Burkesville, Kentucky

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Burkesville is a city in Cumberland County, Kentucky, United States. Nestled among the rolling foothills of Appalachia and bordered by the Cumberland River to the south and east, it is the county seat of Cumberland County.[1] The population was 1,756 at the 2000 census.



Burkesville began as a small riverside settlement even before the Iroquois Indians officially sold the land in 1768 to establish Cumberland County. The settlement was originally called Cumberland Crossings. In 1846 it was incorporated as a city and named Burkesville after Samuel Burk, a prominent citizen leader at that time.

Just as Kentucky was a border state in the American Civil War, so was Burkesville a border town. Burkesville stood on the Cumberland River, a major natural barrier between opposing forces, so Union and Confederate troops as well as guerillas led by Champ Ferguson sparred across the countryside. Confederate General John Hunt Morgan tore through the area while conducting Morgan's Raid, and General Hylan B. Lyon's raids in December 1864 burned seven courthouses, ending with the one in Burkesville on January 3.

Burkesville was a fairly busy river port whose heyday came during the latter part of the nineteenth century when water transportation was the most feasible way to move large quantities of goods. The rise of larger craft like the riverboat required diligent dredging of the riverbed to keep it navigable so far upstream. The last steamboat docked in Burkesville in 1929, which was the year after the first major road was opened to the larger city of Glasgow, forty miles to the west. River trade and dredging died out as Burkesville waned in economic importance, and it was ended permanently when the Tennessee Valley Authority built dams without locks both upstream (Wolf Creek Dam) and downstream (Dale Hollow Dam) in the mid-twentieth century. While this put a definitive end to commercial river traffic, it had the benefit of controlling flooding that plagued the town for years. Now only recreational craft ply the river's waters.

Today the main routes of access to the city are Highway 90 and Highway 61 which intersect at the town's single stoplight. An old-fashioned town square sits on Main Street just a few hundred feet south of the stoplight. Main Street splits and forms a circle around the town court house, the third incarnation of the structure. Original buildings ring the square on three sides; the fourth was razed to make way for a modern justice center, completed in 2006. Two streets branch off perpendicular to Main: River Street runs straight toward the Cumberland River and provides access to the town's only public boat ramp, while Hill Street immediately begins scaling the Alpine Hill that towers over the city. This narrow and sinuous road was the only access to the city from the west for many years until highway 90 was built. Dynamite was used to blast a pass through a spur of that hill, a pass called the Sawmill Cut that is still somewhat dangerous for motorists.

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