Henderson County (1838)

Written By North Carolina History Project


Originally part of the Cherokee Nation, Henderson County was established in 1838.  Americans started settling the area after the 1777 and 1785 treaties with the tribe.   During the Revolutionary War and in the formative years of the United States, people received land grants and moved to the area.  

In 1838, the county was formed out of Buncombe County.  Within weeks of the formation, residents disagreed concerning the location of the county seat and courthouse.  The county seat was to be named Hendersonville, but commissioners quarreled over an exact location for the county’s governmental business.  One such site was Horse Shoe, a location on a bend in the French Broad River. 

The debate was so intense that two parties formed: the River Party and the Road Party.  The River Party was for Horse Shoe.  The Road Party attempted to purchase or force the sale of land in the Horse Shoe location, in an effort to render the location unsuitable for a government center and thereby make their preferred site more attractive.  Eventually the state legislature ordered a popular-vote election to determine the county seat.  The Road Party prevailed and the town Hendersonville was planned. 

The shape and size of Henderson County has changed a few times during the antebellum era.  Part of Rutherford was annexed in 1844, and a revised boundary between Buncombe and Henderson was agreed to in 1851.  In 1855, the county’s size decreased as what would be known as Polk County split away from Henderson.   Six years later, in 1861, it shrunk one more time—the time because a part of the county became Transylvania County.  A continuing dispute between Henderson and Polk counties ended in 1903.

Henderson County is named for Chief Justice of the State Supreme Court, Judge Leonard Henderson who died in 1833, five years before the county was created. Henderson County was created from Old Buncombe County and Rutherford County. Hendersonville received its original charter in the 1840’s with a population of several hundred people.

The county’s namesake is Leonard Henderson, an eastern North Carolina resident, who served as Chief Justice of the North Carolina Supreme Court (1829-1833) and operated a law school from which many esteemed lawyers graduated.