Geography and Landforms:

Kentucky is composed of five geographic regions:

Bluegrass Region: This north-central area of Kentucky extends into Ohio but is bordered in Kentucky on the north and west by the Ohio River. It is characterized by rolling meadows in the central portion and by sandstone "knobs" on the eastern, southern, and western edges. These areas are referred to as the Knobs Region.

Cumberland Plateau: The Appalachian Plateau which extends from New York to Alabama is referred to as the Cumberland Plateau in Kentucky. This area, in the eastern portion of the state, consists of mountains, plateaus, and valleys. The Cumberland and Pine mountain ranges are found in this region of Kentucky as well as Black Mountain, the highest point in the state.

Western Coal Field: Northwestern Kentucky is a land of hills bordered by the Ohio River on the north, and the Pennyroyal region on the east, west, and south. It's called the Western Coal Field because of its large coal deposits. Farmland borders the Ohio River in the Western Coal Field.

Pennyroyal Region: The Pennyroyal Region (also called Pennyrile) stretches along the southern border of Kentucky from the Appalachian Plateau west all the way to Kentucky Lake. The southern portion of the Pennyroyal Region consists of flat lands with some rolling hills. In the center of the region lies a treeless area called The Barrens. The northern section consists of rocky ridges. Under this rocky area are underground caves and tunnels. Mammoth Cave is located in the Pennyroyal region. The Pennyroyal region is named after the small herb that grows there.

Jackson Purchase Region: This area, which includes the far western tip of Kentucky, is bordered on the east by Kentucky Lake. To the north is the Ohio River; to the west, the Mississippi River. This area is characterized by flood plains with low hills. The Mississippi River crosses the Madrid Fault zone here. Earthquakes in 1811 and 1812 caused the Mississippi River to flow backwards! Reelfoot Lake, near the Tennessee border was created when this happened.


During the Revolutionary War (1775-1783), Native Americans who sided with Britain attacked Kentucky settlements. For protection, territorial settlements in what would eventually be Kentucky became part of Virginia in 1776. In 1778, Virginians captured three British trading posts that were supplying weapons to the Indians. This helped to end most of the attacks against Kentucky settlers. The last major Indian raid in Kentucky occurred at the Battle of Blue Licks in 1782, although small skirmishes and raids continued until 1813.

Kentucky became a separate county of Virginia in 1776. Soon after the end of the American Revolution, a separation movement began in Kentucky. In 1792, after nine conventions to discuss the issue, Kentucky became a separate state. It was admitted to the Union as the fifteenth state. Isaac Shelby was chosen as the first governor. Kentucky's first constitution was drafted in April and May of that year, and Frankfort was chosen as the state capital. In 1818, the westernmost region of the state was annexed, following its purchase from the Chickasaw Indians.

With the outbreak of the Civil War in 1861, the state was torn apart by conflicting loyalties. Although Kentucky was officially a neutral state and never seceded from the Union, both the Union and Confederate governments quickly recognized its strategic potential. Armies for both sides recruited in Kentucky. A Confederate government existed for a brief time at Bowling Green. Both sides staged invasions of the state, and by the war's end, Kentucky had supplied about 86,000 troops to the north and 40,000 troops to the south. Ironically, south-central Kentucky was the birthplace of both the Union president, Abraham Lincoln, and the Confederate president, Jefferson Davis, further enhancing the state's contradictory role in the Civil War.

Kentucky's most violent Civil War conflict took place near Perryville on October 8, 1862. The battle cost 1,300 dead and 5,400 wounded, and it ended the Confederacy's advance into Kentucky. Smaller battles and skirmishes occurred throughout the state.

Following the war's end, Kentuckians' sympathies were aligned much more closely with those of the southern states. Many citizens were unhappy with reconstruction policy as it was being administered, and federal acts concerning blacks' rights bred strong resentment throughout much of the state. Turmoil due to economic instability and social problems hampered the state's progress from the end of the Civil War well into the early 20th century.


After its admission to the Union as the fifteenth state, Kentucky prospered and agriculture became the economic mainstay for the Commonwealth. Tobacco had become Kentucky's primary cash crop by 1787. Kentucky was also a leading producer of the world's hemp supply, used for making rope and fiber products until jute became popular in the early 1900's. Corn, also produced in Kentucky, was difficult to transport in dried form, and was transported more easily when distilled into whiskey.

After the Civil War ended, slavery was illegal. As a result, Kentucky's economy suffered a depression that hit most of the South. Hemp production was the most affected as cotton production declined and traffic along the Mississippi and Ohio Rivers decreased. Kentucky continued to lead the nation in growing tobacco. An interest in horse racing led many to raise thoroughbred horses. Several new mines opened as railroad expansion increased the need for coal and oil.

Large-scale coal mining in eastern Kentucky's mountains began in the early 1900's as the railroads penetrated the previously isolated area. After periods of major labor conflicts during the 1930's and fluctuation in the demand for coal, the industry has achieved an important place in the Kentucky economy, and Kentucky has become one of the nation's leading coal-producing states.

In 1933, the federal government created jobs through the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) program. Dams were built along the Tennessee and Cumberland Rivers and throughout the state. Many worked on state highways and others conserving natural resources.

World War II (1939-1945) also created jobs with the U.S. military and supplying weapons and food to U.S. soldiers. During the 1960s, the coal industry grew rising to second place nationally. The TVA began building recreational areas in western Kentucky and a steam-generating plant in Paradise.

During the late 1950's, Kentucky emerged as an industrial state. Today, manufacturing is Kentucky's largest industry group. Kentucky's largest industry groups, based on their contribution to the total state gross product in 1996, are manufacturing; services; finance, insurance, and real estate; retail trade; transportation and public utilities; government; wholesale trade; construction; mining; farming; and agricultural services, forestry, and fisheries.

With six national areas, 49 state parks, and hundreds of recreational, natural, historic, and cultural attractions, Kentucky abounds in travel opportunities. Tourism and travel is Kentucky's third largest revenue-producing industry, contributing $8.8 billion to the state's economy in 2001. Tourism and travel is also the second largest private employer, providing 168,500 jobs.

First Inhabitants:

Kentucky's first human inhabitants were descendants of prehistoric peoples who migrated from Asia over an artic land bridge to North America around 30,000 years ago. When Hernando de Soto entered Kentucky on May 10th, 1541, he described one Indian Tribe in Western Kentucky between the Cumberland and Ohio Rivers, calling them by slightly different names, ranging from Quizquiz (influenced by a place name of renown from DeSoto's Conquest of Peru) to Quizqui to Chisca, all sounding about the same in their language. The French would call them Casqui and the English Kashinampo. That tribe shared a unique language with the Casqui of Southern Indiana, the Alabamu of Central Tennessee and the Coste of Eastern Tennessee. They lived next to each other when DeSoto visited each of them, but that entire Indian language group would be scattered well before being described by later Europeans.

Until the arrival of the first white settlers, Shawnee tribes from north of the Ohio river and the Cherokee and Chickasaw tribes from south of the Cumberland river fought for control of the "Great Meadow." During this time, no one Indian nation held possession of the land that would eventually become Kentucky.

During the second half of the 17th century, European explorers - French, Spanish, and English began entering the region, and by 1749 land companies were being formed to survey Kentucky and stake claims. Dr. Thomas Walker and Christopher Gist led the first surveying parties into Kentucky in 1750 and 1751, respectively. However, the outbreak of the French and Indian War in 1754 delayed further exploration of the state for over a decade.

Daniel Boone visited Kentucky in 1767, and in 1769, and led a group through the Cumberland Gap to the Kentucky River, forging the famous Wilderness Trail. There they established Boonesborough, one of the first permanent white settlements in Kentucky. By the time Simon Kenton ventured into northern Kentucky in 1771, a stream of traders, surveyors, and settlers was moving westward from Pennsylvania, Virginia, and North Carolina, eager to find new land and new fortunes.

Books Related To Kentucky

B is for Bluegrass: A Kentucky Alphabet - Mary Ann Riehle
(978-1585360567) , Non-fiction
Interest level: 0-2, ESL level: 1 - 2
This book features all the things that are special about the state of Kentucky.

The Champ: The Story of Muhammad Ali - Tonya Bolden
(978-0375824012) , Non-fiction
Interest level: 3-7, Lexile: 820, ESL level: 3 - 4
This biography of Muhammad Ali covers his career as a champion boxer and his religious conversion.

Chasing Redbird - Sharon Creech
(978-0064406963) , Fiction
Interest level: 2-9, Lexile: 860, ESL level: 4
After her aunt dies, a young woman works off her grief by cleaning a hiking trail near her Kentucky home.

Danger at Sand Cave - Candice Ranson
(978-1575054544) , Fiction
Interest level: 1-5, Lexile: 180, ESL level: 2
In this fictionalized account involving the death of a famous explorer due to a cave collapse, a young boy tries to find and rescue Floyd Collins, despite danger to himself.

Dexter the Tough - Margaret Peterson Haddix
(978-1416911708) , Fiction
Interest level: 1-5, Lexile: 690, ESL level:
Dexter's aggressive behavior on his first day in a new school is sympathetically approached by an understanding teacher after he is sent to Kentucky to live while his father undergoes cancer treatment.

Dream of Night - Heather Henson
(978-1416948995) , Fiction
Interest level: 3-8, Lexile: 470, ESL level: 3
An abused racehorse, an abused child, and a sympathetic caregiver all tell their stories in this book with multiple perspectives.

Faith, Hope, and Ivy June - Phyllis Reynolds Naylor
(978-0385905886) , Fiction
Interest level: 6-10, Lexile: 900, ESL level: 3 - 4
Catherine changes places with Ivy June on a special school program; the girls find their lives have a host of similarities despite vast differences in their social and economic backgrounds.

My Mountain Song - Shutta Crum
(978-0618159703) , Fiction
Interest level: 1-3, ESL level: 2
Brenda views the family fights as material for the song she writes about her life in Kentucky.

Runaround - Helen Hemphill
(978-1590787779) , Fiction
Interest level: 5-12, Lexile: 670, ESL level: 3 - 4
Pre-teen Sassy feels she desperately needs a boyfriend, but she has no idea how to attract one or that the object of her quest is actually interested in her sister; this disturbing book contrasts rough Kentucky life and the view of young adulthood in Sassy's teen love magazines.

Tadpole - Ruth White
(978-0756949242) , Fiction
Interest level: 4-8, Lexile: 760, ESL level: 3 - 4
Four young girls welcome their male cousin to a seemingly idyllic existence in rural Kentucky, but then their mother discovers his guardian abuses him.

Trouble Don't Last - Shelley Pearsall
(978-0440418115) , Fiction
Interest level: 3-10, Lexile: 720, ESL level: 2 - 3
Two slaves of widely different ages and families try to escape together to Canada using the Underground Railroad to help them.

Famous Citizens:

Daniel Boone
While not a native Kentuckian, Daniel Boone achieved much of his fame as an American Pioneer and explorer in Kentucky. In his travels through Kentucky, Boone had many run-ins with the American Indian tribes that claimed the rich hunting ground. The most harrowing occurred in 1778 when a salt-making party that Boone was leading was ambushed at Blue Licks. Boone surrendered his men in order to spare their lives and delay an attack on the fort. Boone spent more than five months with the Shawnee and was adopted by Chief Blackfish and given the name Sheltowee, or Big Turtle. Boone escaped in June and returned to Boonesborough in time to warn them of an impending raid. Following a ten-day siege, the Indians finally withdrew and the hostilities lessened. During the Revolutionary War, Boone served as a captain in the local militia, and after the War, continued his exploration west.

Jefferson Davis
Jefferson Davis was born in southwestern Kentucky. His family moved to Mississippi during his infancy but Davis returned to Kentucky for his education. He attended a Dominican School near present day Springfield and Transylvania College in Lexington for three years before securing an appointment to West Point. In 1835 he married the daughter of Zachary Taylor, but she died shortly thereafter. Davis became the only President of the Confederate States of America during the Civil War, but near the end of the War, with the South in ruins and Grant's Army near, he fled Richmond. After his capture in Georgia at the end of the war the former president spent two years in jail for treason but was released before trial. A private businessman and author after his release, Jefferson Davis died in 1889 at the age of 81.

Abraham Lincoln
Abraham Lincoln was born in a log cabin in Kentucky, and is one of a handful of US Presidents who was truly born of ordinary frontier people. He struggled to attain an education, and eventually spent 8 years as an Illinois state senator. In 1858, he ran against Stephen A. Douglas for US Senator. Although he did not win the election, his debates with Douglas brought him national prominence. In 1860, Lincoln was nominated for the Presidency by the Republican Party. As President, he confronted one of the most difficult times in our nation's history: the Civil War. When Southern states seceded from the Union, Lincoln believed that action to be illegal, and was prepared to use Federal troops to enforce that belief. On January 1, 1863, he issued the Emancipation Proclamation, freeing slaves being held in the Confederate States. Lincoln was re-elected in 1864 as the Civil War was ending, but was assassinated in April, 1865, by John Wilkes Booth, a Southern sympathizer.

Carrie Amelia Moore Nation
Six feet tall and weighing 180 pounds, Carry Amelia Moore Nation, (Carrie Nation, as she is better known), was intimidating. Carrying a hatchet and using it to destroy bars and saloons, she was downright frightful. Nation, born in Garrard County, Kentucky, who described herself as "a bulldog running along at the feet of Jesus, barking at what he doesn't like," felt God had called her to promote temperance. Between 1900 and 1910 she was arrested some 30 times after leading her followers in the destruction of one saloon after another with cries of "Smash, ladies, smash!"

Harland David "Colonel" Sanders
Harland Sanders, better known as "Colonel Sanders", the creator of Kentucky Fried Chicken, was 40 before he began to develop his recipe for chicken. He began cooking for hungry travelers who stopped at his service station in Corbin, Kentucky. He served his customers at his own dining table in the living quarters of his service station.

As word spread of Sanders' good food, business expanded rapidly and by 1937, his cafe could seat nearly 150 customers. Over the next nine years, he perfected his "secret blend of 11 herbs and spices" and experimented with faster ways to cook chicken.

Capital: Frankfort
Entered Union: June 1, 1792
Population: 4,413,457
Area 40,409
Bird Cardinal
Flower Goldenrod
Nickname: Bluegrass State
Governor Steven Beshear

Places to Visit in Kentucky: (Click the links to learn more.)

Abraham Lincoln Birthplace - Hodgenville
In the fall of 1808, Thomas and Nancy Lincoln settled on the 348 acre Sinking Spring Farm. Two months later on February 12, 1809, Abraham Lincoln was born in a one-room log cabin near the Sinking Spring. Here the Lincolns lived and farmed before moving to land a few miles away at Knob Creek. The area was established by Congress on July 17, 1916 as a national park. An early 19th century Kentucky cabin, symbolic of the one in which Lincoln was born, is preserved in a memorial building at the site of his birth.

Churchill Downs - Louisville
Churchill Downs is a historic race track that is home to the Kentucky Derby. The Kentucky Derby Museum is the world's largest equine museum. Visitors can take guided walking tours of Churchill Downs and the Museum's paddock area (weather permitting). The actual Finish Line pole used at Churchill Downs for many years, as well as the grave sites of three famous Kentucky Derby winners, Carry Back (1961), Swaps (1955) and Brokers Tip (1933) are located outside on the museum grounds.

Cumberland Gap National Historical Park - Middlesboro
The gap, an 800 ft. deep natural break in the Cumberland Mountains, is surrounded by the largest National Historical Park in the country with 20,305 ruggedly beautiful acres. Overlooks three states.

National Corvette Museum - Bowling Green
This 68,000 square foot facility is a tribute to America's Sports Car. Over 50 beautiful Corvettes from the past, present and future are displayed. Visitors can also tour the Corvette assembly plant across the street.

Mammoth Cave - Cave City
Mammoth Cave National Park was established to preserve the cave system, including Mammoth Cave, the scenic river valleys of the Green and Nolin rivers, and a section of south central Kentucky. This is the longest recorded cave system in the world with more than 336 miles explored and mapped.