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McDowell County

McDowell County, NC

LAND AREA: 440.61 square miles
2013 POPULATION ESTIMATE: 44,961     
White: 92.9%
Black/African American: 4.1%
American Indian: 0.7%    
Asian: 0.9%    
Pacific Islander: 0.1%
Two or more races: 1.3%
Hispanic/Latino: 5.5% (of any race)

From State & County QuickFacts, US Census Bureau, 2014.

Biographies forBiography icon
McDowell County

Bobcat trackWildlife profiles
Mountain region

Geographic Information

REGION: Mountain
RIVER BASIN: Broad, Catawba
NEIGHBORING COUNTIES: Avery, Buncombe, Burke, Mitchell, Rutherford, Yancey

McDowell County, NC

by Robert Blair Vocci, 2006

McDowell County, located in North Carolina's Mountain region, was formed from Rutherford and Burke Counties in 1842 and took its name from Revolutionary War colonel Joseph McDowell. The county seat of Marion (incorporated in 1844) was named for Gen. Francis Marion, the "Swamp Fox" of the Revolution; other communities include Old Fort, Ashford, Little Switzerland, Nebo, Pleasant Gardens, Glenwood, Woodlawn, Dysartville, and Sugar Hill.

Originally Cherokee and Catawba Indian territory, the land later organized as McDowell County was settled in the eighteenth century by Scotch-Irish immigrants. To protect the settlers, a series of forts was constructed along the frontier, and it became known as the "Gateway to the Mountains" for westward-bound pioneers. Although its deposits of gold helped North Carolina become, in the early nineteenth century, the nation's leading gold producer, McDowell County has been largely untouched by urban development. Roughly 75 percent of the county remains forested and boasts a wide array of wildlife, waterfalls, and scenic vistas. One of the Mountain region's most well-known natural attractions, the spectacular Linville Caverns, lies beneath the McDowell County-Avery County line. The town of Old Fort is also home to Mountain Gateway Museum and the Arrowhead Monument, a 15-foot-tall arrowhead carved from pink granite in the 1930s as a tribute to the county's original Native American inhabitants. Andrews Geyser, west of Old Fort, was built in 1885 as a unique attraction for railway patrons. Carson House, a home dating to the late eighteenth century, served as a courthouse and home to a prominent local family. McDowell County produces many goods, including Christmas trees, livestock, textiles, furniture, and pharmaceuticals. The population of the county was estimated to be just over 43,000 in 2004.


Mildred B. Fossett, History of McDowell County (1976).

Additional resources:

McDowell County Government:

McDowell County Chamber of Commerce:

DigitalNC, McDowell County:

Image credits:

Rudersdorf, Amy. 2010. "NC County Maps." Government & Heritage Library, State Library of North Carolina.

Origin - location: 


From what information and research I have seen, the county was actually formed March 13, 1843 when a small group of local men met at Col. John Carson's home to initiate the organization of McDowell County. In 1842 the NC Legislature had delineated from areas of Burke and Rutherford counties.

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