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Burkesville, Kentucky
Cumberland County courthouse in Burkesville
Cumberland County courthouse in Burkesville
Location of Burkesville in Cumberland County, Kentucky.
Location of Burkesville in Cumberland County, Kentucky.
Coordinates: 36°47′34″N 085°22′10″W / 36.79278°N 85.36944°W / 36.79278; -85.36944Coordinates: 36°47′34″N 085°22′10″W / 36.79278°N 85.36944°W / 36.79278; -85.36944
Country United States
State Kentucky
County Cumberland
 • Total 2.65 sq mi (6.87 km2)
 • Land 2.57 sq mi (6.67 km2)
 • Water 0.08 sq mi (0.20 km2)
581 ft (177 m)
 • Total 1,521
 • Estimate 
 • Density 568.76/sq mi (219.59/km2)
Time zone UTC-5 (CST)
 • Summer (DST) UTC-4 (CDT)
ZIP code
Area code(s) 270 & 364
FIPS code 21-11098
GNIS feature ID 0488433

Burkesville is a home rule-class city in Cumberland County, Kentucky, in the United States. Nestled among the rolling foothills of Appalachia and bordered by the Cumberland River to the south and east, it is the seat of its county. The population was 1,521 at the 2010 census.


Burkesville began as a small riverside settlement even before the Iroquois Indians officially sold the land in 1768. The settlement was originally called Cumberland Crossing. In 1846, it was incorporated as a city and named Burkesville after Isham Burk, a prominent citizen leader at that time.

Just as Kentucky was a border state in the Civil War, so was Burkesville a border town. Burkesville stood on the Cumberland River, a major natural barrier between opposing forces, so Union and Confederate troops as well as guerillas led by Champ Ferguson sparred across the countryside. Confederate General John Hunt Morgan tore through the area while conducting Morgan's Raid, and Confederate General Hylan B. Lyon's raids in December 1864 burned seven courthouses, ending with the one in Burkesville on January 3.

Burkesville was a fairly busy river port whose heyday came during the latter part of the nineteenth century, when water transportation was the most feasible way to move large quantities of goods. The rise of larger craft, such as the riverboat, required diligent dredging of the riverbed to keep it navigable so far upstream. The last steamboat docked in Burkesville in 1929, the year after the first major road was opened to the larger city of Glasgow, 40 miles (64 km) to the west. River trade and dredging died out as Burkesville waned in economic importance, and ended permanently when the Tennessee Valley Authority built dams without locks both upstream (Wolf Creek Dam) and downstream (Dale Hollow Dam) in the mid-twentieth century. While this put a definitive end to commercial river traffic, it had the benefit of controlling flooding that plagued the town for years. Now only recreational craft ply the river's waters.

Today the main routes of access to the city are Highway 90 and Highway 61 which intersect at the town's single stoplight. An old-fashioned town square sits on Main Street just a few hundred feet south of the stoplight. Main Street splits and forms a circle around the town court house, the third incarnation of the structure. Original buildings ring the square on three sides; the fourth was razed to make way for a modern justice center, completed in 2006. Two streets branch off perpendicular to Main: River Street runs straight toward the Cumberland River and provides access to the town's only public boat ramp, while Hill Street immediately begins scaling the Alpine Hill that towers over the city. This road was the only access to the city from the west for many years until Highway 90 was built. Dynamite was used to blast a pass through a spur of that hill, a pass called the Sawmill Cut that is still somewhat dangerous for motorists.


Burkesville is located at 36°47′34″N 85°22′10″W / 36.79278°N 85.36944°W / 36.79278; -85.36944 (36.792787, -85.369578).

According to the United States Census Bureau, the city has a total area of 2.64 square miles (6.85 km2), of which 2.57 square miles (6.65 km2) is land and 0.08 square miles (0.20 km2), or 2.90%, is water.


Historical population
Census Pop.
1810 106
1840 340
1850 369 8.5%
1880 434
1910 817
1920 798 −2.3%
1930 886 11.0%
1940 1,092 23.3%
1950 1,278 17.0%
1960 1,688 32.1%
1970 1,717 1.7%
1980 2,051 19.5%
1990 1,815 −11.5%
2000 1,756 −3.3%
2010 1,521 −13.4%
2019 (est.) 1,464 −3.7%
U.S. Decennial Census

As of the census of 2000, there were 1,756 people, 768 households, and 459 families residing in the city. The population density was 620.2 people per square mile (239.6/km2). There were 856 housing units at an average density of 302.3 per square mile (116.8/km2). The racial makeup of the city was 86.90% White, 10.88% African American, 0.17% Native American, 0.17% from other races, and 1.88% from two or more races. Hispanic or Latino of any race were 0.91% of the population.

There were 768 households, out of which 27.2% had children under the age of 18 living with them, 36.5% were married couples living together, 19.1% had a female householder with no husband present, and 40.2% were non-families. 37.0% of all households were made up of individuals, and 18.8% had someone living alone who was 65 years of age or older. The average household size was 2.15 and the average family size was 2.79.

In the city, the population was spread out, with 22.9% under the age of 18, 7.7% from 18 to 24, 23.5% from 25 to 44, 22.7% from 45 to 64, and 23.1% who were 65 years of age or older. The median age was 42 years. For every 100 females, there were 76.5 males. For every 100 females age 18 and over, there were 69.5 males.

The median income for a household in the city was $17,209, and the median income for a family was $24,028. Males had a median income of $20,985 versus $16,763 for females. The per capita income for the city was $11,653. About 23.8% of families and 29.9% of the population were below the poverty line, including 38.0% of those under age 18 and 30.4% of those age 65 or over.


The climate in this area is characterized by hot, humid summers and generally mild to cool winters. According to the Köppen Climate Classification system, Burkesville has a humid subtropical climate, abbreviated "Cfa" on climate maps.


Burkesville has a lending library, the Cumberland County Public Library.

Notable residents

  • Two governors of Kentucky, Thomas E. Bramlette and Preston H. Leslie, were born in the part of Cumberland County that later became Clinton County.
  • Thomas Lincoln, father of the 16th President Abraham Lincoln, served two terms as constable of Cumberland County from 1802 to 1804. He was also commissioned an ensign of the Cornstalk Militia of Cumberland County.
  • David L. Williams, judge of the Kentucky 40th Circuit Court, former President of the Kentucky Senate, 1992 Republican candidate for U.S. Senate, and the 2011 Republican gubernatorial nominee.
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