Western North Carolina Counties BACK to WNC COUNTIES

Clay County, NC Visitor Center 2013
Map Location of Clay County of Western North Carolina
Tourist & Relocation Information Guide

Clay County is a county located in the U.S. state of North Carolina. As of 2010, the population is 10,587. Its county seat is Hayesville. Clay County is one of the four dry counties in North Carolina, along with Graham, Mitchell, and Yancey.

Old Clay County Courthouse in Hayesville, NC of Western North Carolina
Old Clay County Courthouse in Hayesville, NC
Built in 1888 and on the National Register of Historic Places


According to the late J.V.A. Moore, a local historian, the first white man to settle in what was to become Clay County, was John Covington Moore during the late 1700’s, and the first emigrants moved into this section, which at the time was a part of Macon County, in the early part of the 1830s.

In 1837 General Winfield Scott was commissioned to gather all the Native Americans throughout the region and detain them in improvised stockades before taking them to the Oklahoma Territory. During this time, a Captain Hembree was sent to this section of what was to become Cherokee County (in 1839) and constructed a stockade about a mile south west of the present town of Hayesville, where the Indians were held until they had all been captured and the infamous "Trail of Tears" began. Around the fort grew a business and civic center.

Mr. George Hayes, who lived in the general area of Tomotla, was running for Representative from Cherokee County in the Fall election of 1860. When he brought his campaign to the southeastern end of the county, he found that his constituents here wanted separation from Cherokee County and a county seat of government of their own. By promising them that he would introduce legislation to form a new county, he captured most of the votes in this area. In February of 1861, such legislation was introduced and passed by the North Carolina General Assembly.

In recognition for his services in helping create the new county, the county seat was named Hayesville in honor or Mr. Hayes, and the new county was named in honor of the great Kentucky statesman, Henry Clay. Probably due to the unrest and uncertainties growing out of the Civil War together, a formal government for the new county was not organized until 1868.

Throughout the rest of the Nineteenth and early Twentieth Centuries, Clay County remained a largely agriculutural area. Today, a variety of industries can be found.

Law and government

Clay County is a member of the regional Southwestern Commission council of governments.


Clay County is the smallest county in area in North Carolina. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the county has a total area of 221 square miles, of which 215 square miles is land and 6 square miles is water. Clay County is bordered to the south by the state of Georgia and the Chattahoochee National Forest. The Nantahala River forms part of its northeastern border. The county is drained by the Hiwassee River. In the southern part of Clay County is Chatuge Lake, on the North Carolina-Georgia border. Much of Clay County exists within the Nantahala National Forest. Fires Creek Bear Reserve is north of the township of Tusquittee.


The county is divided into seven townships:


  • Brasstown
  • Hayesville
  • Hiawassee
  • Shooting Creek
  • Sweetwater
  • Tusquittee
  • Warne

Township Locations of Clay County of Western North Carolina


As of the census of 2010, there were 10,587 people, 4,590 households residing in the county out of which 4.5% had children under the age of 5, 18.3% had children under the age of 18 and 23.4% were over the age of 65. The average persons per household was 2.31. The population density was 48 per square mile. There were 6,919 housing units at an average density of 31 per square mile.

  • White persons - 96.6%
  • Black persons - 0.6%
  • American Indian and Alaska Native persons - 0.3%
  • Asian persons - 0.2%
  • Persons reporting two or more races - 1.4%
  • Persons of Hispanic or Latino origin - 2.4%

The median income for a household in the county was $39,298. The per capita income for the county was $22,042. About 16.9% of the population were below the poverty line.

Latest Clay County, North Carolina, weather