Few counties have the prestige to claim the origin of the world’s second largest restaurant brand and the world’s biggest skillet, but Laurel County, Ky., with a population of nearly 60,000, has both.
Founded in 1825 as the 80th county of Kentucky, and named after the Laurel River, the County was carved from parts of Rockcastle, Clay, Cox and Whitley Counties. Nestled in the Appalachian Mountains in southeastern Kentucky, Laurel is home to a beautiful and vibrant landscape boasting rivers, streams and mountains, and has a current population of 58,849 people.
The county seat, London, with a population of 7,993 in the last census, was founded only one year later and was named in honor of the town’s English heritage. A post office followed in 1831, and the town was officially named a city in 1836.
Like many southeastern Kentucky towns, this one became populated with early settlers expanding west. Eventually, enough individuals found a good spot and settled until enough people collected to form a county. And, like many other counties and towns, London and Laurel County are filled with history and a strong grasp of heritage.
One of the most historic events that occurred in the county happened in October of 1861 at the Battle of Wildcat Mountain, which is considered the second battle in the state and one of the first Union victories of the Civil War.
However, no event can eclipse what one man started at a gas station in Corbin in the 1950s. Harlan Sanders, who would later earn the honorary title of Kentucky Colonel and become known as Colonel Sanders from then on, began selling his chicken to travelers, eventually growing too busy and buying the station across the street. Originally from Indiana, Sanders learned to cook from his mother when his father died. He worked a series of jobs until landing at the Shell station in Corbin, where he began serving travelers his now world-famous chicken. A perfectionist, he realized his technique for frying chicken was too slow and thought deep fryers hurt the taste. Eventually, he would modify a pressure cooker. From there, Sanders would franchise his restaurants, first in Utah in 1952, until at present day there are more than 20,000 locations around the world in 123 countries, including at such historic sites as the Great Pyramid in Giza, Egypt.
Sanders’ legacy is celebrated in London the last weekend in September each year with the World Chicken Festival, now in its 28th consecutive year. The festival includes the world’s biggest skillet, a 10′ 6″ behemoth, eight inches deep, that weighs 700 pounds. Events include a 5K run, corn hole and volleyball tournaments, a karaoke contest and the London, Kentucky Olympics.
Modern day Laurel County acts as a hub for several surrounding counties. Still pristine and beautiful, located in the Daniel Boone National Forest, Laurel County serves as what is considered a micropolitan statistical area – a small city that acts as an economic center for the surrounding region. The statistical area surrounding London contains 126,565 Kentuckians.
While its residents are rightfully proud of their heritage, like all communities, Laurel County is adapting to fit into the modern world. The internet has made even smaller communities accessible to the larger world around them, and even some cultural traditions have changed. A dry county for decades, Laurel County now allows by-the-drink alcohol sales in restaurants in London that seat at least 50 and earn at least 50 percent of their profits from food.
But while some things may change, the character of London and Laurel County have stayed the same. And that is how most of the residents enjoy it.
Billy Johnson and The Johnson Law Firm in Pikeville, Ky., are proud to bring their experience and resources to aggressively pursue your legal needs. For questions or to set up a consultation, contact The Johnson Law Firm online or call 606-437-4488.
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