|Founded||February 5, 1867|
|Named for||Joshua Fry Bell|
|• Total||361 sq mi (930 km2)|
|• Land||359 sq mi (930 km2)|
|• Water||2.1 sq mi (5 km2) 0.6%|
| • Estimate |
|• Density||67/sq mi (26/km2)|
|Time zone||UTC−5 (Eastern)|
|• Summer (DST)||UTC−4 (EDT)|
Bell County is a county located in the southeast part of the U.S. state of Kentucky. As of the 2020 census, the population was 24,097. Its county seat is Pineville and its largest city is Middlesboro. The county was formed in 1867, during the Reconstruction era from parts of Knox and Harlan counties and augmented from Knox County in 1872. The county is named for Joshua Fry Bell, a US Representative. It was originally called "Josh Bell", but on January 31, 1873, the Kentucky legislature shortened the name to "Bell",
Bell County is considered a "Moist" county, a classification between dry and wet in terms of alcohol sales. The County changed to moist by a vote in September 2015, that approved alcohol-by-the-drink sales in Middlesboro, Kentucky. On June 23, 2020, Middlesboro voters approved a "wet" status by 1,215 to 653 votes. In a standard dry county, all sales of alcoholic beverages are prohibited. Under ABC terminology, a limited county is an otherwise dry county in which at least one city has approved the sale of alcohol by the drink at restaurants that both seat a state-mandated number of diners and derive no more than 30% of their revenue from alcoholic beverages. In the case of Bell County, Pineville had voted to allow alcohol by the drink in restaurants that seat at least 100 diners. This terminology was used to describe the area until the Middlesboro vote allowed retail sale of alcohol.
The Middlesborough, KY Micropolitan Statistical Area includes all of Bell County.
Bell County was formed in 1867, from portions of Harlan and Knox counties. It was named for Joshua Fry Bell, an attorney and member of Congress. The county courthouse has been thrice destroyed. In 1914 and 1918, it was destroyed by fire and in 1977 nearly destroyed by flooding. The documents stored there were destroyed as well. The flood occurred in April 1977 and although it caused extensive damage, the historical courthouse survived with substantial water damage to the interior.
The community of "South America" (known as Frakes since the 1930s) in Bell County appears to have been established in the Spanish Era. Spain made land grants in Old Kentucky prior to English settlement. The community of South America links southeast Kentucky to an era of Indian herbal harvest and sales much like the Daniel Boone era in the state.
Bell County has one of the highest ratios of local peace officer deaths of any KY or U.S. county per capita, with 28 deputy sheriffs and 4 county sheriff's K-9 having been killed in the county's history. There has been considerable violence related to the prohibition of alcohol and production of moonshine.
According to the United States Census Bureau, the county has a total area of 361 square miles (930 km2), of which 359 square miles (930 km2) is land and 2.1 square miles (5.4 km2) (0.6%) is water.
- Clay County (north)
- Leslie County (northeast)
- Harlan County (east)
- Lee County, Virginia (southeast)
- Claiborne County, Tennessee (south)
- Whitley County (southwest)
- Knox County (northwest)
National protected area
|U.S. Decennial Census|
As of the census of 2000, there were 30,060 people, 12,004 households, and 8,522 families residing in the county. The population density was 83 per square mile (32/km2). There were 13,341 housing units at an average density of 37 per square mile (14/km2). The racial makeup of the county was 96.02% White, 2.40% Black or African American, 0.25% Native American, 0.35% Asian, 0.03% Pacific Islander, 0.12% from other races, and 0.83% from two or more races. 0.65% of the population were Hispanic or Latino of any race.
There were 12,004 households, out of which 31.90% had children under the age of 18 living with them, 51.00% were married couples living together, 15.70% had a female householder with no husband present, and 29.00% were non-families. 26.80% of all households were made up of individuals, and 11.40% had someone living alone who was 65 years of age or older. The average household size was 2.44 and the average family size was 2.95.
The age distribution was 24.40% under the age of 18, 9.00% from 18 to 24, 28.70% from 25 to 44, 24.20% from 45 to 64, and 13.70% who were 65 years of age or older. The median age was 37 years. For every 100 females there were 91.60 males. For every 100 females age 18 and over, there were 88.00 males.
The median income for a household in the county was $19,057, and the median income for a family was $23,818. Males had a median income of $24,521 versus $19,975 for females. The per capita income for the county was $11,526. About 26.70% of families and 31.10% of the population were below the poverty line, including 42.00% of those under age 18 and 21.80% of those age 65 or over.
Three public school districts operate in the county:
Bell County School District
The largest of the three in enrollment and by far the largest in geographic scope. The Bell County School District operates six mainstream K–8 "school centers", one alternative school, one high school, and a newly commissioned technology center built to replace the aging vocational center. It is located on the high school campus and the buildings are connected by an elevated, enclosed walkway. The new technology center is also slated to house the County Board of Education pending its move from their office in the city of Pineville building. Lone Jack High School (in Fourmile) and the old Bell County High School were consolidated into Bell County High School in the early 1980s.
Middlesboro Independent Schools
The second-largest of the three, with boundaries coinciding exactly with the corporate limits of Middlesboro. The district operates one elementary school, one middle school, and one high school. The two elementary schools are separate facilities that share the same campus design (both schools are designed in an "X" shape), and the middle and high schools are separate facilities on one campus on the west side of town. In recent years Middlesboro Independent Schools has leased the "X" shaped building formerly used as East End Intermediate to a local church.
Pineville Independent Schools
The county's smallest district; its boundaries generally, but do not exactly, follow the corporate limits of Pineville. The district operates Pineville School; An elementary, middle, and high school.
Other unincorporated communities
- Black Snake
- Kettle Island
- Mocking Bird Branch
- Red Oak
- Stoney Fork
- Stony Fork Junction
- Sugar Run
- Dry county
- Hensley Settlement
- Middlesborough, KY Micropolitan Statistical Area
- National Register of Historic Places listings in Bell County, Kentucky
- Bell County About Us
- "State & County QuickFacts". United States Census Bureau. Retrieved August 28, 2022.
- "Find a County". National Association of Counties. Archived from the original on July 4, 2012. Retrieved June 7, 2011.
- "Bell County, Kentucky" Genealogy Inc. Retrieved July 6, 2010.
- Census Office. Tenth Census of the United States (1880) I:62.
- "Kentucky Counties Wet/Dry Status as of January 30, 2013" (PDF). Kentucky Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control. Archived from the original (PDF) on July 14, 2014. Retrieved July 12, 2014.
- "Yes wins moist vote - Middlesboro Daily News - middlesborodailynews.com". Middlesboro Daily News. Archived from the original on December 8, 2015. Retrieved November 28, 2015.
- Hogan, Roseann Reinemuth (1992). Kentucky Ancestry: A Guide to Genealogical and Historical Research. Ancestry Publishing. p. 193. ISBN 9780916489496. Retrieved July 26, 2013.
- www.odmp.org Kentucky page
- "2010 Census Gazetteer Files". United States Census Bureau. August 22, 2012. Archived from the original on August 12, 2014. Retrieved August 12, 2014.
- "Annual Estimates of the Resident Population for Counties: April 1, 2020 to July 1, 2022". United States Census Bureau. Retrieved April 2, 2023.
- "U.S. Decennial Census". United States Census Bureau. Retrieved August 12, 2014.
- "Historical Census Browser". University of Virginia Library. Retrieved August 12, 2014.
- "Population of Counties by Decennial Census: 1900 to 1990". United States Census Bureau. Retrieved August 12, 2014.
- "Census 2000 PHC-T-4. Ranking Tables for Counties: 1990 and 2000" (PDF). United States Census Bureau. Archived (PDF) from the original on March 27, 2010. Retrieved August 12, 2014.
- Leip, David. "Dave Leip's Atlas of U.S. Presidential Elections". uselectionatlas.org. Retrieved June 29, 2018.
- Bell County Schools
- Kentucky Transportation Cabinet (1990). "Map of Middlesboro". Kentucky Department of Revenue. Archived from the original on March 9, 2008. Retrieved October 6, 2007. The map also bears a handwritten 1996 label, as the district boundary was signed off by the superintendents of the Bell County and Middlesboro districts. The Middlesboro district boundary is marked in black.
- Middlesboro District
- Kentucky Transportation Cabinet (1989). "Map of Pineville". Kentucky Department of Revenue. Archived from the original on March 9, 2008. Retrieved October 6, 2007. The map also bears a handwritten 1996 label, as the district boundary was signed off by the superintendents of the Bell County and Pineville districts. The Pineville district boundary is marked in black.
- Pineville School District
- "Matt Jones (radio host) - Wikipedia". en.m.wikipedia.org. Retrieved August 2, 2020.
- Cornett, Tim. Bell County, Kentucky: A Brief History (Arcadia Publishing, 2009)
- The Kentucky Highlands Project
- Bell County, Kentucky - USGenWeb
- Bell County, Kentucky - Kentucky Atlas & Gazetteer
- Bell County, Kentucky Tourism Commission