Watauga County, North Carolina

Year Established

County Seat

Significance of County Name

Population (2010)



Watauga River


Legislative Act Creating County

First Settled / By

County Evolution by Decade

Official County Website

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1760s / Scots-Irish

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American Revolution

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Significant Education Events

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Battles & Skirmishes

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Airports in Watauga County

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A History of Watauga County

Tweetsie Railroad - Blowing Rock, North Carolina

Watauga County was formed in 1849 from Ashe, Wilkes, Caldwell, and Yancey counties. It was named for the Watauga River, which name came from an Indian word meaning "beautiful water." It is in the northwestern section of the state and is bounded by the state of Tennessee (Johnson and Carter Counties), and Ashe, Wilkes, Caldwell, and Avery counties within North Carolina.

The first court was ordered to be held at the home of George Council, at which time justices of the peace were to decide upon a place for the future courts until the court house was erected. Commissioners were named to select a site for a county seat "which site shall be between Reuben Bartley's and a point one-half mile west of Willie McGee's east and west direction, and between John Pennell's and Howard's Knob north and south direction." They were to acquire the land and lay out a town and erect the public buildings.

In 1851, a superior court was established for Watauga County, and it directed that court was to be held in the court house at Boone. Boone, named in honor of Daniel Boone, has been the county seat ever since. 

For several thousand years, the Watauga County area was occupied by prehistoric hunting and gathering Indians. Of the later Indian tribes, who were farmers as well as hunters, the most recent were the Cherokee who left the region shortly before the immigration of white settlers. The county was named Watauga after an Indian word meaning "Whispering Waters."

The earliest known visit to the area by a white man was by Bishop August Gottlieb Spangenberg who came in 1752 in search of land for Moravian colonists. Although the bishop was greatly impressed by the natural wonders of the region, for fear of Indian attack, the Moravians chose to settle farther east in what is present-day Forsyth County, North Carolina. Daniel Boone hunted here in the 1760s, spending time in a cabin located on what is now the campus of Appalachian State University. Settlers led by James Robertson followed the Wilderness Road through this area to Tennessee, as Boone had done before them.

There was occasional settlement of the region prior to the Revolutionary War, but there are only sparse records of white occupation until 1778. Most of the early settlers were of English and Scots-Irish ancestry. They were followed by Germans, Dutch, Swedes, and a few French Huguenots.

In 1800, Jordan Councill established Councill Store beneath Howard's Knob in what is now the town of Boone. Watauga County was created in 1849 with Boone selected as the county seat. Boone was incorporated in 1872.

Although travel in these rugged mountains was difficult and hazardous, the area became a haven from the heat and illness thought to be caused by the unfavorable climate of the lowlands, and many people built summer homes in what is now Blowing Rock as early as the 1850s. Improvement of the roads began in the 1920s and has continued with increasingly heavy traffic creating demands for new and improved roads.

Although Watauga County has been responding to modern influences, much of the past remains. Traditional songs and ballads from the British Isles are still sung by natives of the county, and tales and legends, weather lore, and superstitions survive in the traditions of the people.

Watauga County was formed in 1849 from Ashe, Caldwell, Wilkes, and Yancey counties. It derives its name from the river that runs through it, an Indian name, which signifies River of Islands. It is situated in the extreme northwestern part of the state, and is bounded on the north by Ashe County, east by Wilkes, south by Yancey and McDowell, west by the Yellow mountains which separates it from Tennessee.

Boone is the capital, named in honor of the celebrated Daniel Boone, who once lived near Holman's Ford, on the Yadkin River, about eight miles from Wilkesboro. Colone Boone had for a time a camp in this county, also one in Ashe, on Horse Creek. The south fork of New River runs through this county.

The scenery is beautiful; fine forests of timber, towering mountains, green valleys, crystal streams of pure cold water, lawns, shade trees, flowers, and fine orchards. The productions are wheat, corn, rye, oats, buckwheat, and potatoes. The variety of grasses make this a fine grazing section.

Boone, the county seat is beautifully situated, carefully laid out for convenience in business departments. The advantages of water power are many. It contains valuable minerals in iron and copper.

It was here in North Carolina that Boone was raised; here his youthful days were spent and here that bold spirit was trained which so fearlessly encountered the perils through which he passed in after life. His fame is a part of her property, and she has inscribed his name on a town where his youth was spent.

Connected with this county's history is the name of General John Sevier. He did much toward defending the people from Indian depredations and violence. He possessed the qualifications of citizen, soldier, statesman and patriot. Such men deserve a conspicuous place in history. General Sevier was commissioned captain by Governor Dunmore, of Virginia, and fought in the battle of Point Pleasant. He came with an exploring party to the Holston River, east Tennessee, then (1769) a part of North Carolina, and directed the construction of the first fort on the Watauga river. While defending the fort he discovered a young lady, tall and erect, coming towards the fort pursued by Indians, who counted on her capture as they passed between her and the gate, but turning suddenly she eluded her pursuers, leaped the palisades and fell into the arms of Captain John Sevier. This remarkable, active and resolute woman was Miss Katherine Sherrill, who became the wife of the Captain, then Colonel, and the bosom friend of the General, the Governor, the people's patriotic friend, John Sevier, and the mother of ten children, who could rise up and call her blessed. Their son, Rev. Elbert Sevier, was a distinguished minister of the gospel and a member of the Holston Annual Conference, for many years in charge of circuit stations, and Presiding Elder.

The history of Watauga from its early settlements reflects honor on its population. They occupied a position exposed to Indian depredations on one side and Tories on the other.

Many distinguished families have lived in Watauga and some still live there. Among the number are Hortons, Greens, Councils, Hardins, Farthings, Masts, and Binghams. Hon. Nathan Horton was a representative in the state legislature in 1800, state senate 1805-6. James Horton was a member of the legislature in 1834, and Jonathan Horton was also a representative in the legislature. Noah Mast and Reuben Mast were representatives in the legislature.

John Hardin was the son of Henry Hardin, one of the early settlers of the county. He married Miss Katherine Cox, daughter of Captain John Cox, of Revolutionary War fame. Henry Hardin and his excellent wife lived to a good old age.

The Horton family were noted for their love of country and were ever ready to defend it in the hour of necessity. The Masts were early settlers of Watauga, firm in principle, and true to their country's welfare.

There were four Farthing brothers, ministers of the gospel in the Baptist Church, whose lives and labors in the cause of salvation as a band of earthly brothers and brothers in the spiritual kingdom of the world's Redeemer, battled against the powers of darkneess and held up the standard of the cross of Christ in love and power. These good brothers' names and useful lives are worthy a place on the pages of history.

Jordan Council was worthy citizen, and married a Miss Bower, and raised a family that honored parents and country. William B. Council was a successful physician. James was a member of the state convention. Miss Bettie Council was the devoted wife of Colonel George Folk, who endeared himself, not only to the people of his county, but state, for the interest he took and services rendered for his country. He was a worthy, good man, and true patriot.

Judge Green was a native of Watauga County, a man of talents, and distinguished himself as an able judge of law, giving general satisfaction where he held courts throughout the State. Mr. Allen Green and family are worthy residents of the county. Mr. Bingham was the first clerk of the superior court of Watauga County.

Spencer Blackburn is a native of Watauga County, a young man of talents, who has made quite a reputation as a successful lawyer, and is associated with Mr. Council, of the same county, in the practice law, and has an office at Jefferson. Welborn Hardin, son of Henry and Katherine Hardin, was one of the county's best citizens. Martin Hardin, hotel keeper at Jefferson is their son; also William Hardin of Sparta, Alleghany County, now deceased.

There are several objects of natural scenery attached to Watauga County. The Blowing Rock, in the southern part of the county. Fine preparation is made to entertain visitors seeking a place of health resort, where pure water, salubrious air, and delightful scenery, lend to the place a power of attraction seldom equaled or excelled. Grandfather Mountain in the southwestern part of the county, rises in sublime grandeur, a great giant, standing amidst the floating clouds, bidding defiance to storms - a monument to the works of nature's God. There are a number of places of note which the limits of this work will not give room to publish. Valle Crusis, some miles west of Boone, where a college was commenced and abandond- ed is one of the many places of interest.

May succeeding generations look back and honor ancestors and enjoy peace, prosperity and happiness.

Excerpted from "Foot Prints on the Sands of Time: A History of Southwestern Virginia and Northwestern North Carolina," by Dr. A. B. Cox [with minor edits]

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