A Look Back at the History of Ashe County

by Peter Bangma, 2006

Ashe County is located in the northwestern corner of North Carolina, bordered by Tennessee and
Virginia. Nestled in the Appalachian Mountains, the county was formed in 1799 from portions of Wilkes
County and named for Samuel Ashe, governor of North Carolina from 1795 to 1798. Its county seat,
Jefferson, was founded in 1803 and named for President Thomas Jefferson. Other communities in the
county include West Jefferson, Lansing, Todd, and Glendale Springs.

From 1784 to 1790, the region including Ashe County was part of the State of Franklin, an autonomous
area formed by mountain settlers in present-day western North Carolina and eastern Tennessee under
the leadership of John Sevier. Violent disputes with neighboring Cherokee and other Indian groups led
the region's whites to seek protection from North Carolina and its state militia, which led to the county's
formation. It remained lightly populated through the nineteenth century, with small farming
communities located along the New River and in neighboring valleys. Copper and iron were found in the
area in the late nineteenth century, and for a brief time the copper mine at Ore Knob was the largest
producer of that metal in the United States. Dairy production increased in the early twentieth century as
woodlands were converted to pasture, and today Ashe County is known for its cheese production. Corn,
tobacco, cattle, and poultry remain important agricultural products, and the county is also home to
some 600 Christmas tree farms. Manufactures include lumber, furniture, textiles and clothing, and
rubber products. Small businesses in the county also produce a significant number of ambulances and
small delivery trucks by building on existing truck chassis.

At the end of the twentieth century, tourism was an increasingly important force in the county. Land
development along the Blue Ridge Parkway, which skirts the county's southeastern edge, and around
the towns of Jefferson and West Jefferson brought economic growth and change as an increasing
number of people built second homes in the county or moved there permanently for the mountain
lifestyle. Ashe County had an estimated population of 25,000 in 2004.

The county is home to New River State Park, a well-known destination for paddling, and Mount
Jefferson State Natural Area, which offers excellent opportunities for hiking and other outdoor activities.
Many artists and traditional craftspeople live and work in Ashe County, and frescoes by well-known
North Carolina artist Ben Long adorn Episcopal churches near West Jefferson and Glendale Springs. Each
August, mountain music traditions are celebrated at the Ashe County Old Time Fiddler's Convention. The
region's fiddle and banjo music can also be enjoyed at the weekly Mountain Music Jamboree in Glendale
Springs and at impromptu jams and gatherings elsewhere in the county.

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