Being the geography nerd that I am, I often find myself noticing peculiar oddities in maps that go unnoticed to most people – as was the case a couple of years ago when I came across a particular portion of extreme western Kentucky that isn’t really even in Kentucky.
Known as the “Kentucky Bend,” Fulton County’s westernmost 17.5 square miles is only accessible from Tennessee and is separated from the county and state’s mainland by the State of Missouri.
Roughly an hour’s drive from the county courthouse, the land is part of Kentucky thanks to the shortsightedness of early border agreements, which established the Commonwealth of Kentucky’s southwestern border as being the land north of roughly 36˚29’53N that was found to lie on the eastern bank of the Mississippi River.
Surveyors marking the boundary between Kentucky and Tennessee had only estimated where their line would meet the Mississippi; later, more detailed surveys revealed the location of this line to pass directly through a series of snaking meanders of the river, effectively giving Kentucky a sizable portion of land that was north of the Tennessee line and east of the Mississippi River – even though it was west of a portion of Missouri’s territory that lay on the western bank of the Great River… Yes, a little confusing, but that’s what makes this story so interesting!
The result is a peninsula of land belonging to the Bluegrass State that doesn’t touch Kentucky territory, is separated from its own county-seat by Missouri and is only accessible by land through Tennessee.
Lying as the farthest portion of the state downriver, the Kentucky Bend serves as the lowest point in Kentucky.
In the fall of 2013, I took a drive into this area only to discover that there isn’t very much there. A simple blue “Welcome to Kentucky” sign greets motorists just beyond a typical Mississippi River shanty in what could have been a plowed cotton field.
A little farther down the road, there is a marble slab marking the spot of the Madrid Bend Families’ Cemetery, which was created in 1850 and moved to its present location around 1910 due to erosion by the Mississippi River.
Outside of this, there wasn’t much more to this area, which has a population of 18 individuals – it equals to be about 1 person per square mile.
Though the local residents use a Tiptonville, Tennessee, mailing address, they will earnestly contend that they are proud Kentucky residents… Something that the Volunteer State learned the hard way when they attempted to administer the area in the mid-1800s only to discover the local residents weren’t about to forsake their Kentucky allegiance – even if their home state was on the other side of Missouri!
In Mark Twain’s book, “Life on the Mississippi,” he described the six-decade-long feud between the Darnell and Watson families, two clans who lived and brawled on this hallowed piece of Kentucky soil.
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