History of Pulaski County

Pulaski County, the twenty-seventh county in order of formation, is located in south-central Kentucky. The county is bounded by Casey, Lincoln, Rockcastle, Laurel, McCreary, Wayne, and Russell counties and contains an area of 660 square miles. It is roughly diamond shaped and contains a wide variety of terrains, including rugged hills to the east and south and rolling farmland to the west. The dominant geographical feature is the Cumberland River, which meanders across the southern part of the county. The river is impounded by the Tennessee Valley Authority's Wolf Creek Dam, which created Lake Cumberland in 1952 and helped to make tourism an important local industry. Despite the rapid growth of Somerset in the 1970s and 1980s, the county is mostly rural and has little fertile soil. SOMERSET is the county seat.

Permanent settlement of the area north of the Cumberland River and west of the Rockcastle River occurred after the end of the Revolutionary War, when around 3,000 people located in the area between 1782 and 1798. Led by several Revolutionary War veterans, these citizens petitioned for the creation of a county to serve their needs. Kentucky's legislature responded favorably to the request and proposed to divide Green and Lincoln counties to form the new county. Gov. James Garrard (1796-1804) signed the act into law on December 10, 1798.

Since many of the early settlers were veterans, they chose to name the county after a famous Revolutionary War figure. Nicholas Jasper suggested that the county bear the name of the Polish-American patriot Casimir Pulaski, who was killed at Savannah in 1779 along with one of Nicolas’s brothers, Sergeant William Jasper. On June 24, 1801, the commissioners directed that the county seat be called Somerset, located on forty acres donated by William Dodson for that purpose.

Monterey Square Savannah GA This square was named to commemorate the Mexican War Battle and capture of Monterey, Mexico. A monument honoring Count Casimir Pulaski, who suffered fatal wounds during the 1779 Siege of Savannah can be found here. Monterey Square is located on Bull Street, between Taylor & Gordon Streets.

There are other Pulaski counties named after Revolutionary War hero Casmir Pulaski . One is Pulaski County, Indiana, named for and organized in 1839.

Because of the lack of good roads, Pulaski County was isolated and grew slowly. In spite of slow population growth-from 3,000 in 1800 to just over 17,000 in 1860-numerous businesses and industries developed in the antebellum period. Pioneer merchant Cyrenius Wait moved to Pulaski County from New England and developed a salt-works, operated a wharf on the river at Waitsboro, and planted mulberry trees in hopes of creating a silk industry. Along with Tunstall Quarles, a local politician and U.S. congressman (1817-20), he helped pioneer both the banking and insurance industries in the county.

By the mid-nineteenth century, the county's economic mainstays included farming, cattle, and coal. In 1870 Pulaski ranked sixth among livestock-producing counties in the state. During the years before and after the Civil War, twelve mines in eastern Pulaski County produced coal that was transported to Nashville by barge. In 1878 eighteen of these barges carrying 100,000 bushels of coal sank in the treacherous waters of Smith's Shoals above Burnside. The industry never fully recovered.

At the beginning of the Civil War, fewer than 10 percent of Pulaski County's population consisted of black slaves. Many county residents were Southern sympathizers, but the majority of the population supported the Union. Two important Civil War battles, Mill Springs and Dutton's Hill, took place within the county's boundaries. Neither was especially destructive to life or property. Somerset was occupied by a Union garrison for a portion of the war and was raided by Confederate Gen. John Hunt Morgan and his cavalry. Toward the end of the war, engineers and surveyors from the Union army visited Pulaski to map out a roadbed for a military railroad, and their survey reached as far as Point Isabel on the Cumberland River. Point Isabel was renamed Burnside in honor of the Union general. In 1866 the U.S. War Department established a permanent national cemetery in western Pulaski County near the site of the Civil War engagement of Mill Springs, where over six hundred Union dead were buried. Less than a mile to the south is a Confederate cemetery, near where Confederate Gen. Felix Zollicoffer fell during the Battle of Mill Springs.

In the years after the Civil War, Pulaski County became a political bastion of the Republican party. Thomas Z. Morrow, of Somerset, was one of the founders of Kentucky's Grand Old Party. In its history, only three Democrats-Andrew Jackson, James Buchanan, and Woodrow Wilson-have carried Pulaski County in a presidential contest. From Lincoln's second election in 1864, the Republican majority for president has exceeded 60 percent in almost every election. County residents in the twentieth century have also voted Republican in state and local elections.

In 1877 the Cincinnati & Southern (now Norfolk Southern) Railway came to Pulaski County, which led to rapid growth in Somerset, Ferguson, Burnside, and other towns along the right-of-way, and to virtual abandonment of many of the county's smaller hamlets. Afterward came large logging and sawmill operations. The period of industrial activity peaked when the Cincinnati & Southern ("Queen and Crescent") opened its Ferguson repair yard. For over a generation, the railroad and the shops were an economic mainstay. A sleepy county seat with only 587 people in 1870, Somerset swelled to be a regional metropolis by 1900 with almost 6,000 people.

At the turn of the century, Pulaski County's Edwin Porch Morrow, future governor (1919-23), began his political rise. A familiar figure at numerous Republican national conventions, Morrow was a formidable orator, and after losing by only 471 votes in the 1915 governor's race, Morrow returned to the political wars in 1919 to upset the incumbent governor, James D. Black (1919). After his election, an estimated 10,000 people gathered around the Pulaski County Courthouse to congratulate the only governor the county has produced.

Pulaski County's population reached its peak in 1920 and thereafter began a slow decline which was not reversed until the 1960s. Despite a relatively high county birth rate, young residents of Pulaski and other rural counties emigrated for jobs offered by Cincinnati's Procter & Gamble and Detroit's booming automobile industry.

John Sherman Cooper began his long career of service to the county, state, and nation as the Great Depression worsened. In the 1930s, Cooper served as county judge and watched as Pulaski tax receipts fell from $95,000 in 1930 to $57,000 by 1936. In the depression's bleakest days, 2,000 county families received federal food commodities. In 1933 the Pulaski County sheriff sold 460 farms for nonpayment of taxes. Before the Great Depression ended, Franklin D. Roosevelt's New Deal poured $800,000 in aid into the county.

After World War II, the Southern Railroad closed the Ferguson shops, but the completion of Wolf Creek Dam and the creation of the vast Lake Cumberland opened new possibilities for fishing, recreation, and tourism. By the 1960s the county's economy became more diversified with several small industries producing clothing, charcoal, houseboats, and automobile parts. In the 1980s, Pulaski County evolved into a regional business, medical, and educational center. Most of the county, however, remained rural and as of 1985 contained 2,400 farms which produced large quantities of pork, beef, poultry, milk, corn, soybeans, and tobacco. Many Pulaski Countians who have city jobs live in rural areas. Ever since 1798, most residents have been Baptist and the Flat Lick congregation in eastern Pulaski County is as old as the county itself. In 1990 about ninety of the county's 140 churches were Baptist.

Burnside's Harriette Simpson Arnow dealt in her novels with Kentuckians confronting the early twentieth century. The Dollmaker (1954), her most famous work, examined the human cost of the migration of Kentuckians to the factories of the north. Her novels and historical works, Seedtime on the Cumberland (1960) and Flowering of the Cumberland (1963), gave Pulaski County a place in American literature.

The population of Pulaski County was 35,234 in 1970; 45,803 in 1980; and 49,489 in 1990.



Additional History/Facts:

Pulaski County is located in the south central part of the state and was the twenty-seventh county formed in Kentucky. It was created by an Act of the General Asssembly, December 10, 1798, to begin June, 1799. It was formed out of the territory of Lincoln and Green Counties. The assembly named the county in honor of Count Casimir Pulaski, a Polish officer who assisted our fore fathers in their struggle for freedom from England.

Several changes have taken place in the boundaries first made. Wayne County was formed from Pulaski, December 10, 1800. Rockcastle in 1810. Part of Pulaski was added to Whitley County February 1825. Another part was added to Wayne County in 1831. Russell County received a part of Pulaski territory February 22, 1839. The last change was make in 1912 when McCreary was formed from Pulaski, Wayne, and Whitley Counties.

Somerset was selected as the County seat February 24, 1801. The first officers of the County in the year 1799 were Judge Samuel GILMORE; Clerk of County Court-----William FOX; Sheriff-----Samuel NEWELL; Attorney-----Archibald MILLS; Tax Comissioner-----Andrew EVANS; Surveyor-----Thomas WILES.

In the first marriage book is found:

John COOPER married Polly MCCOWAN, August 19, 1801 by Rev. Thomas HILL.

John MCNISH married Patsy COOPER, August 18, 1801 by Rev. Thomas HILL.

Abner COOPER married Polly SPENCER, Dec. 17, 1801 by Rev. Thomas HILL.

John Milton WEDDLE married Polly MCDANIEL, August 8, 1803 by John MCWHORTER.

Polly, daughter of Spencer MCDANIEL, SR. Bond signed by Spencer MCDANIEL and Daneil WEDDLE.

Christian TARTER married Betsey TRIMBLE, Nov., 23, 1817 by Rev. John BLACK.

Betsey, daughter of William TRIMBLE.

The first Military Claim was to Thomas HANSFORD on April 22, 1800, and the second to Henry WADDLE and Michael STONER, (page 42, order book 1). Claims followed to Thomas BANKS, Edward COOPER, Samuel DUNCAN, Aaron LAWSON, Drury LEE, David McELMER, and Henry MOORE.

Andrew McDANIEL gave power of Attorney to Achilles JASPER to collect for troops commanded by Co. Micah TAUL, Seventh Regiment of Mounted Volunteers. He, Andrew McDANIEL, was entitled to the pay as a private for two months and twenty-one days for service under Captain TATE, August 19, 1815.

Members of the Legislature from Pulaski County, 1800 to 1825, were:

Representatives: John JAMES, Robert MODERIL, Tunstall QUARLES, Henry JAMES, Thomas DOLLERHIDE; Robert GILMORE; James PORTER, Gideon PRATHER, George B. COOPER, Charles CUNNINGHAM, Bourne GOGGIN

Senators: John GRIFFIN, Thomas DOLLARHIDE, and John COWAN.

Some of the early settlers of the county were: Samuel ELLIOT, William FOX, John GIBSON, Samuel NEWELL, William OWENS, Jesse RICHARDSON, Michael STONER, John TARTER, William TRIMBLE, Samuel TATE, John Milton WEDDLE, Spencer McDANIEL, Daniel WEDDLE, Henry WADDLE, and Thomas WILES.

There were other: John HAMM, Benjamin HAIL, Malachi COOPER, Jack HAMMONDS, Beton LEE, and many more.

Some of the early churches in the county were: Sinking Creek Baptist, Fishing Creek Baptist, Flat Lick Baptist, Hopeful Baptist, Mt. Gilead CHurch and Pisgah Church (Presbyterian).

The earliest school was Somerset Academy, the trustees being William FOX, James HARDGROVE, Robert MODRELL, and Jesse RICHARDSON. The year was 1802.

The first bank in Somerset was organized January 1818. It was known as the Farmers Bank, with Tunstall QUARLES as it's president.

The first record of a tavern or "ordinary" was issued to Henry FRANCIS September 24, 1799 ---- "to keep a tavern at his dwelling house in the County of Pulaski, with Samuel NEWELL as his security."

Mills Springs National Cemetery is located in the western part of the county. This is the site of the battle of Mills Springs, or Logans Crossroads, and was a turning point in the Civil War. General Zollicoffer, of the Confederate army, was killed in the battle and a monument marks the spot. Nearby is a marker of the grave containing over one hundred Confederate soldiers. The land for the Union soldiers was donated by S.H. LOGAN, and that for the Confederate soldiers was donated by his daughter, Colanza TRIMBLE.

Some of the most prominent citizens of the county through the years are: Senator John Sherman COOPER, Governor Edwin P. MORROW, and Dr. Arthur W. ALLEN -- nationally known surgeon.

The population of the county in the year 1800 was 3,161, and in 1970 it had grown to about 50,000. Some of the pioneers who came here moved on West, but many of their descendants are living here today.

Pulaski County Courthouse is located at 100 North Main St., Somerset, Kentucky

Additional reading: See Kentucky Heritage Council, Pulaski County: Architectural and Historical Sites (Lexington, Ky., 1985); Alma Owens Tibbals, A History of Pulaski County (Louisville 1952); George Tuggle, Pulaski Revisited (Lexington, Ky,. 1982).

Some Revolutionary War Soldiers who settled in Pulaski County, Kentucky were:

Adams Robert, Barren William, Blackledge Ichabod, Aldridge Francis, Barren John, Buchanan Robert, Armon Thomas, Barker John, Burton Michael, Armon Thomas, Beqakman Michael, Denny Elijah Dick, Jasper Nicholas, Reagan Michael, Dogan Lovell, Kelley Thomas, Roper David, Earp Joshiah, Kennedy James, Sayers Robert, Edwards John, Lee James, Seaton Thomas, Evans John, McAllister Joseph, Sewell Dorson, Gatineau Job Sr., Martin Moses, Swearinger Richard, Gilmore James, Mayfield John, Sweeney William, Goggan Richard, Murrary Barnabas, Tarter Peter, Hansford William, Newby John, Tomlinson Nathaniel, Hamilton James, Newell Samuel, Trimble William, Harrell James, Owens William, Turpin Martin, Hays William, Perry John, Wilson John, Heath William, Rainey James, Young Michael, Hopper John, Richardson Jesse.