Harlan (population 2,081), county seat of Harlan County, is located at the forks of the Cumberland River and was first settled around 1796. The community was known as Mount Pleasant, for a local Indian mound, when it became the seat of the new county in 1819, but it was renamed Harlan in 1865.
Located in the heart of the Appalachian coal fields, the community is steeped in coal mining history and was once known as the “Coal Capital of Kentucky.” With the decline of the area’s coal industry in recent decades, Harlan has had to diversify its economy. Tourism is an important component as the community works to make potential visitors aware of its historic and natural assets.
Harlan’s historic commercial area is listed on the National Register of Historic Places as an historic district, and the Harlan Revitalization Association is working as part of the Main Street Program to enhance the district. The organization recently worked with local government and an arts organization, The Artists’ Attic, to reuse the third floor of the historic county courthouse as an artists’ gallery and history center.
The community also promotes heritage tourism through an historic walking tour and participation in a regional tourism program, the First Frontier Corridor. In recognition of its mountain heritage, Harlan also hosts the annual Poke Sallet Festival, which combines modern entertainment with a celebration of traditions, including pokeweed recipes.
Designated a Preserve America Community in August 2005.
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