Avery County (1911)

Written By Jonathan Martin

Avery County is named in honor of the Revolutionary War colonel Waightstill Avery, who was North Carolina’s first attorney general. It was created from parts of Mitchell, Caldwell, and Watauga Counties in 1911. Avery was the last county to be formed by the North Carolina General Assembly, making it the hundredth county in the state. In addition to being the latest county in North Carolina, the mountain county borders the state of Tennessee, and it is located in the “High Country” of the state.

Avery’s seat of government, Newland, is named after the state’s lieutenant governor William Calhoun Newland (1909–1913). Originally referred to as “Old Fields of Toe,” Newland lies in a river valley near the Toe River. In addition to its location near the Toe River, Newland is located in the high Appalachian Mountains at a height of over 3,500 feet and has the distinction of being the highest county seat on the eastern section of the United States. Avery County holds several other counties including Crossnore, Linville, Banner Elk, and Elk Park.

The greatest characteristic of Avery is its mountainous terrain, which attracts tourists, vacationers, and outdoor enthusiasts annually. The Blue Ridge Parkway meanders through the county and the Linn Cove Viaduct, a 1,234-foot bridge near the Grandfather Mountain, crosses in Avery. According to historian William S. Powell, the Viaduct remains oe of the important architectural and engineering achievements in the entire United States. Other important natural landmarks include the Linville Caverns, Beech Mountain, and North Carolina’s famed Grandfather Mountain.

One of North Carolina’s most popular attractions, Grandfather Mountain, at 5,964 feet, is the highest peak of the Blue Ridge Mountains. The Cherokee called the range Tanawha (“bird” or “eagle”), but the first Europeans to notice the intricacies of the mountain saw traits of an elderly man’s face, calling the peaks “Grandfather.” In the 1950s, the Mile High Swinging Bridge, a 230-foot suspension bridge connecting two peaks, was completed, and tourism increased at Grandfather Mountain.

Each year, two important festivals are held at Grandfather Mountain. Singing on the Mountain, an old gospel convention started in 1924, is held each summer at the base of the mountain, and it remains the most continuous “old-time” gospel event in the United States. Additionally, people of Scottish descent flock to the mountain each year to participate in the Highland Games, a meet fixed on the unique clan meetings held in Scotland centuries ago.

The major industry in Avery County is tourism, especially during the summer and fall months. Tourists come to enjoy Avery’s ski mountains, its nine golf courses, and Grandfather Mountain, and overall tourism brings in over $50 million in the county each year. Avery has often been referred to as the “Christmas tree capital” because of its importance as a major Fraser tree producer in North Carolina. In addition to Christmas trees, farmers in Avery grow potatoes and tobacco, and other important agricultural products including cattle and lumber. Mining products such as feldspar, iron, and mica are other vital products of Avery County.