A Brief History of Ashe County
Formed from Wilkes County in 1799, Ashe County was named for NC Gov. Samuel Ashe. The county is described as extending from "the extreme height of the Appalachian Mountains" to the state of Tennessee. Just west of the eastern continential divide, the rugged and remote land of Ashe County consists of a high plateau averaging 3,000 feet in elevation interspersed with peaks, some exceeding 4,000 feet in height.
Ashe County's tallest peak is Mount Jefferson, rising 1,600 feet above the surrounding area and well over 4,000 feet above sea level.
The county's area is drained by the New River, a nothward flowing river that empties into the Ohio, known as one of the oldest rivers in the world, second only to the Nile.
Because the mountains served as early barriers to trade and transportation. Ashe County became known as the 'Lost Province" This led to early settlers becoming self-sufficient and individualistic-traits that continue today.
Evidence exists of human habitation for more than 10,000 years. At the time of the first recorded European contact, this area was not dominated by any single Native American tribe but was influenced by the Cheriokees, Shawnees and Iroquois.
The area was survyed in 1749 by Peter Jefferson, father of the future president, but there is no firm evidence he was in Ashe County. Legend has it that Thomas Jefferson passed through Jefferson during his lifetime.
Bishop Spangenberg, while searching for a site for the Moravians in 1752 became lost in what is today Ashe County. According to his diary dated Dec. 5, 1752, he endured a winter storm and wrote of the wind "what we could hardly stand against it. I think I have ever felt a winter wind so strong and cold." Ashe County's wind is famous still today for its strength. Spangenberg eventually located his congregation in Winston-Salem. Settlement of Ashe County began after the defeat of the Regulators by Governor Tryon in 1771. Ashe County celebrated its bicentennial year in 1999 and the county seat of Jefferson, founded in 1800, celebrated its 200th birthday in 2000. Population of the county was recorded over 24,000 on the 2000 census.
Ashe County's major industries are Christmas Trees and agriculture. White pines arrived in the county in the 1950's as soil conservation projects and went into producation aling with the more popular Fraser fir as a makor industry over four decades ago, helping to revitalize the county's economy. Christmas trees, roping and wreaths are an industry that currently harvest over 700,000 trees annually at a value of more than $12 million.
The county's three incorparated towns are Jefferson, West Jefferson and Lansing. Popular tourist destinations include St. Mary's Episcopal Church in West Jefferson and Holy Trinity Espiscopal Church in Glendale Springs for their marvelous fresco paintings done by Ben Long, the Ashe County Cheese production facility and gift shop in West Jefferson, North Carolina's only cheese plant, and the historic New River, the second oldest river in the world designated as a Wild and Scenic River and an American Hertiage River. Portions of the Blue Ridge Parkway, one of America's favorite scenic byways, also brings visitors to Ashe County.