History of Johnson County
Johnson County, Kentucky, was created by the legislature on February 24, 1843, carved from Lawrence, Floyd and Morgan counties. The county conducted its first business on April 1, 1844, and a courthouse was soon constructed in Paintsville. The town was first known as Paint Lick Station and been founded in 1790, a short time after the county’s first settlement, Harman’s Station, located at Blockhouse Bottom, Hager Hill. On April 24, 1824, a post office was established at the town and was called Paint Creek. In 1834, the legislature created the town of Paintsville, and the post office took that name in 1843. Steamboats began traversing the Big Sandy River in 1837 and provided much needed transportation. The county’s population grew rapidly in the early years, but that growth was interrupted by the Civil War, as more than 900 of the county’s residents fought for either the Union or the Confederacy, of a total 1860 population of 5,306. The county’s economy was initially based on agriculture, with the addition of significant timbering in the decades after the Civil War. That changed dramatically in 1904 with the arrival of the railroad at Paintsville, which ushered in the coal era, destined to last more than 100 years. Major companies, Consolidation Coal Company and North East Coal Company, opened large mines and built the towns of Van Lear and Thealka. By the 1940s, as many as 1,500 men were employed in Johnson County mines. That industry was complemented by the development, beginning in 1917, of the oil and gas industry. In 1922, the Johnson-Magoffin oil field produced more than 2,000,000 barrels of oil. Development of these natural resources caused population growth in the county, the peak being 25,771 residents in 1940. Mine mechanization after World War II decreased mine employment and population. Mine production picked up in the 1970s and remained fairly constant for several years, with the greatest production occurring in 2008 with 2,713,196 tons of coal mined in the county that year. Educational development has occurred over time, with the authorization of Mayo State Vocational School in 1938, the consolidation of county schools into Johnson Central High School in 1968 and the opening of the Carl D. Perkins Vocational Center in 1973.