Mitchell County (1861)

Written By Jonathan Martin

Annexed from the counties of Burke, Caldwell, McDowell, Yancey and Watauga, Mitchell County received its name in honor of Elisha Mitchell (1818-1857). Mitchell, a professor at the University of North Carolina, passed away during his climb of North Carolina’s highest mountain, Black Dome. After the professor’s death, Black Dome was renamed Mount Mitchell in honor of Elisha Mitchell. Bakersville, formerly established in 1868, is the county seat of government; it was named for David Baker, a founder of the county who settled in the region in 1797. Bandana, Poplar, and Spruce Pine are other townships in Mitchell, and the county borders Tennessee state.

The formation of Mitchell County occurred during the Civil War. Union supporters resided in the top half of the present county while Southern sympathizers had settled the bottom section of the region. The two groups wanted to separate ties, and Jacob W. Bowman developed a solution to the problem. A young representative from present-day Bakersville proposed a bill to the General Assembly in the early 1860s, and the N.C. legislature soon passed the proposal for Mitchell County.
As with most mountain counties in North Carolina, Mitchell’s original residents were Cherokee. However, by the time European settlers from Germany, Scotland, and Ireland had established their communities in the sixteenth century, the Cherokee had either moved away or been killed by North Carolina militia or diseases brought by the white man.

The Pisgah National Forest includes hundreds of acres within Mitchell County, and it has been a long time travel destination for hikers, campers, and other outdoorsmen and women. Other natural traits in Mitchell County include rivers and other mountaintops. Some of these include the Big Yellow Mountain, Chalk Mountain, Roan Mountain, and the tributary North Toe River.

The Penland School of Crafts, founded in the 1920s by Lucy Morgan, has long reigned as a top craftsmen school in the United States. Originally a school to train women in the arts, the school grew in popularity after Edward F. Worst wrote about Penland in craft outlet, Handicrafter, and Morgan started taking applications from students outside Mitchell County. For over thirty years the school thrived and craftsmen from all over the globe traveled to Penland to learn the art of silversmithing, pottery, metalworking, and other crafts. A new president managed the school after Morgan’s retirement in 1962 and the craft school expanded and woodworking and glassblowing were added to Penland’s curriculum. Presently, over 40 buildings are located on the Penland campus, and 1,200 people attend the school every year. In addition to its academic importance, tourists flock to visit the school’s gallery and purchase art produced by Penland students.

In addition to the important crafts school in Penland, Mitchell County boasts in several other cultural attractions and establishments. The Lunday Footbridge, built in the middle of the 1900s, and the English Inn, constructed in the early 1800s, exist in the county. Other cultural places include the Twisted Laurel Gallery and the North Carolina Mineral Museum. The Fall Festival of Arts, the Rhododendron Festival, and the North Carolina and Gem Festival are annual events held in Mitchell County.

One of the most important characteristics about Mitchell County has long remained its rich natural resources in minerals. Over fifty varieties of gems and other rare minerals have been found and mined in the region: aquamarine, emerald, feldspar, garnet, kaolin, mica, quartz, and sapphire, to name a few examples. In addition to its mining industry, Mitchell has been a prime furniture manufacturer in North Carolina, and farmers in the region produce tobacco, horticultural plants, and Christmas trees.