Pineville (population 2,093), seat of Bell County, was first settled in 1781. Originally called Cumberland Ford, the community developed at a shallow crossing on the Cumberland River at a gap in Pine Mountain called The Narrows. Although not as well known as nearby Cumberland Gap, The Narrows was also a key passage on the Wilderness Road that led early settlers from the East into Kentucky.
Pineville's annual Kentucky Mountain Laurel Festival, one of the oldest festivals in the State, was created in 1933 to celebrate Thomas Walker, the first European to find the Cumberland Ford.
In the 19th century, coal mining became the predominant industry in the region, but since its collapse in the late 1980s and early 1990s, Pineville has been working to revitalize. Historic properties are playing an important role. A focal point for Pineville's revitalization is the Bell Theatre (1939). Rescued by the city from abandonment in the early 1990s, management was recently turned over to Downtown Pineville, Inc., the city's Main Street organization. The theatre was recently added as an attraction on the regional Red Bird Trail of the Kentucky Artisan Heritage Trails.
The city has also established a committee to explore how best to preserve and promote the Cumberland Ford as a heritage resource and tourist attraction. To help shape future preservation efforts throughout the community, the city has also created a Property Review Commission to address the issue of abandoned property and to recommend public policy initiatives to protect historic sites and promote their use.
Designated a Preserve America Community in April 2005.