History of Whitley County

The pedigree of Whitley County, as it exists today, maybe traced back to 1772, when all of what is now the state of Kentucky was in the frontier county of Fincastle County, Virginia.  In 1776, Fincastle County was divided and this section became known as Kentucky County, Virginia.  In 1780, Virginia set aside all land in Kentucky County for soldiers who had served in the Revolutionary War and the rush to take up the land in Kentucky started.  Kentucky County was divided into 3 counties, Jefferson, Fayette and Lincoln.  In 1799, Lincoln County was divided and portion of it became Knox County, the parent county of Whitley.  Whitley County was created by cutting it off from Knox County, Kentucky, on January 17, 1818.  Later, in 1912, it lost some of its land when McCreary County was created.

William whitleyThe new county was given the name of Whitley in honor of William Whitley, noted pioneer and Indian fighter.
Dr. Thomas Walker was the first known white man to see Whitley County.  His expedition began in 1750.  We do not have any records as to what really did happen between 1750 and the early 1800s.  It is thought that scouts and settlers followed Dr. Walker’s trail to Watts Creek and on down the creek and up the river a short distance to Spring Ford, presently Williamsburg.  Dr. Thomas Walker named this river the Cumberland after the Duke of Cumberland.

William Whitley 1749-1813


All of Whitley County had a population of only about 500 when it was born.  By 1820, Census shows a population of 2,340, in 1830 a population of 3,804, in 1850 a population of 7,222, 1860 a population of 7,522, and in 1870 a population of 8,140.  There were 146 slaves in 1840, 201 in 1850, and 186 in 1860.

Downtown WilliamsburgThe third Monday in April 1818, was the first convening of the Whitley County Court at Samuel Cox’s house.  Members present for this first court were Ed Riley, John Berry, Uriah Park, Francis Faulkner, James Clark, Ike King and Samuel Cox.  Lt. Governor Gabriel Slaughter, acting governor-commissioned various people to office, there were:  Burton Litten as sheriff, Charles Rockhold as corner and Joseph Eve as county court clerk.  Edward Riley presided as Gentleman Justice.  On this

first day of court five constables were appointed to work with the militia against the Indians and the protection of the settlers.  The only other action on its first day of court was that Gill Eve be appointed Counselor and Attorney for the county.

 Edward Riley, Joseph Gillis and Samuel Cox, were appointed by the court on June 26, 1818, to lay off the town of Williamsburgh and a public square for erecting a courthouse and other necessary buildings.  In October, 1818, the Whitley County Commissioners approved a plan for the building of a court house square and how the courthouse would be built.  The Whitley County Court House also served as the post office until 1880s.

Old Whitley County CourthouseA review of the early court records show that the court dealt with the problems as they arose.  The court continued to appoint reviewers, divide the county into militia districts, exempt persons from poll tax, issuing warrants, seeing that orphans were bound out or apprenticed to a worthy citizen.

The growth of Whitley County for the first fifty years was at a snail’s pace.  However, from 1850, and after the Civil War, the growth was rapid and truly spectacular.  Many communities sprang up throughout the county.


whitley County Court Officials


Whitley County Court Officials. Cy W. Renfro is the sheriff with the star badge.




Whitley County Official

Whitley County official in 1916: County Judge, Ben Rose; Circuit Court Clerk, Silas Lawson; Clerk, Jonathon Stanfill, Jess Meadors; Jailor, Bill Underwood; Sheriff, Wesley Perkins; County Court Clerk, E. F. White


 The coming of the L & N Railroad in 1883, was the largest contributor to the growth of the county.  The railroad was completed to Jellico, Tennessee and the Southern Railway completed its branch from Knoxville to Jellico at the same time in 1883.  With the advent of the railroad, industry began to flourish in Whitley County.  The first industries of any importance were the lumber mills, followed by the coal mines. 

Court HouseWhitley County Court House burned in 1931, and was rebuilt and financed largely by government funds. 

 The Whitley County Court House was remolded in 1971, and then again in 2006. Preparations are in the process to build a new Judical Center in downtown Williamsburg to compliment the present Whitley County Court House. the new Judical Center will house all Courtrooms and records.


WC County

Whitley County Court House

Main Street Entrance


Court House

Whitley County Court House

Sycamore Street Entrance



Past County Judges or Judge Executives

1937 – L. B. Meadors
1940 – J. L. Manning (elected to fill unexpired term)
1941 – W. M. Bennett
1945 – Morton Bennett
1949 – Everett Faulkner
1953 – Pleas Jones
1957 – Morton Bennett
1961 – Morton Bennett
1965 – Dick Vermillion
1968 – Jerry F. Taylor (elected to fill unexpired term)
1969 – Jerry F. Taylor

1973 – Jerry F. Taylor
1977 – Jerry F. Taylor
1981 – Archie B. Powers
1985 – Jerry F. Taylor
1989 – Jerry F. Taylor
1993 – Leroy Gilbert
1998 – Mike Patrick
2002 -  Mike Patrick
2005 - Burley Foley (appointed to fill unexpired term)
2006 – Pat White, Jr.




If you have any pictures or information on the History of Whitley County you would like to see on this page please contact us.

All information and some photos taken from: Whitley County, Kentucky - History and Families
and The Whitley News Journal 100th Edition

 Unbridled Spirit