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Kentucky (KY) Fast Facts
Location and Geography: Kentucky is located directly above Tennessee and the the west of Virginia, an is usually considered to be culturally a part of the American South (although not the Deep South, as it is right on the border of the Midwestern and Northeastern regions). The state has a great deal of biological and geological diversity, and is known for its special type of grass (bluegrass) that is excellent for raising livestock.
Counties and Regions: There are 120 counties in Kentucky which, like many counties in states east of the Mississippi River, are generally smaller and more numerous than counties in western states. Kentucky is also recognized as containing the following large regions:
- The Bluegrass (northern Kentucky)
- Central Kentucky
- Cumberland Plateau
- Eastern Mountain Coal Fields
- Kentucky Bend (an exclave cut off by the Mississippi River)
- The Knobs (hilly area)
- Northern Kentucky
- Pennyroyal Plateau
- The Purchase (the far western part of Kentucky)
- Western Coal Fields
Population: Kentucky is home to greater than 4.3 million people, and has been steadily growing in population since the eighteenth century. It has some large communities, but much of its population is still rural.
Major Cities: Only two cities in Kentucky have a population greater than 100,000: Louisville (566,000), which has a metropolitan area that covers parts of Indiana, and Lexington (nearly 300,000). Kentucky’s capital, Frankfort, is the 14th-largest city in the state with over 25,000 people.
Story Behind the Name: The word “Kentucky,” which was spelled several different ways in the earlier days of the territory, comes from an Iroquois phrase that likely meant “meadowlands.”
History and Colonization: Although Native Americans were very familiar with what is modern-day Kentucky, they did not take up permanent residence there. Rather, it was a traditional hunting ground that tended to be dominated by the Iroquois tribe to the east. When white settlers began moving in in the eighteenth century, it sparked a series of battles with native hunters that continued for several decades. Eventually, however, the settlers won out and established a thriving agricultural and mining society.
Kentucky was originally part of the state of Virginia, but the western counties felt that their local concerns were not taken seriously by the Virginian government. They asked to secede and form their own state, which took place over several years and a series of conventions and agreements. Kentucky became the 15th state in 1792, and began to be recognized for its agrarian achievements.
Located directly on the border between the North and the South during the American Civil War, Kentucky was culturally divided over the matter. Supporters of both the Union and the Confederacy were common in the state, and so Kentucky chose to adopt an official policy of neutrality in the war. A Confederate invasion of one of their cities, however, soured the state government on the Confederacy, and they officially joined the Union (against the wishes of many constituents). After the war, it was several decades before the episodes of racial and factional violence calmed down.
As a state with a mostly agricultural backbone, the process of industrialization and the growth of infrastructure spread slowly across Kentucky. The public works projects of the New Deal and the wartime industrialization that took place during World War II drastically changed the lifestyles of many Kentuckians. Even as a fully modernized state, Kentucky is still known today for the high-quality crops and livestock that it produces.