Lincoln County (1779)

Written By Jonathan Martin

A few years after the American Revolution, the legislature divided Tryon County into two separate counties. William Tryon was a notorious royal governor that citizens considered a tyrant because of his suppression of colonial independence. Therefore, in 1779, Lincoln County was derived from Tryon, and a few years later Lincolnton, the county seat, was founded. The county received its name in honor of General Benjamin Lincoln. After Lord Cornwallis’s surrender, George Washington commissioned General Benjamin Lincoln to accept the British commander’s sword at Yorktown.


The first county commissioners were ordered to find a suitable place to build a courthouse and prison. However, they were inept in their duties, and in 1782 and 1784 the legislature picked new commissioners who finally established Lincolnton in the county. During the early 1800s, the county flourished due to the increase in westward immigration, and it soon became one of the most populated areas in the state. In 1815, the first cotton mill in the South, the Schenck-Warlick Mill, was constructed near Lincolnton. Also, during the early to mid-nineteenth century, Lincoln County became the number one leader in the iron works industry of North Carolina. However, as the legislature began to annex the county in the 1840s the iron industry dwindled.  Some of the furnaces and iron forges still exist to this day.

Although Lincoln enjoyed economic growth in the early 1800s, the North Carolina General Assembly decreased its size substantially during the 1840s. Cleveland, Catawba, and Gaston counties were all culled out of Lincoln, and with these counties also went numerous mills and farms. However, beginning in the mid-twentieth century, new businesses and factories stimulated the county’s economy.

There are notable historical landmarks in Lincoln County. The Vesuvius Furnace, the Andrew Loretz House (the oldest brick structure in Lincoln County), and Woodside are all late eighteenth century structures within the area. Also, there are numerous structures from the 1800s in Lincoln County. Ingleside (1817) is an antebellum mansion that was designed by the famed architect, Benjamin Latrobe. The Pleasant Retreat Academy (c. 1820) remains as one of the last antebellum buildings in North Carolina. Texas governor James Henderson, North Carolina governor William A. Graham, and Georgia governor Hoke Smith along with two major generals, Robert Hoke and Stephen Ramsour, were all students at the Pleasant Retreat Academy.

Triangle, Iron Station, Godsonville, Reepsville, Denver, Lowesville, Boger City, Toluca, and Vale are other townships in Lincoln. A section of Lincoln’s Catawba River was dammed in the 1950s and 1960s, creating Lake Norman, North Carolina’s largest man-made lake.