History of Cherokee County


Early Exploration

The Southern Appalachian Mountains are believed to be among the oldest on the planet. As early as 1540 the mountains and valleys now known as Cherokee County were explored by DeSoto and inhabited by the Cherokee Indians. The great Tennessee, Hiwassee and Valley Rivers were mined for gold as evidenced by old tunnels, shafts, Spanish cannon balls, pistols bearing the Spanish coat of arms and coin molds found along their river banks.

Cherokee Removal

In the early 1800's as the white man coveted the rich lands and beautiful swift rivers of Western North Carolina, President Jackson sent 7,000 troops into Western North Carolina who built six forts to oversee the removal of the Cherokee to Oklahoma. The largest of these was Fort Butler, built at the present site of Murphy on the Hiwassee River. The removal of the Cherokee along the "Trail of Tears" was described and recorded as "the greatest blot on America's history". More than 4,000 Native Americans died before they reached Oklahoma. Indians who were able to elude their captors hid in the hills and were later granted lands in Cherokee County.


White Settlement

As the white settlers built their forts and towns on the rivers, they farmed near the streams and creeks, and built dams to produce power to operate tub mills, grind flour and create flumes for mining gold. Logging became the first industry in the area and primary means of making a living. Logs flowed down the rivers to the sawmills; rafts, flatboats and canoes brought in supplies. As early as 1820 a Baptist mission school was established at the Old Natchez Town on the Hiwassee River and the first Methodist Church, Harshaw Chapel (a standing historic site) was built in Murphy in 1869.


Civil War

In 1861 Cherokee County raised 1,100 men for the Confederate Army as the state seceded from the union. In 1865 Kirk's Raiders burned the County Courthouse in Murphy (the first of four courthouse fires between 1865 and 1926). The present Courthouse, now over 80 years old, is constructed of solid masonry and blue marble quarried from the county. Following the Civil War, in 1888, the way of life changed for the better with the introduction of the railroad.

Modern History

In 1922, the first paved highway opened from Murphy to the Georgia line and the Asheville to Murphy highway opened in 1926. In 1936 The Tennessee Valley Authority started construction of the Hiwassee Dam. The Hiwassee, Valley and Nottely Rivers and their tributaries provided an abundant supply of water to the dam and in 1938, one hundred years after the first families settled in this county, the whole face of these mountains changed when the lights came on in nearly every home, barn and store in the county.

The life of the mountainfolk changed with the introduction of electricity. Progress caught up with the quiet, simple and proud, yet harsh mountain way of life. Over 3,000 people lived in the area when Cherokee County was formed in 1839. By 1860 the population had grown to over 9,000. Today's population is over 27,000, yet Cherokee County still maintains a quiet, simple and proud mountain way of life.


National Register of Historic Places

The people of Cherokee County are proud of their heritage and proudly maintain eight properties on the National Register of Historic Places. Some of these are public and can be visited, while others are privately owned. Call the Chamber for information about visiting those that are of interest to you.


       Valleytown Cultural Arts Center-Andrews

       John C. Campbell Folk School Historic District- Brasstown

       John Franklin Cobb House - Bellview

       Cherokee County Courthouse - Murphy

       Robert Lafayette Cooper House - Murphy

       Franklin Pierce Cover House - Andrews

       Harshaw Chapel and Cemetery - Murphy

       The Walker Inn - Andrews

Copyright 2014 ~ 2016 All Rights Reserved

We would like to thank the following people for contributing photographs:  
Digital Creations USA, William Hoyt, Joan Posey Neumann, John C Campbell Folk School, Nancy Lane, Joyce Moore, Sherry Collins, Eleanor Brazell, Butch Horn, Blue Ridge Highlander  

Cherokee County Chamber (828) 837-2242