Clay County (1861)

Written By Sai Srikanth

Formed from Cherokee County in 1861, Clay County’s name is derived from legendary senator Henry Clay, who ironically, was not from North Carolina. Cherokee Indians widely inhabited the area until Scotch-Irish and English settlers arrived in the late-eighteenth century. Thirty years after the county’s establishment, Hayesville was incorporated as the county seat.  The town is named after George W. Hayes, a North Carolina General Assembly member who worked for Clay County’s establishment.


For more than a century, agriculture was the backbone of the county’s economy; however, tourism now supports much of the county’s economy.  The most popular tourist destination is the Smoky Mountains, which is the backdrop to the county’s rural landscape. Within the range are notable peaks, including Jack Rabbit Mountain, Chunky Gal Mountain, Yellow Mountain, the Pinnacle, and Standing Indian Mountain.


Other natural features attract tourists.  Some geographic points of interest in Clay County include the Nantahala National Forest, which covers a sizeable portion of the county, as well as the Hiwassee River. Trout fishing and boating are the main recreational activities on the Hiwassee. 


Tourists also enjoy purchasing homemade crafts and visiting the John C. Campbell Folk School in Brasstown, founded in 1925.  The historic site tells Clay County’s history and cultural traditions, with indigenous artifacts and reminds tourists of the local tales and myths.