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Harlan, Kentucky facts for kids

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Harlan, Kentucky
Harlan in 2015
Harlan in 2015
Location of Harlan in Harlan County, Kentucky.
Location of Harlan in Harlan County, Kentucky.
Country United States
State Kentucky
County Harlan
Named for Its county
 • Total 1.33 sq mi (3.46 km2)
 • Land 1.30 sq mi (3.37 km2)
 • Water 0.03 sq mi (0.08 km2)
1,191 ft (363 m)
 • Total 1,776
 • Density 1,364.06/sq mi (526.68/km2)
Time zone UTC-5 (Eastern (EST))
 • Summer (DST) UTC-4 (EDT)
ZIP code
Area code(s) 606
FIPS code 21-34732
GNIS feature ID 0493746

Harlan is a home rule-class city in and the county seat of Harlan County, Kentucky, United States. The population was 1,745 at the 2010 census, down from 2,081 at the 2000 census.

Harlan is one of three Kentucky county seats to share its name with its county, the others being Greenup and Henderson.


Harlan County Kentucky Courthouse
The fifth and present courthouse of Harlan, Kentucky, built from 1918 to 1922.

Harlan was first settled by Samuel and Chloe Howard in 1796. Upon the founding of Harlan County (named for Kentucky pioneer Silas Harlan) in 1819, the Howards donated 12 acres (49,000 m2) of land to serve as the county seat. The community there was already known as Mount Pleasant, apparently owing to a nearby Indian mound. A post office was established on September 19, 1828, but called Harlan Court House due to another Mt. Pleasant preëmpting that name. During the Civil War, Confederate raiders under Gen. Humphrey Marshall occupied the town; the local postmaster renamed the community Spurlock after himself; and, in October 1863, the courthouse was burnt down in reprisal for the Union destruction of the courthouse in Lee County, Virginia. In 1865, the post office was renamed Harlan and, although the community was formally incorporated by the state assembly as Mount Pleasant in on April 15, 1884, the town was already usually called Harlan Court House or Harlan Town by its inhabitants. The city's terms of incorporation were amended to change the name to Harlan on March 13, 1912. One year before, the L&N had arrived in Harlan and prompted massive growth. The city had initially expanded east along Clover Fork; after World War II, it also expanded south along Martin's Fork.

A flood in 1977 prompted federal aid that diverted Clover Fork into man-made tunnels under Ivy Hill in 1989. In the 1990s, a flood wall was also completed on the city's west side along the four-lane bypass U.S. Route 421.


Overlooking Flood Wall and Highway 421
A view of U.S. Route 421 from downtown; the flood wall and Harlan Independent Schools' athletic fields are also visible.

Harlan is located at 36°50′29″N 83°19′12″W / 36.84139°N 83.32000°W / 36.84139; -83.32000 (36.841487, -83.320066).

According to the United States Census Bureau, the city has a total area of 1.8 square miles (4.7 km2), all land.


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


Historical population
Census Pop.
1890 361
1900 557 54.3%
1910 657 18.0%
1920 2,647 302.9%
1930 4,327 63.5%
1940 5,122 18.4%
1950 4,786 −6.6%
1960 4,177 −12.7%
1970 3,318 −20.6%
1980 3,024 −8.9%
1990 2,686 −11.2%
2000 2,081 −22.5%
2010 1,745 −16.1%
2020 1,776 1.8%
U.S. Decennial Census

As of the census of 2000, there were 2,081 people, 926 households, and 550 families residing in the city. The population density was 1,187.4 people per square mile (459.1/km2). There were 1,060 housing units at an average density of 604.8 per square mile (2.339/km2). The racial makeup of the city was 91.01% White, 7.02% Black or African American, 0.29% Native American, 0.86% Asian, and 0.82% from two or more races. Hispanics or Latinos of any race were 0.62% of the population.

Harlan Poke Sallet 2015
Downtown Harlan during the annual Poke Sallet Festival

There were 926 households, out of which 24.0% had children under the age of 18 living with them, 41.3% were married couples living together, 14.4% had a female householder with no husband present, and 40.6% were non-families. 39.0% of all households were made up of individuals, and 19.4% had someone living alone who was 65 years of age or older. The average household size was 2.17 and the average family size was 2.91.

In the city, the population was spread out, with 21.3% under the age of 18, 8.1% from 18 to 24, 25.8% from 25 to 44, 25.1% from 45 to 64, and 19.7% who were 65 years of age or older. The median age was 42 years. For every 100 females, there were 89.4 males. For every 100 females age 18 and over, there were 81.8 males.

The median income for a household in the city was $17,270, and the median income for a family was $29,135. Males had a median income of $37,500 versus $20,852 for females. The per capita income for the city was $15,572. About 23.8% of families and 32.4% of the population were below the poverty line, including 40.0% of those under age 18 and 20.6% of those age 65 or over.


Overlooking East Central Street
Overlooking East Central Street. Harlan High School and Middle School are visible on the left.

Two school districts, the Harlan County Public Schools and the Harlan Independent Schools, are based in the city. The independent schools, whose district roughly coincides with the city limits of Harlan, feature Harlan Elementary, Harlan Middle, and Harlan High.

Harlan County High School, which opened in 2008 as the consolidation of the county district's three previous high schools (James A. Cawood, Evarts, and Cumberland), serves all other public high school students in the county. Harlan also features a campus of Southeast Kentucky Community and Technical College.

Harlan has a lending library, a branch of the Harlan County Public Library.

Notable people

  • Maxine Cheshire, journalist
  • Karl Spillman Forester, federal judge for the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Kentucky
  • Edwin B. Howard, Chief of Intelligence of the Allied Land Forces in Central Europe
  • Wallace Jones, NBA player
  • James E. Keller, former justice of the Kentucky Supreme Court
  • Nick Lachey, singer
  • Cawood Ledford, University of Kentucky basketball and football announcer
  • George Ella Lyon, author
  • Jordan Smith, musician and winner of Season 9 of The Voice
  • Green Wix Unthank, United States District Court judge
  • Don Whitehead, two-time Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter and author
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