Letcher County courthouse in Whitesburg
Location within the U.S. state of Kentucky
Kentucky's location within the U.S.
|Named for||Robert P. Letcher|
|• Total||339 sq mi (880 km2)|
|• Land||338 sq mi (880 km2)|
|• Water||1.1 sq mi (3 km2) 0.3%%|
| • Estimate |
|• Density||73/sq mi (28/km2)|
|Time zone||UTC−5 (Eastern)|
|• Summer (DST)||UTC−4 (EDT)|
Letcher County is a county located in the U.S. state of Kentucky. As of the 2010 census, the population was 24,519. Its county seat is Whitesburg. The county, founded in 1842, is named for Robert P. Letcher, Governor of Kentucky from 1840 to 1844.
Letcher County is a dry county, with the only exceptions being the Highland Winery, the city of Whitesburg, and the city of Jenkins.
Harry M. Caudill's 1963 book Night Comes to the Cumberlands: A Biography of a Depressed Area, brought the county to national attention.
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the county has a total area of 339 square miles (880 km2), of which 338 square miles (880 km2) is land and 1.1 square miles (2.8 km2) (0.3%) is water. Letcher County's natural areas include Bad Branch Falls and the Lilley Cornett Woods.
In an effort to bring tourists to Letcher County and to revitalize the local economy, the Pioneer Horse Trail was constructed on Pine Mountain. The trail, part of an "adventure tourism" initiative spearheaded by then Governor Steve Beshear, Beshear's wife Jane, and Lieutenant Governor Daniel Mongiardo, was completed in 2009.
However, controversy arose about whether the environment would be harmed during construction. In the summer of 2008, the Letcher County Fiscal Court had signed an agreement with state officials stating that the county would do an environmental impact study before construction would begin. Documents obtained by the Lexington Herald-Leader under Kentucky's Open Records Act showed that construction actually began before the study was to take place. County-owned bulldozers started clearing trees in part of a wildlife management area in which heavy equipment was not permitted. Environmental groups are asking the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to determine if any species on the threatened or endangered list were harmed.
|U.S. Decennial Census|
As of the census of 2000, there were 25,277 people, 10,085 households, and 7,462 families residing in the county. The population density was 75 per square mile (29/km2). There were 11,405 housing units at an average density of 34 per square mile (13/km2). The racial makeup of the county was 98.71% White, 0.51% Black or African American, 0.10% Native American, 0.28% Asian, 0.02% Pacific Islander, 0.03% from other races, and 0.35% from two or more races. 0.44% of the population were Hispanic or Latino of any race.
There were 10,085 households, out of which 32.30% had children under the age of 18 living with them, 58.40% were married couples living together, 11.50% had a female householder with no husband present, and 26.00% were non-families. 24.10% of all households were made up of individuals, and 10.10% had someone living alone who was 65 years of age or older. The average household size was 2.48 and the average family size was 2.94.
The age distribution was 23.70% under the age of 18, 9.20% from 18 to 24, 28.70% from 25 to 44, 25.80% from 45 to 64, and 12.60% who were 65 years of age or older. The median age was 38 years. For every 100 females there were 95.80 males. For every 100 females age 18 and over, there were 92.10 males.
The median income for a household in the county was $21,110, and the median income for a family was $24,869. Males had a median income of $30,488 versus $17,902 for females. The per capita income for the county was $11,984. About 23.70% of families and 27.10% of the population were below the poverty line, including 35.90% of those under age 18 and 21.20% of those age 65 or over.
Two public school districts operate in the county.
Most K-12 students in the county, with the exception of those living in the far eastern part of the county surrounding Jenkins, are served by the Letcher County Public Schools. The district operates nine elementary/middle schools, one vocational school, one high school, and an alternative education center.
In 2005, the doors to the new Letcher County Central High School were opened in Ermine (the school's postal address, however, is in Whitesburg), with total costs of over $25,000,000. The school's nickname is the Cougars, and the school colors are blue, black, and silver. The school volleyball team has been to the state tournament every year since its creation and the wrestling team has had multiple regional champions. The baseball team has claimed three region titles in 2007, 2011, and 2013, with two state tournament appearances and one semi-state appearance. The boys Cross Country team has had 3 region championships and an individual region champion. The Girls basketball team made a State sweet sixteen appearance.
Students in the Jenkins area are served by the Jenkins Independent Schools, which operates two elementary schools (located on two campuses in the communities of McRoberts and Burdine) and a combined middle and high school with grades 7-12. Jenkins Independent Schools celebrated its 100th year in 2012. The middle/high school's athletic nickname is the Cavaliers/Lady Cavaliers. The school colors are Kelly Green and White.
Letcher County has a somewhat similar political history to West Virginia. Under the Fourth Party System it was a reliable Republican county, voting Republican in every election from 1884 to 1928. However, with increasing unionization under the New Deal it turned for the next sixty to seventy years into a fairly solid Democratic county, apart from the 1956 and 1972 landslides and the candidacy of John F. Kennedy. However, since 2004 as the Democratic Party has become opposed to coal production due to global warming issues it has now become a solidly Republican county.
There are two Public-access television cable TV channels that serve Letcher County. The Letcher County Government Channel is Government-access television (GATV), operated by the Letcher County Fiscal Court and airs government meetings, local events, and emergency information. LCPS-TV is operated by the Letcher County Public Schools and airs school announcements, events, and Educational access television programs.
Public transportation is provided by LKLP Community Action Partnership with demand-response service and scheduled service from Whitesburg to Hazard.