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#1 Barren County, Kentucky
Barren County Kentucky

Barren County is the kind of place where people come, like what they see, then decide to call it home. Scottish immigrants did it in the late 1700s—thus a county seat named Glasgow—and people are still coming today.

With its rolling farmland and friendly residents, there's little reason to wonder why. "We probably send out six relocation packages a week," notes Ann Stewart with the county Chamber of Commerce. That wouldn't be so unusual except that Barren County is somewhat off the beaten track—not really famous for much other than its proximity to Mammoth Cave.

But once you discover this land, it's not hard to see why people say, "This would be a nice little place to live."

History is rich in these parts. People honor those who have fought in wars, so you'll find memorials of one sort or the other scattered throughout the countryside. Portraits of native soldiers who have died hang in county offices. They range from recent wars all the way back to the Civil War—five Confederate soldiers, two Union and one unknown.

While many rural areas have struggled to attract commerce, businesses here are thriving. Three industrial parks have filled and a fourth is in the works.

The county scored well in our health-care statistics, so we weren't surprised to find a residency program for new doctors—a rarity for a community so small. "I can't think of a better place to train doctors than in Glasgow," says Dr. Brent Wright, who started his own training here eight years ago. He liked the area so much he stayed, and now he is director of the program.

Education scored well in our statistics, so the three school systems must be doing something right. The county schools are growing quickly, but nevertheless have some of the highest achievement scores in the state.

Bill Walter, assistant superintendent of Barren County schools, came from Ohio 13 years ago and is impressed with the entire community. "It was amazing to me when I got involved how people—all types of people from all walks of life—cooperate with each other to get something done," he says.

Karin and Gary Carroll encountered something similar when they moved here a year ago from California to run the historic Hall Place Bed and Breakfast.

"People here are just different," Karin relates. "When we came, we had people coming by with baked bread. Never in California have I ever had that happen."

There's little doubt that a strong farming heritage continues to influence attitudes and tradition. Barren County holds on to its rural roots; each year it ranks at the top of Kentucky's agricultural production. And though so many U.S. farms are becoming "megafarms," most of the county's farms are still small in comparison.

People moving in. Farmers still farming. Rural communities facing change. It's not an uncommon story in many parts of the country. And like so many other areas, Barren County is coming to a crossroads sooner or later.

Davie Greer, the county's judge/executive, has been telling residents for several years that her county is growing fast enough to warrant some kind of plan for the future. And although county residents generally have wanted little part of that, Greer's message is that random growth will eventually cost taxpayers more in infrastructure needs.

Perhaps the message is working. Last fall Greer won a new four-year term even though her opponent criticized her on this very issue.

"I just want to have the right kind of growth and preserve our farmland," Greer says. And the alternative? It would take many years, but with unplanned growth, "Bit by bit, the farm is gone."

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Cooperative Extension, Barren County
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Public domain maps courtesy of The General Libraries, The University of Texas at Austin, modified by James D. Forrester or Eric Pierce to show counties. Released under GFDL. Licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 License.

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