and petroleum production, as well as the transport of coal by rail and barge, have been historical pillars of the region's economy. Due to a decline in the area's industrial base, Ashland has seen a sizable reduction in its population since 1990. The population of the area has since stabilized, however, with the medical service industry taking a greater role in the local economy. The Ashland area, including the counties of Boyd and Greenup, are part of the Huntington-Ashland, WV-KY-OH, Metropolitan Statistical Area (MSA). As of the 2000 census, the MSA had a population of 288,649. About 20,000 of those people reside within the city limits of Ashland.

Only three US states have capitals with smaller populations than Kentucky's Frankfort (pop. 27,408), those being Augusta, Maine (pop. 18,560), Pierre, South Dakota (pop. 13,876), and Montpelier, Vermont (pop. 8,035).


Kentucky maintains eight public four-year colleges and universities. The two major research institutions are the University of Kentucky, which is part of the land grant system, and the University of Louisville. Both combine for over 99% of endowment in the system and rank first or second in academic rankings and average ACT scores in the state system. The other six colleges in the state system are regional universities.

The state's sixteen public two-year colleges have been governed by the Kentucky Community and Technical College System since the passage of the Postsecondary Education Improvement Act of 1997, commonly referred to as House Bill 1. Prior to the passage of House Bill 1, most of these colleges were under the control of the University of Kentucky.

Berea College, located at the extreme southern edge of the Bluegrass below the Cumberland Plateau, was the first coeducational college in the South to admit both black and white students, doing so from its very establishment in 1855. This policy was successfully challenged in the United States Supreme Court in the case of Berea College v. Kentucky in 1908. This decision effectively segregated Berea until the landmark Brown v. Board of Education in 1954.

Kentucky has been the site of much educational reform over the past two decades. In 1989, the Kentucky Supreme Court ruled that the state's education system was unconstitutional. The response of the General Assembly was passage of the Kentucky Education Reform Act (KERA) the following year. Years later, Kentucky has shown progress, but most agree that further reform is needed.


Although Kentucky's culture is generally considered to be Southern, it is unique and also influenced by the Midwest and Southern Appalachia. The state is known for bourbon and whiskey distiling, tobacco, horse racing, and gambling. Kentucky is more similar to the Upper South in terms of ancestry which is predominantly American. Neveretheless, during the 19th century, the state Kentucky did receive a substantial number of German and Irish immigrants, who settled primarily in the Midwest. Only Maryland, Delaware, West Virginia, and Oklahoma, all also border states, have higher German ancestry percentages than Kentucky among Census-defined Southern states. Kentucky was a slave state, and blacks once comprised over one-quarter of its population. However, it lacked the cotton plantation system and never had the same high percentage of African Americans as most other slave states. With less than 8% of its current population being black, Kentucky is rarely included in modern-day definitions of the Black Belt, despite a relatively significant rural African American population in the Central and Western areas of the state. Kentucky adopted the Jim Crow system of racial segregation in most public spheres after the Civil War, but the state never disenfranchised African American citizens to the level of the Deep South states, and it peacefully integrated its schools after the 1954 Brown v. Board of Education verdict, later adopting the first state civil rights act in the South in 1966.

The biggest day in horse racing, the Kentucky Derby, is preceded by the two-week Kentucky Derby Festival in Louisville. Louisville also plays host to the Kentucky State Fair, the Kentucky Shakespeare Festival, and Southern gospel's annual highlight, the National Quartet Convention. Owensboro, Kentucky's third largest city, gives credence to its nickname of "Barbecue Capital of the World" by hosting the annual International Bar-B-Q Festival. Bowling Green, Kentucky's fifth largest city and home to the only assembly plant in the world that manufactures the Chevrolet Corvette, opened the National Corvette Museum in 1994.

Old Louisville, the largest historic preservation district in the United States featuring Victorian architecture and the third largest overall, hosts the St. James Court Art Show, the largest outdoor art show in the United States. The neighborhood was also home to the Southern Exposition (1883–1887), which featured the first public display of Thomas Edison's light bulb, and was the setting of Alice Hegan Rice's novel, Mrs. Wiggs of the Cabbage Patch and Fontaine Fox's comic strip, the "Toonerville Trolley.

The more rural communities are not without traditions of their own, however. Hodgenville, the birthplace of Abraham Lincoln, hosts the annual Lincoln Days Celebration, and will also host the kick-off for the National Abraham Lincoln Bicentennial Celebration in February 2008. Bardstown celebrates its heritage as a major bourbon-producing region with the Kentucky Bourbon Festival. (Legend holds that Baptist minister Elijah Craig invented bourbon with his black slave in Georgetown, but some dispute this claim.) Glasgow mimics Glasgow, Scotland by hosting the Glasgow Highland Games, its own version of the Highland Games, and Sturgis hosts "Little Sturgis", a mini version of Sturgis, South Dakota's annual Sturgis Motorcycle Rally. The residents of tiny Benton even pay tribute to their favorite tuber, the sweet potato, by hosting Tater Day. Residents of Clarkson in Grayson County celebrate their city's ties to the honey industry by celebrating the Clarkson Honeyfest. The Clarkson Honeyfest is held the last Thursday, Friday and Saturday in September, and is the "Official State Honey Festival of Kentucky."


The breadth of music in Kentucky is indeed wide, stretching from the Purchase to the eastern mountains.

Renfro Valley, Kentucky is home to Renfro Valley Entertainment Center and the Kentucky Music Hall of Fame and is known as "Kentucky's Country Music Capital," a designation given it by the Kentucky State Legislature in the late 1980s. The Renfro Valley Barn Dance was where Renfro Valley's musical heritage began, in 1939, and influential country music luminaries like Red Foley, Homer & Jethro, Lily May Ledford & the Original Coon Creek Girls, Martha Carson, and many others have performed as regular members of the shows there over the years. The Renfro Valley Gatherin' is today America's second oldest continually broadcast radio program of any kind. It is broadcast on local radio station WRVK and a syndicated network of nearly 200 other stations across the United States and Canada every week.

Contemporary Christian music star Steven Curtis Chapman is a Paducah native, and Rock and Roll Hall of Famers The Everly Brothers are closely connected with Muhlenberg County, where older brother Don was born. Kentucky was also home to Mildred and Patty Hill, the Louisville sisters credited with composing the tune to the ditty Happy Birthday to You in 1893; Loretta Lynn (Johnson County), and Billy Ray Cyrus (Flatwoods). However, its depth lies in its signature sound — Bluegrass music. Bill Monroe, "The Father of Bluegrass", was born in the small Ohio County town of Rosine, while Ricky Skaggs, Keith Whitley, David "Stringbean" Akeman, Louis Marshall "Grandpa" Jones, Sonny and Bobby Osborne, and Sam Bush (who has been compared to Monroe) all hail from Kentucky. The International Bluegrass Music Museum is located in Owensboro,[124] while the annual Festival of the Bluegrass is held in Lexington.

Kentucky is also home to famed jazz musician and pioneer, Lionel Hampton (although this has been disputed in recent years). Blues legend W.C. Handy and R&B singer Wilson Pickett also spent considerable time in Kentucky. The pop bands Midnight Star and Nappy Roots were both formed in Kentucky, as were country acts The Kentucky Headhunters and Montgomery Gentry, as well as Dove Award-winning Christian groups Audio Adrenaline (rock) and Bride (metal).


Kentucky's cuisine, like much of the state's culture, is unique and is considered to blend elements of both the South and Midwest, given its location between the two regions. One original Kentucky dish is called the Hot Brown, a dish normally layered in this order: bread, tomatoes, turkey, bacon, and topped with melted cheese. It was developed at the Brown Hotel in Louisville. The Pendennis Club in Louisville is the Birthplace of the drink The Old Fashioned.



Kentucky is the home of several sports teams such as Minor League Baseball's Class A Lexington Legends and AAA Louisville Bats. They are also home to the Frontier Leagues Florence Freedom, the Louisville Chill of the Midwest Hockey League, and several teams in the MCFL. The Lexington Horsemen and Louisville Fire of the af2 appear to be interested in making a move up to the "major league" Arena Football League. Major league teams in nearby cities, typically have strong fan support depending on the part of the state, with Nashville teams having strong fan support in South Central and most of Western Kentucky, Nashville and St. Louis teams competing for loyalties in the Purchase, Indianapolis, Cincinnati and Chicago teams predominating in the Louisville area, and Cincinnati teams having strong support in Central and Eastern Kentucky.[citation needed] The northern part of the state lies across the Ohio River from Cincinnati, which is home to a National Football League team, the Bengals, and a Major League Baseball team, the Reds. It is not uncommon for fans to park in the city of Newport and use the Newport Southbank Pedestrian Bridge, locally known as the "Purple People Bridge," to walk to these games in Cincinnati. Many restaurants and stores in Newport rely on business from these fans.[citation needed] Also, Georgetown College in Georgetown is the location for the Bengals' summer training camp.

As in many states, especially those without major league professional sport teams, college athletics are very important. This is especially true of the state's three Division I Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS) programs, including the Kentucky Wildcats, the Western Kentucky University Hilltoppers, and the Louisville Cardinals. The Wildcats, Hilltoppers, and Cardinals are among the most tradition-rich college basketball teams in the United States, combining for nine championships and 22 NCAA Final Fours; and all three are on the lists of total all-time wins, wins per season, and average wins per season. Louisville has also stepped onto the football scene in recent years, with eight straight bowl games, including the 2007 Orange Bowl. Western Kentucky, the 2002 national champion in Division I-AA football (now Division I Football Championship Subdivision (FCS), is currently transitioning to Division I FBS football.

Ohio Valley Wrestling in Louisville was the primary location for training and rehab for WWE professional wrestlers from 2000 until February 2008, when WWE ended its relationship with OVW and moved all of its contracted talent to Florida Championship Wrestling.

State symbols

Official state places and events

  • State arboretum: Bernheim Arboretum and Research Forest
  • State botanical garden: The Arboretum: State Botanical Garden of Kentucky
  • State Science Center: Louisville Science Center
  • State center for celebration of African American heritage: Kentucky Center for African American Heritage
  • State honey festival: Clarkson Honeyfest[134]
  • State amphitheater: Iroquois Amphitheater (Louisville)
  • State tug-o-war championship: The Fordsville Tug-of-War Championship
  • Covered Bridge Capital of Kentucky: Fleming County
  • Official Covered Bridge of Kentucky: Switzer Covered Bridge (Franklin County)
  • Official steam locomotive of Kentucky: "Old 152" (located in the Kentucky Railway Museum in New Haven)
  • Official pipe band: Louisville Pipe Band
  • State bourbon festival: Kentucky Bourbon Festival, Incorporated, of Bardstown, Kentucky

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