Watauga County History and Information
Watauga County lies in the beautiful Blue Ridge Mountains of northwestern North Carolina, identified as some of the oldest mountains in the world. The county was formed in 1849 from parts of Ashe, Caldwell, Wilkes, and Yancey counties and was named for the Watauga River, whose name is said to be a Native American word often translated as "whispering waters," "beautiful waters" or "land of the beyond," all of which describe the region. Early settlers referred to the region as "The Lost Province."
Boone, the county seat and home of Appalachian State University, is known as the Heart of the High Country. The North Carolina Legislature chartered the Town of Boone during its 1871-72 session. It is listed in two editions of The 100 Best Small Towns in America.
Appalachian State University was founded as a teacher's college in 1899 by brothers B.B. and D.D. Dougherty. It expanded to include other programs in 1967, and joined the University of North Carolina system in 1971. The university has been ranked among the top 10 Southern Master's Universities since the U.S. News and World Report's America's Best Colleges Guide began publication in 1986.
Blowing Rock became an incorporated village in 1889 with 200 permanent residents. It also became one of the South’s first resorts in the late 1800s when wealthy families sought to escape heat and disease. Grand hotels, of which the Green Park Inn remains, provided vacationers with first class accommodations and entertainment. The town continues this tradition offering genteel comfort, cool air and beautiful mountain vistas to visitors. The Blowing Rock, is billed as the oldest tourist attraction in North Carolina. Ripley’s Believe It or Not described it as "the only place in the world where snow falls upside down".
Several diverse communities give local and historical flavor to the county. Valle Crucis is nestled along the banks of the Watauga River in a mountain valley and is the first rural historic district designated in North Carolina. The Mast General Store, c. 1882 is a National Historic Landmark and the Mast Farm Inn, c. 1885 is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Both are operating enterprises. Beech Mountain, Sugar Mountain (Avery County) and Seven Devils became ski destinations in the 1970s complementing the slopes of Appalachian Ski Mountain constructed in the early 1960s. Now tourists and residents enjoy these areas all four seasons. Vilas, Deep Gap, Meat Camp, Cove Creek, Foscoe, Zionville, Bethel, Stony Fork and Sugar Grove are rural communities in Watauga County with their own unique heritage and beauty.
Watauga County has a rich history with many local family roots going back as far as the late 1700s and early to mid-1800s. In 2014, the Watauga County Library and Watauga County Historical Society launched the Watauga Digital Project which aims to make the complex history of Watauga County more widely known and easily accessible to the public by digitally preserving images, documents, and artifacts. The Digital Watauga Project brings together materials from historical institutions, area businesses, and the individual residents of Watauga County, allowing donors to share digitized versions of their historical materials with the public while retaining their original materials and the associated rights to those materials. To date, several collections have been digitized and made available on their website at www.digitalwatauga.org
Watauga County is a naturalist and outdoor person’s paradise. There are mountains to climb; cliffs to scale; rivers to swim, raft or canoe; areas to camp; caves for the spelunker; scenic country roads to explore; trails to hike; rare and diverse plant and animal wildlife to appreciate and majestic views to awe even the most seasoned traveled. Six golf courses are within the county. Nine additional courses are in the High Country area. For the horseback rider, Moses Cone Park off the Blue Ridge Parkway provides over 27 miles of trails, and the Blowing Rock Charity Horse Show, the oldest continuing horse show in the country, attracts many of the best equestrians in the United States. The Blue Ridge Parkway, constructed in the mid-1930s between Virginia’s Shenandoah Mountains and the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, runs through Watauga County. Hundreds of thousands of motorists leisurely drive the Parkway every year to enjoy the spectacular scenery.
Superior theater, art and family amusements also attract people to the county. The Blowing Rock Stage Company and Appalachian State University’s Theater and Dance Department produce several outstanding productions a year. An Appalachian Summer Festival brings world-class cultural events to Boone every July. Running every summer since 1951, the outdoor drama Horn in the West depicts the history of the early settlers to this region.
The area is also an artist’s haven where hundreds of artists and craftspeople live and work. Over fourteen galleries plus numerous shops and showrooms offer fine arts and crafts for those looking for original art, sculpture, crafts and handmade furniture.
Families enjoy the fun and thrill of Tweetsie Railroad, whose locomotive originally powered the East Tennessee and Western North Carolina Railroad between Boone and Johnson City, TN in the 1930s. The famous #12 locomotive was built in 1917 and is the only surviving narrow gauge engine of the East Tennessee and Western North Carolina Railroad (ET&WNC). The name "Tweetsie" was given to the original East Tennessee and Western North Carolina Railroad by area residents who became accustomed to the shrill "tweet, tweet" of the train whistles that echoed through the mountains. The nickname stuck with the railroad and its trains, and became more identifiable than the railroad's original name. Tweetsie Railroad opened in 1957 and quickly evolved into the first theme park in North Carolina. It is now one of the most loved amusement attractions in North Carolina.
Visitors to Watauga County and its surrounding areas can find a wealth of travel information including lodging, dining, shopping, outdoor adventures, events and countless other activities by visiting our Tourism Development Authority’s website at www.exploreboone.com
Additional Demographic information for Watauga County can be found by visiting this website - watauganc.zoomprospector.com.