Harlan County is a county located in the U.S. state of Kentucky. It was formed in 1819. As of 2000, the population was 33,202. Its county seat is Harlan. The state's highest peak, Black Mountain (4145 ft/1263 m) is in Harlan County.
With regard to the sale of alcohol, it is classified as a moist county—a county in which alcohol sales are prohibited (a dry county), but containing a "wet" city, in this case Cumberland, where package alcohol sales are allowed.
Harlan County was formed in 1819 from a part of Knox County. It is named after Silas Harlan.
Silas Harlan, a pioneer, was born on March 17, 1753 in Berkeley County, West Virginia, the son of George and Ann (Hurst) Harlan. Journeying to Kentucky with James Harrod in 1774, Harlan served as scout, hunter, and military leader of the rank of major. Harlan assisted Harrod's party in Harrodsburg to pick up gunpowder to be delivered to the Kentucky settlers to assist them against the British in the Revolutionary War.
Harlan built a log stockade with the help of his uncle Jacob and his brother James near Danville known as "Harlan's Station." Harlan served under George Rogers Clark in the Illinois campaign of 1778-79 against the British. He also commanded a company in John Bowman's raid on Old Chillicothe in 1779, and assisted Clark in establishing Fort Jefferson at the mouth of the Ohio River in 1780.
Silas Harlan died leading the advance party at the Battle of Blue Licks on August 19, 1782. At the time of his death Harlan was engaged to Sarah Caldwell, who later married his brother James and became the grandmother of U.S. Supreme Court Justice John Marshall Harlan.
The county has been the site of great labor unrest beginning in the early 20th century, primarily surrounding the coal mining industry. Labor unrest in the 1930s led to the country being referred to as "Bloody Harlan Country" for several years. The county was the subject of the film Harlan County, USA, which documented strikes and organizing during a second major period of labor unrest in the 1970s.
The county is the site of a rare criminal case in which a man, Condy Dabney, was convicted in 1924 of murdering a person who was later found alive.
Harlan County was the home to many displaced persons of mixed Native American heritage during Harlan's early years. These groups have been known as Melungeons, but groups like the Ridgetop Shawnee have debunked the Melungeon theories as they are organizing the descendants of those early settlers and are documenting the racial heritage of Harlan's early settlers through 19th century photographs, DNA analysis and other forms of documentation.
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the county has a total area of 468 square miles (1,212 km²), of which, 467 square miles (1,210 km²) of it is land and 1 square miles (2 km²) of it (0.17%) is water.
The headwaters of the Cumberland River are located in Harlan County: Poor Fork (extending from the city of Harlan east past the city of Cumberland and into Letcher County), Clover Fork extending East from above Evarts, and Martins Fork (extending through the city of Harlan west). The confluence is located in Baxter.
As of the census of 2000, there were 33,202 people, 13,291 households, and 9,449 families residing in the county. The population density was 71 people per square mile (27/km²). There were 15,017 housing units at an average density of 32 per square mile (12/km²). The racial makeup of the county was 95.56% White, 2.62% African American, 0.48% Native American, 0.29% Asian, 0.02% Pacific Islander, 0.08% from other races, and 0.95% from two or more races. 0.65% of the population were Hispanics or Latinos of any race.
There were 13,291 households out of which 32.20% had children under the age of 18 living with them, 54.30% were married couples living together, 13.20% had a female householder with no husband present, and 28.90% were non-families. 27.00% of all households were made up of individuals and 12.60% had someone living alone who was 65 years of age or older. The average household size was 2.47 and the average family size was 3.00.
The age distribution was 25.00% under the age of 18, 8.50% from 18 to 24, 27.50% from 25 to 44, 25.20% from 45 to 64, and 13.90% who were 65 years of age or older. The median age was 38 years. For every 100 females there were 91.80 males. For every 100 females age 18 and over, there were 87.80 males.
The median income for a household in the county was $18,665, and the median income for a family was $23,536. Males had a median income of $29,148 versus $19,288 for females. The per capita income for the county was $11,585. About 29.10% of families and 32.50% of the population were below the poverty line, including 40.10% of those under age 18 and 21.00% of those age 65 or over. During Harlan County's early history a large number of Native Americans of mixed heritage, or commonly called Melungeons, settled the area. Groups like the Ridgetop Shawnee are organizing the descendants of those early Native American settlers.
The district also operates the following K-8 schools:
There are two private schools in the county: