Bourbon County

Historical Marker #1246 in Paris notes the history of Bourbon County, which was created in 1785. At the time, Kentucky was part of Virginia.

Bourbon County, which was carved from Fayette County, was the fifth county established in what would become Kentucky. It was named by Virginia in honor of the French royal family who had provided military and financial assistance to the colonies during the Revolutionary War. The rich farmland of the county proved to be attractive to farmers looking for choice land.

It is fitting that a county named for the French royal family would have its county seat named for a French city. However, before Paris earned that status, it was known as Hopewell and then Bourbonton. During the early nineteenth century, small towns such as Millersburg, North Middletown, and Ruddles Mills were also established throughout the county.

Principally a rural area, Bourbon County was well known for its livestock, which included cattle, horses, mules, hogs, and sheep, and the bountiful crops it produced, including hemp, corn, wheat, and other grains. A significant amount of the corn and grain grown in Bourbon County went into distilling local whiskies, especially the particular blend that eventually took the name of the county.

In the nineteenth century, Bourbon County also became associated with the political figures who called the county home. Governor James Garrard, Congressman Brutus Junius Clay, and Senator Garrett Davis, were all influential statesmen. During the Civil War, Bourbon County was particularly divided. Both those who supported the Union and those who sympathized with the Confederacy were slave owners. In 1860, African American slaves made up about forty-five percent of the county's population, and the average Bourbon County master owned about three more bondsmen than the average Kentucky slaveholder.

Agriculture has remained an economic constant for Bourbon County up into the twenty-first century. Major thoroughbred horse enterprises such as Claiborne Farm, as well as independent family farms still employ many Bourbon County citizens.