Letcher County, Kentucky, (population 25,277) is in the far southeastern coalfield region of the state. The county’s mountain springs form the beginnings of three major river systems: the Big Sandy, the Cumberland, and the Kentucky. The Pound Gap through Pine Mountain was an important passage for early settlers, and though most moved on, settlement in the area began around 1795. The county was formed in 1842.
Two Civil War battles were fought for control of Pound Gap, located near the city of Jenkins in Letcher County. Confederate Private Edward O. Guerrant wrote in 1862 that the county seat, Whitesburg, was “not much of a town,” and not much changed until 1912 when the railroad came, and coal mining began.
Whitesburg is surrounded by several original mining communities, such as Jenkins, Fleming-Neon, and Blackey, all of which were established in the early 1900s. Between 1911 and 1925, Letcher County experienced an unprecedented boom in the economy, evidence of which is still apparent in downtown Whitesburg, a National Register Historic District.
The architecture of Whitesburg was influenced by Italian stone masons who settled here after arriving with railroad construction crews. The distinctive stone buildings include outstanding examples of craftsmanship, such as the Palumbo House and the Graham Memorial Presbyterian Church.
Letcher County’s annual Seedtime on the Cumberland Festival promotes mountain crafts, music, culture, and history. Another event, the Mountain Heritage Festival, is held inside the Historic District each September.
Designated a Preserve America Community in July 2007.