The Bluegrass region (Shawnee: Eskippakithiki) is a geographic region in the U.S. state of Kentucky. It makes up the northern part of the state where a majority of the state's population has lived and developed its largest cities.
Before European-American settlement, various cultures of indigenous peoples adapted to the region, which had mostly a savannah of wide grasslands with interspersed enormous oak trees. They hunted its large herds of bison and other game, especially near salt licks. The name "Kentucky" means "meadow lands" in several different Indian languages and was specifically applied to this region. Europeans adopted the name to apply to the state. Europeans named the Bluegrass region for the blue flowered Poa grass that grew there.
Americans settled in number in the region in the decades after the Revolutionary War, migrating mostly from Virginia. By 1800 these planters noticed that horses grazed in the Bluegrass region were more hardy than those from other regions; this is due to the high content of calcium in the soil. Within decades of increased settlement, the remaining herds of bison had moved west. Breeding of Thoroughbred horses was developed here, as well as of other quality livestock. Kentucky livestock was driven to Tennessee and other areas of the Ohio valley for sale.
Planters, supported by slave labor, also cultivated major commodity crops, such as tobacco, hemp (see Hemp in Kentucky), and grapes (see Kentucky wine). The first commercial winery in the United States was opened in the Bluegrass region in 1801 in present-day Jessamine County by a group of Swiss immigrants. It was authorized by the state legislature.
The Bluegrass region is characterized by underlying fossiliferous limestone, dolostone, and shale of the Ordovician geological age. Hills are generally rolling, and the soil is highly fertile for growing pasture. Since the antebellum years, the Bluegrass region has been a center for breeding quality livestock, especially Thoroughbred race horses (see Equine industry in Kentucky).
Since the late 20th century, the area has become increasingly developed with residential and commercial properties, particularly around Lexington, the business center. Farms are losing ground to development and slowly disappearing. In 2006, The World Monuments Fund included the Bluegrass region on its global list of 100 most endangered sites.
The Kentucky Bluegrass is bounded on the east by the Cumberland Plateau, with the Pottsville Escarpment forming the boundary. On the south and west, it borders the Pennyroyal Plateau, (also called the Pennyrile), with Muldraugh Hill, another escarpment, forming the boundary. Much of the region is drained by the Kentucky River and its tributaries. The river cuts a deep canyon called the Kentucky River Palisades through the region, preserving meanders that indicate that the river was once a mature low valley that was suddenly uplifted. Particularly near the Kentucky River, the region exhibits Karst topography, with sinkholes, caves, and disappearing streams that drain underground to the river.
Kentucky River in the Bluegrass region.