Though the Native Americans lived here much earlier, Ashland grew out of a settlement established by the Poage family in the late 1700's. The Poages, who came from Staunton, Virginia, settled on the banks of the Ohio River and called the community “Poage’s Landing.”
As Poage’s Landing was in close proximity to Ohio's Hanging Rock iron ore region, it attracted many of the hard-working German and Irish immigrant laborers and ironmasters who came to work in the area. As a result, it wasn’t long before furnaces were constructed on this side of the river too.
The earliest recorded industry in present-day Boyd County was the 1832 steam-powered Clinton iron furnace built by George, William, Thomas, and Hugh Poage. In 1834, John C. and Jacob Kouns built Oakland furnace, which operated until 1849. Buena Vista furnace was built in 1847, Sandy furnace in 1853, Ashland furnace in 1869, Norton furnace in 1873, and Princess furnace in 1876. At least twenty-nine charcoal-fueled iron furnaces operated in Kentucky, with seven of them being in what is now Boyd County.
When, in 1854, some of the Poage family joined forces with a group of Ohio Industrialists to form Kentucky Iron, Coal and Manufacturing Company, one of the results was the urbanization of the area. Engineer Martin Hilton was hired to lay out a plan for a proper town. When the proposal was accepted, one of the stockholders suggested that the newly-organized city be renamed in honor of Henry Clay's Lexington home Ashland. And so it was.
When Ashland was charted, it was part of Greenup County. It wasn't until 1860 that Boyd County was formed from parts of Greenup, Carter and Lawrence Counties.