Avery County is North Carolina’s “baby county” (just 108 years old), but it is packed full of history. Here are just a few of the highlights.
While many long hunters, like Daniel Boone, fished and hunted in the area, the first settler was Samuel Bright. He arrived in the 1770s and built a home at Lower Old Fields of the Toe, called the Bright Settlement. Bright guided early settlers to the Watauga Settlement along an old Indian path, Bright’s Trace of the Yellow Mountain Road.
In September 1780, the Overmountain Men took that same route, over Roan Mountain, down Roaring Creek, and through Ingalls and Green Valley. They defeated the British at the Battle of Kings Mountain, considered the turning point of the American Revolution.
French naturalist Andre Michaux visited Grandfather Mountain in 1794, declaring it the highest mountain in the United States.
On April 4, 1840, the Childsville, Cranberry Forge, and Yellow Mountain Post Offices were established, the first in the area.
After several attempts throughout the 1850s, Mitchell County was created in February 1861, encompassing much of the area, almost to Banner Elk, which the Banners settled in 1848. Childsville, located at the current Avery County airport, became Calhoun. The first session of Mitchell County Court was held there.
The Civil War tore families apart. Many families along the North Toe River sided with the Confederacy. Those along the Elk River sided with the North. Many men marched away to fight at Manassas, Gettysburg, and Chickamauga. Locally, the Cranberry Iron mines produced ore for the South. Kirk’s raiders passed through in June 1864, burning the Palmer House in Altamont, and there was a skirmish near Banner Elk in the fall of 1864.
In June 1882, the East Tennessee & Western North Carolina Railroad reached Cranberry. While the mines had been in operation for decades, the arrival of the railroad provided easy access to outside markets. A month later, regular passenger service began. In March 1883, Cranberry got telegraph service.
Elk Park, the oldest town in present-day Avery County, was incorporated in 1885. That same year, Monroe Dugger and J. Erwin Calloway opened the Grandfather Hotel on Grandfather Mountain.
Samuel Kelsey purchased property from Walter Lenoir in 1888, including much of Grandfather Mountain. The Linville Improvement Company was formed in 1889, controlling some 16,000 acres in and around Grandfather. Kelsey helped found Linville.
The first mica grinding mill was built in Spear in 1891. Mica became big business, helping the Allies win WWII.
In 1892, the Yonahlossee Turnpike was completed, linking Linville with Blowing Rock. That same year, Monroe Dugger published “The Balsam Groves of Grandfather Mountain,” the first book by a local.
Edgar Tufts arrived in Banner Elk in 1895, eventually founding Lees-McRae College, Grace Hospital and the Grandfather Home for Children. Golf was played, possibly for the first time, in Linville that year.
The Linville River Railroad was chartered in 1896. However, before the first rail was laid, the business folded and was reborn as the Linville River Railway in 1899. The rails ran from Cranberry through Minneapolis, Vale, Newland, Montezuma, Pineola, Linville and, eventually, all the way to Boone.
Also in 1899, U.S. Marshall William H. Greer was killed, the first local law enforcement officer to die in the line of duty. Others include John Staford (1912); Zebulon Winters (1920); William Burleson (1923); Hardy Coffey (1936); Alvin Jones (1939); Max Daniels (1949); and Glenn Hicks (2003).
The Plumtree School for Boys opened in 1903. Five years later, Mrs. and Mr. Sloop, both medical doctors, arrived in Plumtree. They moved their practice to Crossnore in 1911. Also in 1908, the Tar Heel Mica Company opened in Plumtree.
In 1909, Scott Wiseman was born in Ingalls. After college in West Virginia, he began performing on WLS in Chicago, where he met, and later married, Lulu Belle (Myrtle Cooper). They went on to have an amazing career both on radio and on film, retiring to the Ingalls area in 1958.
A fire in 1910 destroyed much of the business district in Elk Park. That same month, a hydroelectric plant was constructed in Banner Elk, powering the school and hospital.
Avery County was created in February 1911. Elk Park was the first county seat, but after a vote, Old Fields of Toe became the official county seat. The area was renamed Newland, in honor of Lt. Gov. William C. Newland. The first newspaper, the Avery Vim, began publication in May, and the first court session was held in October.
Town lots were auctioned off in Newland in 1912. Construction began on the Altamont to Altapass section of the Crest of the Blue Ridge Toll Road, a precursor to the Blue Ridge Parkway.
With the completion of the courthouse and jail, the county seat moved from Elk Park to Newland in 1913. That same year, the owners of the Cranberry Iron and Cola company, owners of the ET&WNC, agreed to buy the Linville River Railway.
In 1915, Dr. Sloop constructed a dam on the Linville River in Crossnore, which eventually powered the hospital, school, and town. The Crossnore School, run by Mary Martin Sloop, was chartered in 1917.
The United States entered WWI in 1917, and more than 400 local men served in the armed forces. Eight men died in action, including Cpl. Jesse Staton, who was killed after the armistice papers were signed but before the cease fire took effect.
A flu pandemic struck in 1918, claiming at least 24 Avery County citizens.
Howard Marmon, who designed the car that won the first Indy 500, purchased property in Pineola in 1919.
Uncle Jake Carpenter, who kept death records for lower Avery County, died in 1920. In 1924, the first Singing on the Mountain was held at MacRae’s Meadow.
The town of Crossnore was incorporated in 1925. Preston Johnson was the first mayor.
In 1927, Lees McRae Institute became co-educational, opening a nursing school. Two years later, the school became Lees-McRae College. Also in 1929, the Cranberry Mines closed down.
Shepherd Dugger published “War Trails of the Blue Ridge” in 1931. In 1935, the road to Observation Point on Grandfather Mountain opened, and in 1936, the original Eseeola Lodge in Linville burned.
William Newland and Shepherd Dugger both died in 1938.
A flood in August 1940, worse than the previous one in 1916, destroyed the railroad. The line from Cranberry all the way to Boone was abandoned, despite local protests.
In January 1941, a fire swept through the business section of Newland, destroying several structures. Fire returned in January 1961. There were other fires as well: Elk Park in 1903 and 1914; the Cranberry Hotel in 1924; and the boys dormitory at the Plumtree School for boys in 1927.
The United States entered WWII in 1941. More than 1,200 local citizens served, and 54 died in service. In Elk Park, passenger service resumed on the ET&WNC, continuing through the war years, taking people to work in war-related jobs in Elizabethton. Eventually, the line from Tennessee to Cranberry was abandoned; the last regular run was in 1950.
Dr. Mary Sloop was chosen as the American Mother of the year in 1951; Linville Falls was donated to the National Park Service in 1952, the same year that Hugh Morton acquired Grandfather Mountain. Morton constructed the Mile High Swinging Bridge that same year.
Highway 105, connecting Boone to Linville, opened in 1955. The Grandfather Mountain Highland Games began in 1956. Richard Nixon spoke at the groundbreaking ceremony of Cannon Hospital in 1958. The hospital opened in 1961, the same year that Dr. Sloop passed away. Mrs. Sloop passed the next year.
The Mountain Glen Golf Course opened in 1964, and the nursing school at Lees-McRae closed in 1965. Joe Hartley, founder of Singing on the Mountain, passed in 1966. Both the Grandfather Golf Club and Beech Mountain Ski Resort opened in 1967, and in 1968, the National Park Service and Hugh Morton reached an agreement on the route of the Blue Ridge Parkway over Grandfather Mountain.
The Avery County High School opened in 1969, merging the high schools in Newland, Crossnore and Cranberry. The sales office for Linville Land Harbor opened the same year. The Land of Oz opened on Beech Mountain in 1970 and closed in 1980, although it is occasionally opened.
In 1971, a Christmas tree from Avery County was selected for the White House. Mayland Technical College was established by the General Assembly that same year. “Where the Lilies Bloom” was filmed locally in 1972. Tommy Burleson played basketball for the men’s team in the 1972 US Olympics. Johnny Cash performed at Singing on the Mountain in 1974, the same year that the Sugar Mountain Golf Course opened.
Linville Ridge Golf Course opened in 1981, the same year that Scotty Wiseman died, and construction began on the Linn Cove Viaduct, which opened a year later. Horton Cooper, who published a history of Avery County in 1964, passed away in 1986, and “The Winter People” was filmed in Plumtree in 1987.
Lees-McRae College became a four-year school, and the Grandfather Mountain Nature Museum opened in 1990. The hospitals in Crossnore and Banner Elk merged in 1999, the same year Lulu Bell Wiseman died. Hugh Morton passed away in 2006. The Morton family sold the Grandfather Mountain backcountry in 2008, an area that became Grandfather Mountain State Park in 2009.