What is Kentucky Known For? (19 Things It’s Famous For)

Kentucky is a state in the southeastern region of the continental U.S.A. It is formally known as the Commonwealth of Kentucky and is considered one of the states in the Upper South. Its capital city is Frankfort, but its two largest cities are Louisville and Lexington. Some say that it is a state rife with contradictions as it has dry and wet counties and ‘moist’, meaning it’s an area where in some places, it’s a teetotalers’ paradise, while in some areas, it’s an imbiber’s dream. But, on the other hand, some say it’s a land of opportunity as several entrepreneurs got their first start in the state.

Kentucky is known for its southern charm and hospitality. It is renowned for the Appalachian Mountains, its vast green pastures, and wooded areas, including the scenic lakes, rolling hills, and natural hideaways. If you’re an avid hunter, the state is also a good place to hunt wild turkey and deer.

The Bluegrass State

Kentucky is known as the Bluegrass State due to the abundance of Kentucky bluegrass in its pastures and plains. While the specie is green, they produce blue-purple buds that look like blue when seen in larger fields. The grass has sustained the popular thoroughbred industry and helped the state’s reputation.

Basic Facts

The 2020 census pegged the population at 4.5 million Kentuckians. It is bounded to the north by the states of Ohio, Illinois, and Indiana, with the Ohio River also defining its northern borders. West Virginia and Virginia are to its eastern front, while Missouri is at its western boundary and the state of Tennessee is to its south.

Honest Abe’s Birthplace

Kentucky is the birthplace of the Great Emancipator, the 16th President of the United States of America, Abraham Lincoln. Born in Larue County on February 12, 1809, Lincoln wholly embraced the byname, Honest Abe. He believed in his integrity as a person, and he worked hard to preserve his reputation as a straightforward politician and lawyer, which isn’t an easy thing to do. A great orator, he delivered the stirring Gettysburg Address in memory of the Union soldiers who fought valiantly in the American Civil War. Unfortunately, assassin John Wilkes Booth killed Lincoln in Ford’s Theater on April 14, 1865.

A House Divided

Kentucky’s state legislature decided on neutrality during the American Civil War. However, as a border state, the area was the site of many a Union and Confederacy skirmish. General Leonidas Polk unsuccessfully staged a hostile takeover, leading to the legislature seeking the Union for assistance. In 1862, the state was mainly under Union control, but it didn’t stop about 35,000 Kentuckians from joining the Confederate ranks. It was a strategic place, serving as the buffer between the Union and the Confederate States.

Political Duality

Although the state legislature was decidedly Unionist, there were several Confederate supporters in the state. These sympathizers hatched a plan to create a shadow Confederate government. Sixty-eight (68) out of the 110 Kentucky counties passed an ordinance of secession from the Union and elected George W. Johnson as governor. Confederate President Jefferson Davis had reservations about the formation of the shadow government, but he didn’t stand in the way of the state getting admittance into the Confederacy on December 10, 1861. The state was represented as the central star on the Confederate battle flag.

Colored Infantry

Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation and the Congressional approval of the Confiscation Acts allowed Confederate soldiers to sign up for the Union Army. Most Confederate deserters were fugitive slaves who ran away from their masters. Even Kentucky slaves enlisted at Louisville and Camp Nelson and became part of the US Colored Infantry. Records show that about 24,000 African-American Kentuckians served in the Union.

House of Bourbon

Bourbon is a type of whiskey aged in casks. Most imbibers prefer Kentucky bourbon because it tastes sweeter than the rest. The reason behind this is the water used in its production. Kentucky’s natural limestone deposits filter the metallic iron flavors in the water, leading to a sweeter blend. The state supplies about 95% of the bourbon supply worldwide.

Origin of Bluegrass Music

Kentuckian William Smith “Bill” Monroe started the bluegrass music genre. A mandolinist, singer, composer, and band leader, he named his group Bill Monroe and the Blue Grass Boys in homage to the state’s name. The music genre combined blues, English, Scottish and Irish, gospel, and country music. The music is often high-energy and up-tempo, and the band usually has a five-string banjo, flat-top guitar, mandolin, fiddle, and bass.

Home of Beer Cheese

Beer cheese is one of the strangest but tastiest dips you could encounter. Usually made with melted sharp cheddar cheese, beer, garlic, and spices, it is a thick, creamy, and spicy condiment that goes well with anything crunchy. Kentuckians pair beer cheese with saltine crackers or celery, but bar pretzels and other snacks enhance their flavor when dipped in such sauce.

Don’t Forget to Try the Burgoo

Burgoo is a communal-cooked dish made with whatever protein’s handy. Previously, Kentuckians chucked raccoon, opossum, and squirrel meat into a pot and added vegetables such as potatoes, cabbage, okra, corn, tomatoes, and lima beans. The dish now uses chicken, mutton, pork, and other available meats. It is slow-cooked and best served when it’s thick enough that a spoon could stand in it. Kentuckians also say that no two burgoos taste exactly the same.

Starry Kentucky

Kentucky has produced several notable actors and actresses. Talented bombshell Jennifer Lawrence, Oscar winner of the Hunger Games trilogy fame, grew up in Indian Hills. Johnny Depp of the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise and Golden Globe winner hails from Owensboro. George Clooney, the husband of Amal Clooney, star of the Ocean’s 12 franchise and medical dramas ER and Grey’s Anatomy, was born in Lexington. News anchor Diane Sawyer also grew up in Glasgow.

Kentucky Bombshells

Aside from producing talented actors and actresses, the state also gave the modeling industry several famous catwalk and print models. Models Kindly Myers, Elle Smith, Tinashe, Molly Sims, Jamie Thornton, India Baby, Allie Leggett, and Alexandria Mills are among the more popular Kentuckians who graced magazine covers, and other fashion spreads for years. 

Birthplace of the Boxing’s GOAT

Those who follow pugilistic science would know that the greatest boxer of all time (GOAT), Cassius Marcellus Clay Jr, also known as Muhammad Ali, was born in Louisville on January 17, 1942. Nicknamed “The Greatest” and “The Louisville Lip,” he was not only a great boxer but also a celebrated talker. He became one of the most famous conscientious objectors to the Vietnam War as he refused conscription. He had several legendary bouts against prominent fighters such as Sonny Liston, Floyd Patterson, and Cleveland Williams. His record stands at 56-5, with 37 wins by knockout.

Home of the Derby

There’s no better place to indulge in horseracing than Kentucky. The state is already known for its horse-raising industry, but it is even more popular for the annual Kentucky Derby. Held in Louisville usually during the first Saturday of May and is a showcase of three-year-old thoroughbreds racing two kilometers in the famed Churchill Downs. Also dubbed “The Run for the Roses,” the winning horse gets draped with a blanket of roses. It is also the first leg of the American Triple Crown, with the Preakness Stakes and Belmont Stakes the next targets.

A Hotbed for NBA Talents

The state is one of the best sources of NBA-level talent, with the University of Kentucky and the University of Louisville producing exceptional players. Among the most notable Kentucky-bred NBA players include the Timberwolves’ Karl Anthony Towns, the Lakers’ Anthony Davis, the Rockets’ John Wall, Phoenix’s Devin Booker, and Miami’s Bam Adebayo. In addition, the Utah Jazz’s Donovan Mitchell and Darrell Griffith are both Louisville alumni. Milwaukee’s Jordan Nwora, the Hornets’ Montrezl Harrell and Terry Rozier, and the hawks’ Gorgui Dieng are also from Louisville.

The Louisville Slugger’s Birthplace

Sporting goods manufacturer Hillerich and Bradsby produces baseball bats for Wilson Sporting Goods, which markets them as “The Louisville Slugger.” According to company history, the owner’s son Bud Hillerich saw a game of the Louisville Eclipse where its star player, Pete Browning, broke his bat. The young Hillerich offered to craft a bat for the star in their woodshop, and when Browning used HIllerich’s bat the next game, he got three hits, living to his moniker, “The Louisville Slugger.”

Fast Food Haven

Several fast food companies call Kentucky their headquarters. Perhaps the most famous fast-food company is KFC, formerly known as Kentucky Fried Chicken, founded by Colonel Harland Sanders. It’s now owned by Yum! Brands, and is currently headquartered in Louisville. Texas Roadhouse is also in Louisville, famous for its fall-off-the-bone ribs, hand-cut steaks, scratch-made side dishes, and fresh-baked bread. Meanwhile, long-running A&W Restaurants, renowned for its root beer, burgers, and root beer floats, is headquartered in Lexington.

Kentucky Coal

Miners discovered coal in Kentucky in 1750. Its first commercial coal mining enterprise began operation in 1820 and has since been an essential source of income and also a controversial part of the state. There are about 260 operational surface and underground coal mines in the state, although less than 4,000 underground coal miners and about 1,500 surface miners are employed.

Affordable Cost of Living

If you wish to reside in Kentucky, your cost of living wouldn’t be much, as the average cost is pegged at $36,574 annually or roughly $3,047 per month. According to US News and World Report, the state has the ninth-lowest cost of living in the Continental US, with housing ranging from $60,500 in Middlesborough to $235,000 in Lexington. The state also levies a 5% income tax, although counties and cities have the option to levy additional taxes depending on the need and approval of their constituency. The tax burden for Kentuckians is at the 25th rank, making the area in the middle of the country’s list.