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McDowell County, NC Visitor Center 2013
Tourist & Relocation Information Guide
McDowell County is a county located in the U.S. state of North Carolina. As of 2010, the population was 44,996. Its county seat is Marion.
McDowell County Courthouse in Marion, NC
Archaeological excavations performed by Dr. David Moore, during the early 1980s, revealed the earliest inhabitants of McDowell County to be from the Mississippian and Woodland eras. Dr. Moore discovered evidence in an area close to the Catawba River in and around an unusual topographical site known as Round Hill. These early Native Americans lived in this section prior to Juan Pardo's exploration of the region.
Cherokee and Catawba Indians were known inhabitants of what is now McDowell County.
In 1566, the Spanish explorer Juan Pardo came to Western North Carolina traveling through the area that is now McDowell county. His purpose was to acquire territory for Spain, but he had also hoped to find precious metals. Pardo and his men built a log blockhouse at the headwaters of the Catawba River. Apparently intimidated by the formidable range of the Blue Ridge Mountains and the home of the Cherokee Nation, Pardo left the area the following year.
In 1748, "Hunting" John McDowell received a land grant for property known today as "Pleasant Gardens" including acreage originally located from Swan's Pond (Catawba County) up the Catawba River west to present day Marion and into the region known as Buck Creek. During a hunting expedition with his friend Henry Weidner, the two came upon a lush green valley with thousands upon thousands of acres of virgin forest. During that time, it was customary when settling a dispute to engage in a "friendly" wrestling match. McDowell came out the winner.
"Hunting" John McDowell received two land grants and after establishing residence along the Catawba River of Pleasant Gardens, raised his family. He is noted in Max Dixon's, The Wautagans as being instrumental in Jacob Brown's Purchase of one of the last remaining pieces of acreage along the Nolichucky River in Tennessee when he hosted a negotiations with the Cherokee on his farm in North Carolina.
His son, Joseph McDowell, is noted in history as a significant contributor to the Battle at Kings Mountain. McDowell County is named in his honor. Today, his home stands as one of the few remaining homes in North Carolina still standing and built by its namesake.
The settlement of Old Fort was later established and it had become the westernmost outpost of Colonial civilization at the time. These early pioneers established a close community protected by a series of forts which remained active until the early 19th century. Thus, Old Fort.
In 1793, Colonel John Carson built a plantation house near Buck Creek in the Pleasant Gardens community, which still stands today as the Historic Carson House. He also operated gold mines in the southern part of the county. Colonel Carson was a significant historical figure in the American Revolutionary War.
Marion, the county seat of McDowell County, was planned and built on land selected by the first McDowell County Commissioners on March 14, 1844 at the Historic Carson House. It was not until 1845, however, that the official name of Marion was sanctioned as the county seat by the state legislature. The name of Marion came from Francis Marion, the American Revolutionary War hero, known as the “Swamp Fox” and the man upon whom the movie "The Patriot" was based.
During the Carolina Gold Rush period of the early 19th century, the south county area was known for its gold production. The banks of the Muddy Creek and mines at Vein Mountain were productive areas. Many mines and thriving gold rush towns such as Brackettown no longer exist, although scattered ruins and cemeteries mark many locations of the gold rush period.There were other mines in the area also including an old mine in Woodlawn. In that community someone opened a mine on Tom's Creek which may have been a Mica mine. There are remnants of the a sorting house and the old mine shaft itself. Who opened and ran this mine is unknown.
McDowell County is rich in American Civil War History. The movie Last of the Mohicans was filmed along the shores of the picturesque Lake James.
McDowell county was first formed in 1842 from parts of Burke County and Rutherford County. It was named for Joseph McDowell, a Revolutionary War leader and hero of the Battle of King's Mountain, and a member of the United States House of Representatives from 1797 to 1799.
In 1861, parts of McDowell County, Burke County, Caldwell County, Watauga County, and Yancey County were combined to form Mitchell County.
Law and government
McDowell County is a member of the Isothermal Planning and Development Commission regional council of governments.
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the county has a total area of 446 square miles, of which, 442 square miles of it is land and 5 square miles of it is water.
Numerous small creeks and streams flow through the county. The Catawba River crosses the county and empties into Lake James. It flows over Catawba Falls on its way, which is accessible to the public. Other waterfalls can be found in the county, such as Toms Creek Falls. Almost half of the county, including the two aforementioned waterfalls, is located inside the Pisgah National Forest. Linville Caverns, North Carolina's only limestone cavern system open to the public, is located in the far northern part of the county.
The Blue Ridge Parkway follows the northwestern boundary of the county. McDowell County lies within the Piedmont (United States) and Foothills (North Carolina) regions of Western North Carolina.
The county is divided into eleven townships: Crooked Creek, Dysartsville, Glenwood, Marion, Montford Cove, Nebo, North Cove, Pleasant Gardens, Woodlawn-Sevier, Sugar Hill, and Old Fort.
Cities & Towns
- Little Switzerland
- Pleasant Gardens
- North Cove
As of the census of 2010, there were 44,996 people, 16,949 households residing in the county out of which 6.1% had children under the age of 5, 22.0% had children under the age of 18 and 16.2% were over the age of 65. The average persons per household was 2.50. The population density was 101 per square mile. There were 20,157 housing units at an average density of 46 per square mile.
- White persons - 90.6%
- Black persons - 3.8%
- American Indian and Alaska Native persons - 0.4%
- Asian persons - 0.8%
- Persons reporting two or more races - 1.2%
- Persons of Hispanic or Latino origin - 5.3%
The median income for a household in the county was $35,595. The per capita income for the county was $18,773. About 17.8% of the population were below the poverty line.