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Rockcastle County History (Briefly)

Presenting a complete history of Rockcastle County would be well beyond the bounds of this site, so below is a very brief version with a table of dates for some important events.

Rockcastle County was formed in 1810 from primarily Lincoln and Madison Counties, with a small area on the southwestern edge coming from Pulaski County and a very small area on the east from Knox County. Portions of Rockcastle County were later taken to help form Laurel County in 1825 and Jackson County in 1858. About a quarter of the county is considered as part of the Daniel Boone National Forest.

The county has a wide range of terrain features, from the rugged hills near the Rockcastle River in the south, to the much flatter arable land in the northwest.

Perhaps the county's greatest historical significance derives from the roads leading through it. Two major thoroughfares, the Wilderness Road and Scaggs' Trace, ran through the county, ushering hundreds of thousands of pioneers into Kentucky in the late 1700s and early 1800s. For most families, the expanse which would become Rockcastle County wasn't a destintation–it was a particularly arduous section of a long journey to a hoped-for better life.

Of course, a few families did settle in the area, otherwise we wouldn't have a need for a Rockcastle KyGenWeb site. The standard line, repeated often (including in the table below), is that Stephen Langford led the first settlers in the county in 1790. While Langford was a major figure in the early settlement, there were undoubtedly a few scattered settlers in the county prior to 1790, as evidenced by the early Lincoln County tax lists and perhaps by land grants prior to 1790. It's also not unreasonable to believe there were a few taverns or inns servicing the weary travelers established by enterprising fellows along both major roads through the county.

Land grants were issued in what was to be Rockcastle County at least as early as 1781. Most were to land speculators, notably Jacob Myers.

Native Americans used the Rockcastle area as they used much of Kentucky, as hunting grounds and temporary camps. There is evidence on the south section of the East Fork of Skeggs Creek and on Eagle Creek near the Rockcastle River of perhaps a more permanent inhabitance, at least of the establishment of returned-to encampments.

Mount Vernon, the county seat, came into existence in 1811 (it may not have been called Mt. Vernon from the beginning). The town grew from settlements surrounding Langford's Station, which was established about 1792.

The railroad came through the county after the Civil War. For a time, both Pine Hill and Livingston were more important towns, and, in the case of the former, more populated, than Mt. Vernon. The railroad, and today's U.S. 25 (formerly called the Dixie Highway), roughly follows parts of the Wilderness Road through the eastern section of the county. Economic development activities thrived on the improved transportation systems, to the great benefit of the communities along them. Ultimately, Interstate 75 bypassed those long-established routes.

The western part of the county, especially the lower part of the Skeggs Creek watershed, never had the transportation advantages afforded by the improved infrastructure. Although used more heavily than the Wildness Road early on, Scaggs' Trace was an incredibly rough path, with numerous difficult creek crossings. Other than coal extraction, there was no industry to speak of in the western section. Families living there were more reliant on farming and seemed to connect more with eastern Pulaski County families than with those who lived in Mt. Vernon, Pine Hill, or Livingston.

For genealogy researchers, the most important (or infamous) single event is the burning of the courthouse in 1873. Virtually all local records–marriage, estate, court, land–were destroyed. Needless to say, it has made researching in Rockcastle very challenging.

Table of Events
About 1792 Stephen Langford and his family, including Elizabeth Ross Brown and several slaves, establish Langford's Station
17 Jun 1796 Langford, Valentine Harmon and William Henderson purchase the 2,000-acre "Barbour survey" which included most of present-day Mt. Vernon.
1 Apr 1810 Rockcastle County formed from Knox, Lincoln, Madison and Pulaski Counties
1811 Lots for a new town, which came to be Mt. Vernon, are surveyed and sold.
1818 Mt. Vernon (presumably named after George Washington's home) was incorporated
1826 Form of county changed when a portion was given to Laurel County
1858 Form of county changed again when a portion was given to Jackson County
21 Oct 1861 Battle of Camp Wildcat in the Rockcastle Hills
12 Feb 1867 Fish Point established (present day Livingston)
1868 Stigall's Stand becomes city of Brodhead
1868 L&N Railroad reaches Mt. Vernon and Brodhead
1870 Fish Point becomes terminus of Railroad
15 Aug 1873 Fire at the courthouse destroys most records and documents
4 Aug 1879 Fish Point name changed to Livingston Station
11 May 1882 Livingston Station name changed to Livingston (as it is know today) named after James Livingston one of the first settlers in the town
1887 First paper, the Mountain Signal (later Mountain Eagle and now Mount Vernon Signal) established by Colonel James Maret
1891 Oak Hill School established
1909 First public school established in Brodhead, called Brodhead High School
1910 Mt. Vernon High School established
1927 Mt.Vernon Elementary School established
1953 Rockcastle Public Library established
1959 Roundstone Elementary school established
1963 Founder of Signal, Colonel James Maret, dies
1964 3rd Court house built
1969 Harry Sparks Vocational School established
8 Aug 1992 4th Court house built called the Rockcastle County Judicial Complex