Lee County has a rich commercial history. From the earliest times American Natives harvested the resources of the area. The earliest inhabitants were cave dwellers in the Big and Little Sinking Creek area; they hunted and farmed. In latter times, the Shawnee to the north, and the Cherokee to the south, exploited the plentiful game, and often clashed in this Dark and Bloody Ground - this no-man's land. A major route for these Indian nations was the Athawominee, or the "Path of the Armed Ones." It ran from the Cherokee nation in the Carolinas, through the Cumberland Gap, north to Lake Erie. A branch of this trail ran along the South Fork of the Kentucky River, through the Beattyville - Proctor area.
In 1750, Thomas Walker explored the Three Forks area, and specifically Walker Creek. Later, in the 1760s, other explorers and long hunters, like Daniel Boone, the Skaggs brothers, and James Knox explored the Kentucky highlands.
The colonial settlement of Kentucky began in the 1770s. Settlements were located at Harrodsburg on the Dix River, Boonesborough on the Kentucky River, Boiling Spring, and Logan Station. From Boonesborough, the Kentucky River and its tributaries provided access to travel deep into the mountains. These early pioneers hunted and trapped throughout the Three Forks area. One of Boone's guides, Jacob Miller, eventually settled in the St. Helens area.
Kentucky became a strategic objective of the British as the Revolutionary War progressed. The major settlements were targets of the Indians that had allied with the British. Several expeditions were raised to protect the frontier, and the recruits were promised Kentucky land in return for their service.
After the Revolutionary War, many veterans settled in the mountains of Kentucky. One of these was Archibald D. McGuire; he fought in the battle of Tippecanoe. He came to the Three Forks area from the Boonesborough Settlement in 1799. He settled on what is now the James H. McIntosh farm in the located in Proctor Kentucky, the site of a large spring.
The major source of income was farming, but in those early days two new industries appeared -- pine tar and saltpeter production. The tar-kiln builders lived where the great Yellow Pine forests stood. They came to harvest the pine knots which lay in rotting fallen trees. They would pile these into a cone, cover them with dirt, and then burn them. They dug troughs in the ground to collect the tar that flowed from their earthen kiln, and shipped it around the world -- much of it being used for the US Navy and Great Lakes shipping. The NitreGatherers lived near the cliffs. They searched under the cliffs and in the caverns where they gathered the saltpeter, a key ingredient of gun powder, which in that day brought a handsome price. Coal mining started as early as 1810 when Henry Beatty, a founder of Estill County, and his son Samuel, operated a coal mine.
In 1848 the town of Proctor was established. It was named after Joseph Proctor, a companion of Daniel Boone, who traveled often in the area as a circuit preacher. Early Proctor enterprises included hotels, groceries, carpentry, basket making, boat building, salt gathering, coal mining, timber operations, and flour milling.
Samuel and Patience Kelly Beatty sold their land along the Kentucky River to encourage the establishment of a town across from Proctor. In 1850 "Beattyille" was chartered.
In 1862 the Proctor flour mill was burned by troops of CSA Colonel John Hunt Morgan as he attempted to stop the retreat of General George W. Morgan (USA) from Cumberland Gap.
Lee County was established as Kentucky's 115th county on March 1, 1870 from part of Owsley, Wolfe, Breathitt, and Estill. It was named after Lee County, Virginia. The first court was held in the Old Howerton House in Proctor on April 25, 1870. James Madison Beatty, the first County Attorney, and his wife Josephine, donated land in Beattyville for a courthouse and jail, and the county seat soon moved to Beattyville.
The Three Forks Region began to evolve as a key economic center of Eastern Kentucky. It was a center of operations for gathering and moving the immense natural resources of timber, coal, and oil down the Kentucky River and along the new railroads being built. The Swan-Day Lumber Co., one of the largest in the world, operated a large saw mill and lumber yard in West Beattyville ( known as Slab Town about the turn of the century for the many homes built of lumber from the mill. ) This great economic expansion created demand for increased services to include banking, transportation, real-estate development, and communications.
In 1917 Lee County was the site of an oil boom. However, it was short lived. In the 1920s, oil, along with timber and coal operations began to dwindle. In 1929 the depression further hampered commercial enterprises.
Today Lee County continues to be the location of timber and oil operations. It has seen the recent development of businesses in healthcare, data processing, textiles manufacturing, adventure tourism, and other areas.
Chronology of Significant Commercial Dates In Lee County History
May 1750- Thomas Walker Explores "Walker's Creek".
1818- Henry Beatty & son Samuel Operate Coal Mines
1840- Billy Booth Water Mill Built on Lower Devil's Creek
Feb 1846- Proctor Post Office Established
Oct 1854- Devil's Creek Post Office Established
Sep 1858- Beattyville Post Office Established
Feb 1859- Bear Creek Post Office Established
Sep 1862- Civil War Skirmish at Beattyville
Jan 1870- Lee County Established, Proctor County Seat
Sep 1871- Old Landing Post Office Established
Mar 1872- Beattyville Incorporated
Mar 1878- Winchester & Beattyville RR Incorporated
Feb 1881- Pryse Post Office Established
Mar 1883- Zachariah Post Office Established
Mar 1883- Lewellen Post Office (St. Helens) Established
May 1883- First Newspaper, The Three Forks Enterprise
Nov 1885- Beattyville Woman's Club Organized
Jun 1887- Jackson and Beattyville Telephone Company Established
Nov 1887- Beattyville & St. Helens Telephone Company Established
Nov 1892- Beattyville Telephone and Telegraph Company Established
May 1888- The Deposit Bank of Beattyville Incorporated
Nov 1888- St. Helens Post Office Established
1889- Kentucky River Lumber Company
Aug 1889- Three Forks Deposit Bank Established
1889- Three Forks Investment Company Prospectus Issued
Sep 1890- Fincastle Post Office Established
1890- Beattyville, Proctor, Booneville Steamboat & Trans. Co.
May 1891- Richmond, Irvine, Beattyville RR to be Sold
1891- Three Forks Lumber Company Incorporated
1891- Beattyville Fair Company
Oct 1892- Tallega Post Office Established
1892- Beattyville Elevator Company Established
Jul 1893- Primrose Post Office Established
Jun 1894- St. Thomas Church Corner Stone Laid
Oct 1894- Kentucky Union Railway conveyed to Lexington & Eastern RR
1896- Roberts Distilling Company
May 1896- Beattyville Machine Work Company Established
Nov 1898- Delvinta Post Office Established
Sep 1901- Beattyville Bank Opens
April 1902- Beattyville Telephone Company
Mar 1904- Heidelberg Post Office Established
Mar 1904- White Ash Post Office Established
Mar 1904- Evelyn Post Office Established
Mar 1904- Williba Post Office Established
Dec 1905- Three Forks Ferry Company Established
May 1906- Beattyville and Proctor Bridge Company
Jul 1906- Beattyville Home Telephone Company
Feb 1908- Ida May Post Office Established
May 1908- Bear Track Post Office Established
Jul 1909- Belle Point Post Office Established
Oct 1909- Canyon Falls Post Office Established
Aug 1912- Peoples Exchange Bank Established
Dec 1913- Kentucky Rockcastle & Cumberland RR Inc. in Lee Co.
Oct 1915- Lexington & Eastern Railway Conveyed to Louisville & Nashville Railroad
Jul 1917- Fixer Post Office Established
Jun 1919- Big Sinking Post Office Established
Sep 1920- Lee County Commercial Bank
Oct 1920- Leeco Post Office Established
Feb 1922- Swan Day Lumber Co. Incorporated
Feb 1923- Beattyville Kiwanis Chartered
Mar 1924- Beattyville Credit Union
Nov 1926- Athol Post Office Established
Mar 1934- Congelton Brothers and Garrett Ambulance Service
Sep 1935- Lee County Farm Bureau Established
Oct 1940- WBKY- Beattyville's First Radio Broadcast
Feb 1941- Yellow Rock Post Office Established
Dec 1941- Lee County Coop Established
Jun 1956- Last Steam Passenger Train at Beattyville
Jan 1957- Devastating Flood
Apr 1962- Proctor T.V. Established
Jul 1965- Lee County Rescue Squad
1967- Lycoming Shoe Company Opens
Apr 1970- Lee County Personal Care Home Incorporated
1976- Villa Lutz Stained Glass Company Established
1977- Lion Apparel Manufacturing Opens
Mar 1977- Lee County Senior Citizens Incorporated
Sep 1977--Gasoline Truck Explodes and Destroys Sections of Beattyville and kills 12 people.
Jun 1979- Sheltowee Trace Dedicated in Honor of Daniel Boone
Jul 1979- New Courthouse Dedicated
Sep 1981- Beattyville Dental Clinic
June 1984- DataCom Opens
Oct 1988- First Woolly Worm Festival
Nov 1989- First Three Forks Tradition Newspaper Printed
Jul 1985- Kentucky Mountain Farms Cooperative, Inc.
Sep 1986- Ashland Oil Shuts Down its Lee County Wells
Nov 1999- Chamber Website Established
2000- Beattyville Website Established
2005- Farmer's State Bank
Nov 2005- Center Villiage Completed