Drawn from Lincoln County in 1842 Catawba County was once occupied by several tribes of the Catawba Nation. German, Swiss, and Scotch-Irish settlers were the first Europeans to migrate to the area in the 1700s. The colonial trade wars combined with diseases paralyzed the native Indians, and the Catawba eventually moved away to different parts of South Carolina. However, the county is named for the original inhabitants.
One of North Carolina’s western Piedmont counties, Catawba is situated in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains. Its county seat, Newton, was founded in 1855, and it took its name from Isaac Newton Wilson, a North Carolina legislator who proposed the formation of Catawba County. Hickory, Brookford, Catawba, Claremont, Conover, Long View, and Maiden are other towns within the area. Catawba County has several lakes and physical characteristics that attract numerous fishers, boaters, and swimmers. These lakes and mountains include Lake Hickory, Mountain Creek, Catawba River, Lookout Shoals Lake, Anderson Mountain. Catawba’s most renowned lake is Lake Norman which was formed by the Cowans Ford Hydroelectric Dam. It covers over 32,000 acres of water with 520 miles of shoreline making it the largest man-made fresh water lake in North Carolina.
There are several historic sites as well as annual events in Catawba County. The Bunker Hill Covered Bridge, Shuford Memorial Gardens, Maple Grove, and the famed Hickory Motor Speedway are all in the county. The Hickory Motor Speedway, operated for over 40 years, has been the starting place for some of America’s most famous drivers – Junior Johnson, Ned Jarrett, Ralph Earnhardt, Dale Earnhardt, and Harry Gant. Lenoir-Rhyne College and Catawba College are two institutes of higher learning in Catawba County. Cultural events in Catawba County are sponsored by the Catawba Council of Arts, the Western Piedmont Symphony, the Maiden Public Library, and the Green Room Community Theatre. Octoberfest, Big Sunday at Balls Creek Camp Grounds, the Old Soldiers Reunion Celebration, and the Strawberry Festival and Craft Show are popular events held in Catawba County.
Catawba County’s economy is focused mainly on furniture production. The town of Hickory has been a long time North Carolina leader in furniture production for several decades. Other manufactured goods include textiles, gloves, and a growing fiber optics equipment industry. Agricultural products in Catawba County are soybeans, livestock feed, poultry, corn, and beef and dairy cattle.
“Catawba County.” William S. Powell, ed. Encyclopedia of North Carolina (University of North Carolina Press: Chapel Hill, NC 2006), p. 192.
“Profile – About Catawba County, North Carolina.” Catawba County Local Government Website. http://www.catawbacountync.gov/about.asp, (accessed on July 25. 2011).
“Cowans Ford Hydro Station.” Duke Energy Website. http://www.duke-energy.com/power-plants/hydro/cowans-ford.asp, (accessed July 25, 2011).
By Jonathan Martin, North Carolina History Project
See Also:Related Categories: Counties