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.
The Wilderness Road was constructed in 1775 through what is now 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.
Bell County is the only Kentucky county hosting both a State Park (Pine Mountain State Resort Park) and a National Monument (Cumberland Gap National Historical Park).[1
All across the Bluegrass State are landscapes that call out to the adventurous. Hills meant for hiking, biking and horseback riding. Gorges that beckon climbers from all over the world. Lakes and rivers where fishing, boating and splashing the summer away form lifelong memories. Forests that inspire ziplining, off-roading and all the thrill-seeking you can dream of. Whatever type of adventure gets your heart pounding, you'll find it in Kentucky.
A Proud & Inspiring History
Kentucky’s story begins in prehistoric times, when mammoths roamed the Ohio River Valley at Big Bone Lick. Over thousands of years, indigenous people, Native Americans, lived here. Explore America’s First Frontier and trace the footsteps of Daniel Boone, who forged the Wilderness Trail through Southern Kentucky. Walk Revolutionary-era forts, Civil War battlefields and portions of the Trail of Tears. Hear Kentucky's fascinating stories at our historic sites and museums. And explore the legacies of Kentucky icons, from the early life of Abraham Lincoln to the untold stories of Kentucky's African American trailblazers.
To explore more Kentucky history and the state's genealogy, visit the Thomas D. Clark Center for Kentucky History.