Avery County History

Avery County is the newest of North Carolina’s 100 counties as it was formed on February 23, 1911, from parts of Caldwell County, Mitchell County, and Watauga County. It was named for the American Revolutionary War Colonel and the first Attorney General of North Carolina, Waightstill Avery.

The county seat was originally in the Town of Elk Park, which was then the largest town in the county, located on the county’s north end, on the Tennessee border. Upon completion of the county’s courthouse in 1912, the county seat was moved to the more centrally located unincorporated area known as Fields of Toe, for the meadows along the head of the Toe River, in what is now the town of Newland.

At an election held on August 1, 1911, Old Fields of Toe was selected as the county seat. It so happened that this land had been granted to Col. Waightstill Avery on November 9, 1783. In his honor, the 100th county was named, while the county seat was called Newland, in honor of W. C. Newland, of Lenoir, then the lieutenant governor of North Carolina and an influential Democrat, who helped garner support in the then heavily Democratic legislature in Raleigh, for Avery County, an overwhelmingly pro-Union Republican area, becoming the state’s 100th and final county.

According to local legend, Elk Park citizens were upset at the decision to move of the county seat from their town, and they refused to give up the books. The then sheriff, like all county officials, was a Democrat and an interim appointee of the Democratic governor in Raleigh, who would hold office from July 1, 1911, until the next election cycle in late 1912, when the almost all-Republican electorate would undoubtedly vote in all Republicans as local officials. The sheriff was leery of confronting the irate local Elk Park citizens, so his wife baked cookies and had their pastor deliver them as a peace offering. The citizens then cheerfully handed over the books, which were sent to the new offices at the new courthouse in Newland

The jail and courthouse were completed sufficiently to allow court proceedings to be held in April 1913 with Judge Daniels presiding.

The early buildings of Avery County reflect the nature of life in the area. Cabins, barns, and sheds were constructed mainly of logs. Rock was plentiful and used for foundations and chimneys. After Avery County was formed in 1911, work began on the courthouse and the present-day Avery County Historical Museum in 1912. The Avery County Courthouse is two-story with a beautiful crowning cupola, kept to the traditional Neoclassical Revival style of other North Carolina Courthouses.

Avery County, North Carolina
Col 1Col 2
FoundedFebruary 23, 1911
County SeatNewland
Area247 mi²
Largest TownBanner Elk
Population (2021)17,864
Max. ElevationGrassy Ridge Bald (6,191 ft)
Named ForCol. Waightstill Avery
Parent CountiesCaldwell, Mitchell, Watauga
Avery County Courthouse, Newland, Avery County, North Carolina
Avery County Courthouse, Newland, NC

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the county has a total area of 247 square miles, of which 247 square miles is land and 0.1 square miles (0.06%) is water.

Avery County is extremely rural and mountainous with all of the county’s terrain located within the Appalachian Mountains range; with a mean altitude of 3,510 feet.  Avery is the second-highest county east of the Mississippi behind nearby Haywood County to the southwest. The highest point in the county is Grassy Ridge Bald, 6,165 feet above sea level.  Most of Grandfather Mountain, whose highest point is 5,946 feet and Calloway Peak on the tri-point bordering Watauga and Caldwell Counties, are within Avery County. At 5,526 feet, Beech Mountain (also shared with Watauga County) is the highest incorporated community east of the Mississippi River, while at 3,606 feet Newland is the highest county seat in the Eastern United States.

Highway SignHighway NameLengthStartEndExisted
US_19EU.S. Route 19 East75.9 miBluff City, TN (North)Cane River, NC (North)1930 – present
US 221 - Avery County, North CarolinaU.S. Route 221153.5 mi1930 – present



Location NameLocation TypePopulationElevationNamed For
AltamontUnincorporated1,3763,268“High Mountain”
Banner ElkTown1,4733,701Martin Banner
Beech MountainTown7665,506Beech Mountain
Carey’s FlatTownshipaka Gragg, NC
CranberryUnincorporated5383,130Cranberry Creek
CrossnoreTown2393,369George Crossnore
Elk ParkTown4953,166Number of elk in the area.
GraggUnincorporated2,664William Gragg / AKA: Carey’s Flat
GrandfatherVillage243,914Grandfather Mountain
HeatonUnincorporated3373,045Heaton Family / AKA: Ford of Elk
IngallsUnincorporated3,2262,766Senator James J. Ingalls
LinvilleCensus Designated Place4263,665William Linville
Linville FallsUnincorporated1353,268William Linville
MinneapolisTown3003,665Minneapolis, MN by Dr. L. E. Clark
MontezumaUnincorporated3503,766Aztec Chief / AKA: Bull Scrape
NewlandTown7103,606Lt. Governor William Calhoun Newland
PineolaUnincorporated9823,550Pine trees growing in the vicinity and for Ola Penland, daughter of a local hotel keeper.
PlumtreeUnincorporated6582,867Wild Plumtrees
Roaring CreekUnincorporated4382,982Roaring Creek
Seven DevilsTown4413,9447 Founders / 7 Peaks
Sugar MountainVillage3714,432Snow on the mountain resembled grains of sugar.
Three MileUnincorporated2,890The distance of three miles between US 19-E to US 221.

The State of North Carolina has a group of protected areas known as the North Carolina State Park System, which is managed by the North Carolina Division of Parks and Recreation (NCDPR), an agency of the North Carolina Department of Natural and Cultural Resources (NCDNCR). Units of the system can only be established by an act of the General Assembly of North Carolina. The park system began in 1916 when the summit of Mount Mitchell became first state park in the Southeastern United States. According to the Division of Parks & Recreation, “the State Parks Act of 1987 lists six types of units included in the NC State Parks System.” These are State Parks, State Recreation Areas, State Natural Areas, State Lakes, State Trails, and State Rivers. All units of the system are owned and/or managed by the division, and the division leases some of the units to other agencies for operation. Most units of the park system are also components of State Nature and Historic Preserve.

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