Rowan County (/ˈraʊ.ᵻn/) is a county located in the U.S. state of Kentucky. As of the 2010 census, the population was 23,333. Its county seat is Morehead. The county was created in 1856 from parts of Fleming and Morgan counties, and named after John Rowan, who represented Kentucky in the U.S. House and Senate.
With regard to the sale of alcohol, it is classified as a moist county—a county in which alcohol sales are prohibited (a dry county), but containing a “wet” city, in this case Morehead, where package alcohol sales are allowed. It is believed that Rowan County was first explored in 1773 by a party of surveyors from Pennsylvania. The first settlement was established in Farmers, a town 10 miles west of Morehead. Its population rapidly increased due its fertile farming land and proximity to water sources. Additional settlers came to Rowan County from Virginia in the late 18th century after being awarded land grants at the end of the American Revolutionary War. Clearfield was the second settlement established in the county, being colonized by a Virginia aristocrat named Dixon Clack in the early 1800s. It accommodated the first sawmill in the county.
In 1854, Morehead became the third community to be settled in the area. Colonel John Hargis founded the city after purchasing land in the county, naming it after governor James Morehead.Rowan County came into existence in May 1856, seceding from Morgan County and Fleming County. It was divided into four districts with Morehead being declared the county seat. In 1896, a tax was levied on Morehead, sourcing it with the revenue needed to construct hard surface roads. The road system was extended to Farmers by 1920.
In the summer of 2015, Rowan County attracted national attention when County Clerk Kim Davis refused, on grounds of religion, to follow a court order requiring her to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples.