Many pioneers traveled through nearby Fort Boonesborough (alternatively known as Fort Boonesboro) in Madison County, Kentucky, before establishing permanent settlement in Clark County. At least nineteen pioneer stations or settlements are believed to have been established in the area. Among these were Strode's Station (1779), near Winchester; McGee's Station (ca. 1780), near Becknerville; Holder's Station (1781), on Lower Howard's Creek; and Boyle's Station (ca. 1785), one mile west of Strode's Station. Among the early settlers were a group of forty Baptist families led by Capt. William Bush, who settled on Lower Howard's Creek in 1775. In 1793 the group erected the Old Stone Meeting House. Another pioneer group was the Tracy settlement, founders in the 1790s of a church building that survived well into the twentieth century.
When the Indian threat ended, commercial and agricultural enterprises flourished. Facilities for loading flatboats sprang up along the Kentucky River and its tributaries. County farmers in the early 1800s began importing prime European livestock. Industries such as distilleries and mills thrived throughout the county until 1820, when they began to be concentrated around Winchester.
Clark County, Kentucky actually began as Bourbon County, Virginia in 1785, when it was created from Fayette County, Kentucky (previously also in Virginia). It comprised a much larger area than the present-day Bourbon County; the rest of its former territory is now divided among the following present-day Kentucky counties: Bracken, Boone, Campbell, Clark, Estill, Fleming, Floyd, Greenup, Harrison, Kenton, Mason, Montgomery, Lewis, Nicholas, Pendleton, Powell, and Robertson. This Bourbon County is from which Bourbon whiskey evolved its name.
Among the residents of Clark County were Gov. Charles Scott (1808-12); Gov. James Clark (1836-39); Jane Lampton, the mother of Samuel Clemens; and the sculptor Joel T Hart.
During the Civil War, about 1,000 men from the county joined either the Confederate or Union army. In 1862 and again in 1864, Gen. John Hunt Morgan and his Confederate cavalry passed through the county.
The Elizabethtown, Lexington & Big Sandy Railroad reached Clark County in 1873, followed by the Kentucky Central in 1881, and the Kentucky Union (later abandoned) in 1883. The railroads helped make Winchester a transportation, commercial, and educational center, and gave rise to small service communities such as Hedges Station, six miles east of Winchester, and Ford, a once-prosperous mill town on the Kentucky River.
A number of agricultural changes occurred in the postbellum years through World War II. When Clark County shorthorn cattle were not able to compete with the vast numbers of western cattle being hauled to market by the railroads, several county fortunes were lost and many farmers turned towards burley tobacco as a substitute. Hemp, which was grown to make rope, suffered from foreign competition and vanished as a cash crop around World War I. The crop was brought back during World War II and a processing plant was built in the county. When the war ended, so did the revival of hemp.
In the 1950s and 1960s, industry began moving to the county, mostly around Winchester, aided by the completion of 1-64 and the Mountain Parkway, which by the mid-1960s formed a junction near Winchester. By 1986 manufacturing positions accounted for 25 percent of the employed labor force while another 25 percent was employed in other counties, many in nearby Fayette. The county remains a rich agricultural area, with farms occupying 95 percent of the land