The Saddest Courthouse of Them All … in Booneville, Ky.

Owsley County Courthouse – Booneville, Ky.

They all can’t be winners, folks.

I visited Owsley County on a snowy morning last spring. Driving down through Jackson and Beattyville, it was a pretty surreal experience heading through Lee County and along the edge of the Natural Bridge State Park through the snow.

When I arrived, I parked in a muddy gravel lot across from the courthouse and headed into the courthouse.

To be completely honest here, Owsley County is a depressing place.

Owsley County is extremely isolated and is in fact one of the poorest counties in the entire country. Forty-five percent of the county is below the poverty level, and the median income for a household is just under $16,000.

Old Owsley County Courthouse from 1929-1967

This lovely little gem of a courthouse was built (suprise!) in the 1970s. It replaced a beautiful 1929 Colonial revival courthouse that stood on this site before burning in 1967. That courthouse had already been condemned when it burned.

You can still (and may actually be required to) smoke in the Owsley County Courthouse. The permeating smell of tobacco smoke makes the trip to Owsley County even more unpleasant.

The figure you see emblazoned on the front of the courthouse is Earl Combs, Owsley County’s most famous son.

Combs was the leadoff hitter for the famous New York Yankees teams of the 1920s and ’30s. He played on teams with Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig, and compiled a lifetime .325 batting average, deserving of this place in the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown. Combs left Owsley County when he turned 18 and rarely returned.  Combs ultimately settled instead in Richmond at the end of his life.

[ed. note: without a doubt, there is rampant poverty in Owsley Co. and its condition is sad. These are our neighbors and I’ll never forget what I saw in 2012 when Huffington Post published photos from when the Poorest County in America Celebrates Prom.]