History of Rutherford County
County Farm Museum
The act establishing the county provided that the first court
be held at the home of Joseph Walker and the justices were to
decide on the most convenient place to hold succeeding courts
until a courthouse could be erected. Commissioners were named
to select a place for the county seat. In 1781, an act was passed
stating that the original act had not bee fully carried out and
that the previous commissioners had failed to erect a courthouse,
even though they selected the land of James Holland in the fork
of Shephard's Creek. The act authorized the commissioners to
purchase fifty acres of land from James Holland and erect the
buildings. In 1784, an act was passed to survey the county, locate
the center, purchase land and erect the public buildings. In
1787, Rutherford was established on the land purchased for the
county seat. Two acres were reserved for the public buildings.
Rutherfordton was incorporated in 1793 and has been the only
county seat for Rutherford County.
was formed from Mecklenburg County in 1768. Old Tryon
was divided into Lincoln and Rutherford Counties in
April 1779. Rutherford County was named for Brigadier General
Griffith Rutherford of Rowan County, North Carolina; Brigadier
General Rutherford was a famous Revolutionary War soldier.
Gilbert Town, served as the first county seat from 1779 to 1787.
It was named for William Gilbert. The people complained about
the muddy condition around the courthouse and Gilbert Town. This
mud made it difficult for them to reach the courthouse. Although
the courthouse was at Gilbert Town, the first county court session
to be held in Rutherford County was in the home of Colonel John
Walker on Cain Creek. At this session of the County Court of
Pleas and Quarter Sessions, the following appointments were made:
Felix Walker, clerk of county court; Richard Singleton, sheriff;
Benjamin Hardin, public register; David Miller, entry taker;
Jonathan Gullick, county surveyor; Davis Whiteside and William
Gilbert, Representative of the House of Commons; and William
The early settlers of Rutherford County were of Scots-Irish
They had traveled down the Great Wagon Road from Pennsylvania.
It is assumed that the community of Westminster was the first
area of the county settled. This assumption is based on the
Presbyterian Church being formed in 1768.
The area was rich: fertile land, plenty of virgin forest pine,
plenty of hardwood, and plenty of wild game for food.
During the Revolutionary War the citizens of Rutherford County,
were troubled by both Indian and Tory attacks. The Tories under
Major Patrick Ferguson camped at Gilbertown and scouted the area
for food and supplies. To escape Ferguson the people took refuge
in the following forts: McGaughy; McFadden; Potts; Hampton;
The Overmountain soldiers marched through Rutherford County on
October 3-5, 1780 on their way to meet Major Ferguson at the
Battle of Kings Mountain. This battle took place October 7, 1780,
and was the turning point of the war. The trail of march has
since become known as the "Overmountain Victory Trail."
It became the second national historical trail in America when
then President Jimmy Carter signed into law on October 7, 1980.
This is a national historical honor for Rutherford County, as
part of the trail passes through the county.
Life, following the Revolutionary War, in Rutherford County was
not in the best of conditions. Life offered little. Most activity
took place on the farm: planting of grain, raising cattle and
sheep, and growing food for the table. The loom furnished clothes
for the family. Skins from animals were tanned; furs from wild
animals were secured to provide additional clothing. The pioneer
homes were built from the surrounding forest. Furniture and
for the home were also made from the woods of the forest. The
plantations and farms were small. Land could be bought for a
nominal fee paid to the state for a grant. Each land owner tilled
his soil, sometimes assisted by a slave or two. The farmer drove
cattle and took surplus agricultural products over the best road
leading from Morganton to Charleston, South Carolina. At
at the market they could then buy staple products to take back
home. Schooling was received in the home. The Bible was sometimes
the only textbook available.
The General Assembly appointed a commission of five men: Thomas
Rowland, William Nevill, Felix Walker, James Miller, and James
Whiteside to select a new site for the county seat. In September
1787, the above-named commission purchased fifty (50) acres of
land from James Adair for the new county seat. It was located
on a hill with a good water supply. Ezekiel Enloe surveyed and
platted the land. The new town was given the name of Rutherford
Town. Later the "w" was dropped from the spelling and
today is spelled "Rutherfordton." This is the oldest
county seat in western North Carolina. Rutherford County is the
parent county of the sixteen western counties in North Carolina.
Buncombe County was the first county to be formed from it in
The first census of the county in 1790 listed 1,136 heads of
household. In 1800 the census showed Rutherford County had a
2,945 gain in population.
Transportation by First Broad, Second Broad and Green Rivers
accounted for a better way of travel than by bad roads, the court
records show that men, who lived along these streams, were
to see that they were kept open for the passage of small boats.
These streams were used until the 1840s as a mode of
for the taking of farm products to market at Columbia, South
Carolina, for sell or exchange.
Conditions in Rutherford County following the War of 1812 were
far from inspiring. Land values in western North Carolina were
higher than any part of the state at this time. The financial
conditions at this time were not satisfactory. Prices of products
bought from abroad were high due to the poor transportation.
At this time each home had its own loom, spinning flax and cotton
into cloth for clothes and linens. Each community had its own
potters, shoemakers, carpenters, etc. Some signs of industrial
growth began to arise in Rutherford County. This is supported
by the county clerk of court making the following entry on the
county docket. It shows a large quantity of iron having been
made at the High Shoals Iron Works near Henrietta. The General
Assembly of 1820 appropriated $5,000 for improving navigation
of the Broad River from the South Carolina line to Twitty's Ford.
This money was to be spent under the direction of the Board of
Rutherford County prospered in the 1830s due to a great demand
for farm and home products by the Charleston and Columbia, South
Carolina, markets. Taxes were high.
The stagecoach line began carrying people and mail. This created
a need to keep the roads in repair. The men who lived along the
roads were thusly required to keep the roads in good condition.
In 1829, the General Assembly appropriated $12,000, through the
Board of Internal Improvements, to complete a road through Hickory
Nut Gap to Asheville.
At one time Rutherford County and Rutherfordton were the center
of the gold production within the United States. To Rutherfordton
belongs the distinction of operating the only private gold mint
ever operated in the southeastern United States. This distinction
existed from the 1790s to the 1840s. Again to Rutherfordton
the distinction of being the first mint in the nation to coin
a gold dollar. This mint was operated by two skilled German
Christopher Bechtler, Sr. and his son, Augustus Bechtler. The
county has in its possession today a few of the coins minted
by the Bechtlers. It also has a gold-plated pistol made by the
Bechtlers. Gold mining in the county led to an increase in
During this time period Rutherford County was regarded as the
strongest Whig county politically.
The Civil War followed. With it came a period of the building
of railroads through the county. This improved the transportation
for the county. This led to a better way to ship products to
The freeing of the slaves had a great effect on the larger farmers
in the county. They now had no one to do their tasks on the farms.
One thousand seven hundred and thirty four men from Rutherford
County served during the Civil War.
Reconstruction, following the Civil War, had both bad and good
effects on the county and the state. The General Assembly changed
the way the counties were governed. In the past the counties
had been governed by the court and justices of the peace. What
is called by some, "The Greatest Awakening in North Carolina,”
took place. The counties were now to be governed by a commission,
called the Board of County Commissioners. These commissioners
were elected by the people. This now gave a voice to the people
in their county government. The first meeting of the Rutherford
County Board of Commissioners was held August 3, 1868 with the
following men serving: B. W. Andrews, chairman; J. M. Allen;
Calvin J. Sparks; H. H. Hopper; and Jonathan Hampton. The county
has five commissioner's district with fourteen townships.
Agriculture remained the principal industry of the county. There
were no banks or railroads and public roads were in worse
than before the Civil War. By 1873, the federal government had
succeeded in reopening for the county a fair system of post
and mail routes to other points. Schools of the different
Also in 1873, Elisha Baxter, a native of Rutherford, was elected
governor of Arkansas. In 1874, Rutherford County's first textile
plant opened. This plant was established in an old wheat mill
on the Second Broad River near the present town of Caroleen.
Bought by a Mr. Homesley, this mill manufactured cotton yarn.
It also employed fifty people. Unfortunately it ran for only
a few months, January to November 1874, when it was burned down.
The year 1885 saw a large economic improvement in Rutherford
County when R. R. Haynes and S. B. Tanner began their textile
industry in the county with the building of a cotton mill near
Henrietta. Along with the mill they built homes for the mill
workers. They also built a school and company store and helped
in the building of churches. This textile plant was also noted
for the birth of hospital insurance to protect its workers.
insurance in textiles plants was born in the industry in
County. Rutherford Hospital was opened for use in October 1906.
Other improvements in Rutherford County during this period were
the nucleus of the present school system and completion of the
railroads and. better roads.
The aftermath of World War I brought a change in social customs
and business life. With young men drafted into military service,
many vacancies were left in industrial and farming communities
which had to be filled; this lead to higher wages and salaries
which raised the standard of living for many people. New highways
and automobiles knitted the communities closer together. With
women permitted to vote in the election of November 1921, the
number of voters were doubled in the county. Miss Una Edwards,
a member of the Board of Education, was the first woman to hold
a public office in the county.
In 1922, Dr. Lucis B. Morse conceived the idea of building a
summer resort at Chimney Rock. This is one of the major
in western North Carolina. In 1926, the Lake Lure dam was built,
covering one thousand-five-hundred acres of land. Also in 1922,
Rutherford Hospital was given a gift of nine hundred milligrams
of radium, valued at $100,000, by J. C. Plonk of Hickory, as
a memorial to his wife. Rutherford Hospital was deeded to
County in August 1926.
During the Great Depression four of Rutherford County's banks
did not close. People were without work since there were no
for the goods they produced. With the election of Franklin D.
Roosevelt as president of the United States, the County Board
of Commissioners requested from the federal government's Public
Works Administration $160,000 for the building and remodeling
of eleven school buildings. A group of citizens protested,
the county did not receive the funds. Through the trying time
of the Depression the farmers within the county at least had
food to put on their tables. With the textile workers it was
a different situation. In September 1933, President Roosevelt
passed through Rutherford County with thousands of people lining
the sides of roads.
The first newspaper, published in Rutherford County, was on
19, 1830. This paper was called “The North Carolina Spectator
and Western Advertiser."
A well-known fact is that Rutherford County was named for Griffith
Rutherford. Many Rutherford Countians have had counties named
for them. For example, Bedford County, Tennessee, was named for
the Bedford family of Rutherford. The Bedfords had settled here
early. Baxter County, Arkansas was named for Elisha Baxter of
Rutherford. Whiteside County, Illinois, was named for the
family who were early settlers here. Hardin County, Tennessee
was named for Benjamin Hardin of Rutherford County. In both states
of Oklahoma and Arkansas are numerous towns named for former
During the 1940s Rutherford County centered most of its attention
on World War II. Farmers and industries produced needed items
to their capacity. Yet, when the war ended, Rutherford Countians
had to readjust their lives, for they could now buy items they
could not buy before. Industry became slower. Prior in 1938,
a new horizon opened for hundred of citizens in the formation
of the Rutherford County Library. Through the library's
families living in the remotest sections of the county could
borrow books for reading. On September 14, 1947, Radio Station
WBBO aired as the first station in the county.
In 1950, Rutherford County began a year of growth, prosperity,
and hope. This flame has continued to burn until today. We are
the greatest county in North Carolina, with its citizens being
its most natural resource. On April 14, 1979 Rutherford County
celebrated its two hundredth anniversary.
Written by Nancy Ellen Ferguson, Rutherford County Historian,
- Source: J.D. Lewis - Little