Named for William A. Graham, Governor of North Carolina and a U.S. Senator, Graham County was formed in 1872 out of the eastern section of Cherokee County. Graham County’s establishment is largely attributed to President Andrew Jackson’s nationwide removal of Indians beginning in 1838. Once the Cherokee were removed away from their homes, Americans settled in their lands, but never in high concentrations. With a sparse population coupled with a rather small land area, Graham County only has three communities: Lake Santeetlah, Fontana Village, and Robbinsville, the county seat.
Graham County’s economy has deep agricultural roots. For over a century, the county’s farms provided chickens, corn, tobacco, and even Christmas trees for other North Carolinians and Americans. In the early twentieth century, small industrial manufacturers moved into the region and textile plants and cheese, furniture, and lumber factories dotted the valleys.
By the late twentieth century, a booming tourism industry replaced agriculture’s importance. Tourists come from near and far to view the county’s mountainous countryside. A popular natural attraction is Fontana Lake. A part of Nantahala National Forest is in the county. Man made projects also attract travelers: the Cherohala Skyway, a scenic byway that passes through mountain vistas, and the Appalachian Trail, a long, winding trail that runs throughout the range. Fontana Dam, the highest dam in the eastern United States, was constructed between 1942 and 1944. The various natural and man-made attractions not only lures tourists, but also reels in enraptures filmmakers. Portions of the movies The Fugitive and Nell were shot in Graham County.
A few notables hail from Graham County. In the field of sports, NASCAR driver Randy Orr and pool player Wade Crane are natives of Robbinsville. Popular musicians include professional southern gospel artists the Jody Brown Indian family and country music singer Ronnie Milsap. All were originally from Robbinsville. Junaluska, leader of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians and widely considered a hero among the Cherokee people, is buried in Graham County.
Graham County Heritage Book Committee. Graham County Heritage, North Carolina (1992).
“Graham County.” Powell, William S., ed. Encyclopedia of North Carolina (Chapel Hill, NC: University of North Carolina Press, 2006), p. 520.
John and Sandy Wright, Santeetlah: The Cheoah River Valley, Thunderbird Mountain Resort, and the Town of Santeetlah (Robbinsville, NC: Roost Publications, 1997), 17-33.