Franklin County Hemp

Historical Marker #1164 in Frankfort recognizes the former site of the Kentucky River Mills, which was the last hemp factory to operate in Kentucky (1878 -1952). Kentucky artist Paul Sawyier briefly worked as a salesman for the mill, beginning in 1886. His father was president of the factory during this time, and he had encouraged Paul to return from Cincinnati to Frankfort to take the job.

Sawyier's brief tenure at the Kentucky River Mills was one of the few times that he earned a living outside of his artwork. Although his early life and upbringing was somewhat privileged, by the time Paul was an adult his family had suffered a decline in fortunes. Throughout his lifetime he often found himself on the brink of poverty and dependent upon his artwork for survival.

During Sawyier's lifetime, art galleries were almost non-existent in central Kentucky. Therefore, artists frequently sold their work in hardware, drug, or furniture stores. Sawyier also sought out individual patrons and sold paintings through various merchants, at auctions, or by raffles. He even sold his work through the Frankfort Elk's Club, which distributed his paintings as prizes.

Sawyier hoped to live entirely off of the sale of his artwork. He believed that to make a living through any type of ordinary job would force him to compromise his principles. Although Sawyier was close to financial disaster on more than one occasion, he did survive by painting. After his resignation from the Kentucky River Mills in 1886 until his death in 1917, other than taking on the occasional painting student, he never held a job.

Today, the Kentucky Historical Society has the world's largest collection of Paul Sawyier paintings.


Hemp drying in a field

Hemp drying in a field

Hemp, in teepee shocks for drying in a field, next to tobacco. Photo courtesy of the Kentucky Historical Society. View File Details Page

Falls and Hemp Mill

Falls and Hemp Mill

The Falls and Hemp Mill on the Kentucky River on Lock 4 at Frankfort, 1920. Photo courtesy of the Kentucky Historical Society. View File Details Page

Covered Bridge and Boat

Covered Bridge and Boat

Photo of the covered Bridge and a boat in the Ky. River at Frankfort. Photo courtesy of the Kentucky Historical Society. View File Details Page

Cite this Page:

Amy Roe, “Franklin County Hemp,” ExploreKYHistory, accessed July 24, 2017,


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