Laurel County History

The abundance and beauty of laurel shrub in the area impressed the early pioneers so much that they named the county for it. Dr. Thomas Walker’s party, exploring for the Loyal Land Company of England, first came to the area in 1750.

Laurel County was the 80th county to be organized in Kentucky, and was established by an act of the Kentucky General Assembly on December 12, 1825. It was formed from parts of Rockcastle, Clay, Knox, and Whitley counties. The actual operation of the county government began in March 1826.

Nine men were appointed as the first justices-of-the-peace for Laurel County in 1826. They were: Samuel McHargue, William Freeman, Jarvis Jackson, David Weaver, William Smith, James McNeil, John Pearl, Jacob Boyer, & James Wood. They assembled at Jarvis Jackson’s home on the first Monday of March in 1826.

After taking oath of office they appointed Lot Pitman as County Court Clerk; William Stuart, James Elkins, John Elkins, and John Hood as Constables; and John Jackson as Jailer.

The following officers were appointed by the governor: Thomas Buford as Sheriff; Samuel S. Griffin as Coroner; James McNeil as Surveyor; and Thomas J. Buford as Attorney for the Commonwealth.

Father and son John and Jarvis Jackson gifted 25 acres of land to start the town of London. They stipulated that part of that land should be laid out in a public square and town lots.

The Jacksons also agreed to build–at their expense, and deed to the county–a courthouse and a jail, provided the proceeds from the sale of the town lots should revert to them. This proposition of the Jacksons was accepted, and plans and specifications for a brick and stone courthouse and a white and red oak jail were drawn up.

Historic Timeline:

John English Defeat (Indian Massacre)

April or May – five persons killed by Indians near Raccoon Springs. This is possibly the same incident known as Henderson’s Defeat.

September – McClure’s Defeat (Indian Massacre)

October – McNitt Defeat at what is now Levi Jackson Wilderness Road State Park. This was the worst recorded Indian massacre in Kentucky, with an estimated 24 persons killed of the 27 travelers in the group.

February – Farris’ Defeat (Indian Massacre)

Bishop Francis Asbury, en route to the first Methodist conference in Kentucky, held worship near the site of the current Camp Ground Methodist Church (about 7 miles south of London on Highway 229). The first church was made of logs. The present building was constructed in 1876.

Julian’s Defeat (Indian Massacre)

Jenkins Defeat (Indian Massacre)

Wood’s Blockhouse, the earliest permanent building in the wilderness, was built about 7 miles north of London at the crossroads of Skaggs Trace and Boone Trace.

March – Drake’s Defeat (Indian Massacre)

March – Thomas Ross, first postman (“post rider”), killed by Indians.

April – McFarland’s Defeat (Indian Massacre)

Modrel’s Station, located near the crossing of Laurel River and Highway 229, offered safety for travelers until the danger of Indian attack ended.

The Wilderness (wagon) Road was built by Kentucky between Cumberland Gap and Crab Orchard. A principal highway, it promoted the settlement of Kentucky and the West. It operated as a toll road for about 80 years.

Wilderness Road Inn was built by John Freeman on a Revolutionary War land grant (on Highway 229 about a half mile south of the current entrance to the Levi Jackson State Park). The tavern stood beside the historic Wilderness (wagon) Road. The inn burned in 1962.

Laurel County government was established. (The county had been created by the State Legislature in December 1825, but the county government was not functional until March 1826.)

London was established as the county seat. The first courthouse was built.

February 4 – The first Post Office in the county was established at London. Branham Hill was the first Postmaster.

1841 to around 1910
The Sublimity Springs Hotel Resort was in business.

Laurel Seminary opened. The school temporarily closed and the building was used as a hospital during the Civil War. The Seminary operated as a common school, 1870-84; a private school, 1884-93; a common school, 1893-1906; then a public school. The original building was replaced in 1954.

African American churches in Laurel County: 1st church in town was on West 13th Street around the Civil War, then moved to a church on Short Street adjacent to the Mill Street Baptist Church. Mill Street Baptist Church is the current location of the African American Heritage Society.

October 21st – Battle of Camp Wildcat; first engagement of regular troops in Kentucky; Union victory.

August 17th – Battle of London; this week-long series of skirmishes ended in a Confederate victory.

1st Christian Church of London was established.

London was incorporated as a city.

October 11 – W.E. Word and J.H. Wilson first published The Mountain Echo newspaper in Barbourville, Kentucky (Knox County).

June 4, the last issue of The Mountain Echo was published in Barbourville, and the operation moved to London.

Approximately 120 Swiss families moved to Laurel County and settled into two major centers, Bernstadt and East Bernstadt. This was Kentucky’s largest foreign colonization.

July 17 – The Louisville & Nashville Railroad arrived in London.

November 26 – The first passenger train left London, making her run from London to Whitley County. Captain Sweeney was the conductor. Several prominent Laurel County residents were on board.

September 9, Laurel County Fair was established at Camp Ground, 8 miles south of London.

The second Laurel County Courthouse was completed.

The first regularly established banking institution in London, the First National Bank, was organized.

Dec. 18, a group of African Americans bought several acres of land near the intersection of US 25 and KY 80 with the intention of building a college. The college was never established and the property later became the site of the TB Hospital.

March 11, the first 1st Baptist Church of London was built at Long and 7th streets.

May 11, ground breaking for Sue Bennett Memorial School.

Parker Cemetery was established, later to be named A.R. Dyche Memorial Park.

Sue Bennett Memorial School opened. The school taught all grades and educated more than 11,000 students between 1897-1997.  It operated as a county high school 1910-33; a normal school 1900-1910; became junior college, 1922. The name was changed to Sue Bennett College in 1930. The school closed in 1997.

The Camp Ground Telephone Company was incorporated. The company operated extensive long distant lines and several exchanges, including that at London.

Pennington Infirmary opened in downtown London and later moved to the building that is now 1st National Bank on Main Street. Later a hospital was built on the hill on 9th Street and was appropriately named Pennington Hospital after Dr. H.B. Pennington, who started both the infirmary and the hospital.

The East Bernstadt Banking Company, a small state bank, was organized. In 1912, it became the First National Bank of East Bernstadt.

June 13, Russell Dyche established The London Sentinel newspaper.

The brick building for First Christian Church of London was built at Main and 7th streets.

Russell Dyche purchased The Mountain Echo plant and the two papers, The Mountain Echo and The London Sentinel, became The Sentinel-Echo.

December 3rd, cornerstone laid for the Federal Building. The building was completed at a cost of $82,294.00

1st Methodist Church of London was built.

London National Guard was established. (The organization, not the building.)

London Christian Church women started organizing London’s first public library.

March 1 – The first rural mail route out of London was established. It went out Sublimity Road to Skate, and then across the Whitley Road below Bonham, up to the new Whitley Road to Henri Jordi’s place, thence by Old Union to the end of the pike, and by the pike back to London. The distance of the route was 24.3 miles.

Laurel County Library Assocation was organized.

August – The London Fire Department was organized.

January 23, the second building for the First Baptist Church was built at Main and Third Streets.

U.S. Highway 25 was completed through London.

July 1, Laurel County Health Department opened.

November 16, Laurel County had its first library building on East Forth Street.

A twelve-room London School building was constructed by the WPA at the current site of the Laurel County Board of Education on North Main Street.

An eight-room East Bernstadt School building was constructed by the WPA.

The WPA constructed 50,580 square feet of sidewalks in London, most of which are still in use today.

Lily High School was constructed by the WPA.

London City Hall and Fire Station was constructed by the WPA. London City Hall was in what is now the Sheriff’s Office building and the Fire Station was in the basement of that building.

London’s African American School was constructed on Mill Street across from West 14th Street.

Hazel Green School and Gym was constructed by the WPA, replacing the old building.

Laurel County celebrated Kentucky’s Sesquicentennial (150 years).

July 19, Governor Simeon Willis placed the cornerstone of the London TB (tuberculosis) Hospital.

State Police Post was built in London at a cost of $31,893.00.

Colony and Keavy Elementary Schools were built; these were identical buildings.

The London TB Hospital admitted its first patients on January 31, and it reached a capacity of 100 patients by May.

St. Andrews Catholic School was established.

October 1 – The first Piedmont Airlines flight took place from the new London-Corbin Airport.

June 19, the decision was made to build London Elementary School; this school was razed in 2005 after the current building was completed.

December 9 – The County Courthouse was destroyed by fire.

The third Laurel County Courthouse was completed.

December 4 – Interstate 75 opened.

* Information gathered from Inventory of the County Archives
** Timeline Information:
History of Laurel County” by Russell Dyche