The History of Ashe County
The lands that now make up Ashe County were first used during the Paleo-Indian period of 12,000 BC to 8000 BC. It appears likely there were temporary camps on the uplands used by hunter-gatherers, whose permanent camps were located in eastern Tennessee. Woodland period (500 BC to 1000 AC) sites are found as well, suggesting the valley was an important food-gathering route through the mountains.
Because of Ashe County’s remoteness, it is often referred to as the “Lost Province” and until 1725 there was little established colonization. It was the westward movement in the colonies that brought settlers. The Celtic people who traveled here were drawn by the promise of land and opportunity. Though not of the landed class, they were educated and had a history of a lifestyle uniquely suited to the mountains. These very independent immigrants were beyond the regulation of colonial governments and could build herds with a minimum of land. An abundance of wild game and fish, along with crop cultivation, helped them to survive the harsh winters and thrive.
In 1828, Dr. Elisha Mitchell, for whom Mount Mitchell was named, visited Ashe County. From his vantage point atop Mt. Jefferson he exclaimed:
“Nearly the whole county of Ashe lay at our feet, the merrymanders of the river can be traced as on a map. Some of the plantation in view also presented a noble appearance, but oh, what an ocean of mountains!”Dr. Mitchell’s description still has meaning for the Ashe County of today. The county is organized by its geography of mountains and winding routes of the New River and its many tributaries. Even today the county is rural with the modest farm complex from the late nineteenth or early twentieth century being the most numerous property type. Decentralized communities served these farms with general stores, post offices, schools and churches. Many examples of each of these buildings can still be found in the county.
The Museum of Ashe County History, located in the historic and newly renovated 1904 courthouse, displays many artifacts and treasures, providing insight into the county and the people who settled the area.