A History of Bakersville, North Carolina

Mitchell County Court House - Bakersville, North Carolina

On December 10, 1778, two years after the Declaration of Independence, during the Revolutionary War, and several years before the writing and adoption of the United States Constitution, John McKnitt and William Sharpe received from the state a grant for a 400-acre tract of land lying at the "forks of Cane Creek." This was the fourth grant issued by the newly-formed state government for lands lying in the region formerly reserved to the Cherokee Indians by the British Crown as a means of holding the Cherokees as allies against the French.

William Sharpe, especially, was well acquainted with this territory. He had served as Aide-de-Camp to Brigadier General Griffith Rutherford in the first Cherokee Expedition through the Swannanoa Valley during the fall of 1776, had accompanied Col. Waightstill Avery across the mountains into the Washington District, and had served as a commissioner to draw up a treaty with the Indians at the Long Island of the Holston.

Like Avery, who later secured hundreds of grants for land lying between the Blue Ridge and the Iron Mountain, Sharpe had an "eye for business." There were traces of gold and abundant outcroppings of mica and feldspar along Cane Creek and White Oak Creek. Moreover, the soil was rich especially in the bottoms along the creeks, and the higher elevations would be excellent for grazing purposes. The flow of either creek could supply power. An Indian path led westward from the Blue Ridge by this point across the Unakas and the Iron Mountain into the Washington District, and this could become a leading highway in the future.

Even though the headwaters of Toe River into which Cane Creek flows was occupied as early as 1777, the names of these first settlers are not known. By 1790, William McKinney, Frederick Ledford, Thomas McKinney, John Gouge, Thomas Young, John Wilson, and Reid Medlock had established themselves in the Cane Creek Valley, and on White Oak and Snow Creek. However, the first settler on the site of what is now Bakersville was David Baker.

Baker, who was living in Morganton in 1790, was probably employed by Avery and possibly by Alexander and Sharpe to move across the Blue Ridge and look after the lands which they had entered. By 1797, however, Baker had struck out for himself. In that year he acquired a state's grant for one hundred acres of land, which boundary adjoined the Alexander and Sharpe tract and included the lands on which the business section of Bakersville now stands.

The town itself was named for the Baker family which has been prominent in the town's history from the beginning to the present. David Baker entertained many travelers in the early 1800s chief of whom was the noted French botanist, Francois Andre Michaux, who stopped at Baker's on his return from an expedition into Tennessee, Kentucky, and Illinois.

David E. Baker, a son of David, was a large land owner, innkeeper, merchant and political leader until about 1859, when he and his family migrated to the far west. In January of 1857, an adventurer who had stopped with "Colonel" David described the town as one of "some mark."

It is probable that Baker's plantation became known as Bakersville in the 1840s; certainly by 1852, for in this year the court records of Yancey County refer definitely to the town of Bakersville. The surrounding territory including the Little Rock Creek area was known in the tax records up to 1860 as the Cane Creek Company. The first voting place for the company was established at Briggs' store, which was located in the Fork Mountain area.

Since 1868, Bakersville has been the seat of government for Mitchell County. Important before as a trading center and village, during the American Civil War and afterward it became the center of politics in Mitchell County and remains so to this day. The movement for the establishment of a new county in 1861 originated in Bakersville, as did the movement to establish the town as the county seat.

The town was incorporated in 1870, and secured a post office in 1874. In the 1880s, citizens of the town led in the movement to induce the Charleston, Cincinnati & Chicago Railroad to come through the county by way of Bakersville. Bonds in the amount of $100,000 were voted for stock subscriptions in the company. The railroad did not materialize; but in the early 1900s another campaign was waged to induce the Southwestern Railroad, later the Clinchfield Railroad, to build by the town, or even to build a spur from Toecane to Bakersville. Failing again, they sought roads.

Bakersville has experienced all types of economic weather, fair and foul. Shut off from markets of the southeast during and after the American Civil War, the residents found that living was tough here, as it was elsewhere in the isolated sections of the Appalachian Mountains.

However, in the 1870s new uses for mica were discovered, and Bakersville lay midway between the Hawk, Clarissa, and Stagger Weed deposits and the Sink Hole deposits at Bandana. For a period extending beyond 1900, business varied with prices mica would bring; good prices, many jobs, good business; low prices, the reverse. Fortunes were made and lost, as usual.

In 1901, weather brought a terrible disaster, remembered as the "May Flood." Nearly half the town's dwellings and business establishments were swept away. For a period of time population decreased, and the outlook was not good. Soon, however, jobs became plentiful again as the Clinchfield Railroad extended its line from Huntdale across the Blue Ridge.

The "new" County Court House was built in 1907. It is still in use in 1999; however, construction is underway on a new court house. The Bakersville Rhododendron Committee is trying to buy the "old court house."

Disaster struck again in 1923 when much of the town burned. Again the town rallied and became strong enough to survive the Great Depression of the thirties. Bakersville enjoyed a surge in building and economic prosperity during the middle 1950s. Much of the town was rebuilt during that era.

However, disaster struck once again in January of 1998, when Cane Creek swelled by torrential rains brought on by El Nino destroyed many roads, homes and businesses, resulting in the declaration of Bakersville as a disaster area and eligible for Federal funds to assist in rebuilding and in preparing the terrain to avoid another such disaster.

Bakersville was granted a U.S. Post Office on December 1, 1827 in Burke County, and its first Postmaster was David Baker. In 1833, Bakersville was now in Yancey County. In 1861, Bakersville was now in Mitchell County. It has been in continuous operation ever since inception.

© 2007 - J.D. Lewis - PO Box 1188 - Little River, SC 29566 - All Rights Reserved