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Rutherford County (1779)

 (This entry is currently being updated.)

 The Cherokee, a prominent western Indian tribe that lived in the North Carolina mountains, resided in present-day Rutherford County. European settlers entered the region in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries.  These immigrants were German, French, Swiss, Scotch-Irish, and English.
From the early 1830s until the later 1840s, Bechtler’s Mint, near Rutherfordton, minted over $2 million in gold specie. Before the California gold rush, North Carolina was home to the most gold mines in the country. In July of 1831, Christopher Bechtler opened a metalworking shop and press where he and his sons fabricated eagle coins. The privately owned mint allowed western North Carolina miners a convenient way to bring their gold to market; however, by the time of the California Gold Rush in 1849, the Bechtler Mint discontinued its services in Rutherford County.

Both film makers and tourists have flocked to Rutherford County. Tourists, hikers, and other outdoor enthusiasts frequent the Lake Lure region in the county. In addition, the town of Chimney Rock had been a popular tourist town over the last few decades. In the mid-1980s to the early-1990s Hollywood directors and producers have used Rutherford County as a setting for many movies: Firestarter, Dirty Dancing, and Last of the Mohicans are some examples.

A border county between the mountain and Piedmont section of North Carolina, Rutherford County was named after General Griffith Rutherford, a Revolutionary War hero who successfully quelled the Cherokee rebellion in 1776. Formed in 1779, Rutherford County was formed in 1779, and Rutherfordton, formed in 1787, has been the county seat from the beginning.  Union Mills, Harris, Forest City, Thermal City, Sunshine, Ellenboro, and Chimney Rock are other townships within Rutherford County.

A large rock pillar in the western part of Rutherford County, Chimney Rock, rises over 200 feet. Before the arrival of European settlers, the Cherokee used Chimney Rock as a travel marker, and some historians accredit Hernando De Soto as the first European explorer to view it in the late 1530s. Lucius B. Morse constructed several pathways to the Chimney Rock in 1916, and he eventually secured a charter in 1922 to make the area an expansive tourist attraction. Rutherford County and the General Assembly granted Morse the charter, and the $4 million enterprise became the most considerable charter granted during the 1920s. The area remains a prominent tourist attraction today.

Several historical and cultural attractions exist throughout Rutherford County. The Forest City Performing Arts Guild, Gem Ruby Hill Mine, and the Isothermal Community College Players and Singers are all important cultural establishments in the region. In addition, two of Rutherford’s most important historic sites include the Lake Lure Inn and Resort, constructed in the 1920s, and the Carrier-McBrayer House, built in the 1830s. Festivals held in Rutherford County include the Lake Lure Dogwood Festival, the Easter Sunrise Service in Chimney Rock Park, and the Chimney Rock Sports Car Hill Climb.

Two famous Rutherford countians were Joshua Forman (1777-1848) and Elisha Baxter (1827-1899).  A New York native, Forman drafted legislation in that state's legislature for the construction of the famed Erie Canal. That action may be his most-well known accomplishment.  After establishing the city of Syracuse, Forman purchased numerous land tracts in Rutherford County, and he emerged as one of the leading early notables in the county seat of Rutherfordton. A native son of Rutherford County, Baxter later moved westward in 1852 to Arkansas.  There, he later became a leading Republican politician during the  Civil War and Reconstruction eras. He earned a reputation for being a political moderate.  Baxter County in Arkansas is named in honor of the native North Carolinian.


“Rutherford County; Chimney Rock.” William S. Powell, ed. Encyclopedia of North Carolina (University of North Carolina Press: Chapel Hill, NC 2006).

“Bechtler’s Mint; Elisha Baxter; Joshua Forman.” North Carolina Highway Historical Marker Program website. A Division of the North Carolina Department of Cultural Resources.  (accessed December 18, 2011).

By Jonathan Martin, North Carolina History Project

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Related Categories: Counties
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Timeline: 1664-1775 , 1776-1835 , 1836-1865 , 1866-1915 , 1916-1945 , 1946-1990 , 1990-present
Region: Piedmont Plateau , Mountains

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