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This article is from the Encyclopedia of North Carolina edited by William S. Powell. Copyright © 2006 by the University of North Carolina Press. Used by permission of the publisher. For personal use and not for further distribution. Please submit permission requests for other use directly to the publisher.

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Rowan County

Rowan County seal


COUNTY SEAT: Salisbury

FORMED: 1753

LAND AREA: 511.37 square miles

White: 79.4%
Black/African American: 16.9%    
American Indian: 0.6%    
Asian: 1.2%    
Pacific Islander: 0.1%
Two or more races: 1.8%
Hispanic/Latino: 9.4% (of any race)

From State & County QuickFacts, US Census Bureau, 2020.


Rowan County

Piedmont region


REGION: Piedmont
RIVER BASIN: Yadkin-Pee Dee, Map
NEIGHBORING COUNTIES: Cabarrus, Davidson, Davie, Iredell, Stanly

Rowan County, NC

See also: North Carolina Counties (to access links to NCpedia articles for all 100 counties)

by Jay Mazzocchi, 2006

Rowan County, located in the Piedmont region of North Carolina, was formed in 1753 from Anson County and was named for Matthew Rowan, the governor of North Carolina at the time of the county's establishment. Early inhabitants of the area included the Catawba and Saponi Indians, followed by German and Scotch-Irish settlers. Salisbury, the county seat, was incorporated in 1755 and was named after the cathedral town in England; during much of the nineteenth century, it was the largest city in western North Carolina and served as a major center of trade and politics. Other communities in the county include Spencer, East Spencer, China Grove, Bear Poplar, Mount Ulla, Millbridge, Faith, Craven, and part of Kannapolis, extending up from Cabarrus County. Notable physical features of the county include the Yadkin River, High Rock Lake, Dunn Mountain, and Panther and Beaverdam Creeks.

Catawba College (1851) and Livingstone College (1879) are located in Rowan County, which also is home to several landmarks and historic sites, such as Old Stone House, the county's oldest building, constructed around 1766. This and other sites are run by Rowan Museum, Inc. Other significant landmarks include the Confederate Prison and the Gold Hill Mining District. Cultural institutions in Rowan County include the North Carolina Transportation Museum at Spencer Shops, Waterworks Visual Arts Center, Catawba College's Shuford School of Performing Arts, and the Catawba Community Children's Chorus. The county hosts festivals and annual events such as the Rowan County Agricultural Fair, the National Sportscaster and Sportswriters Hall of Fame Awards, the Old Miners Jubilee, Santa Claus Special, the Rockwell Craft Festival, and Take Pride in Granite Day.

Rowan County produces agricultural goods such as horticultural crops and livestock. Manufactured products include polyester fiber, trucks, textiles, yarn, furnaces, furniture, and mobile homes. The population of Rowan County was estimated to be 133,000 in 2004.

Annotated history of Rowan County's formation:

For an annotated history of the county's formation, with the laws affecting the county, boundary lines and changes, and other origin information, visit these references in The Formation of the North Carolina Counties (Corbitt, 2000), available online at North Carolina Digital Collections (note, there may be additional items of interest for the county not listed here):

County formation history:

Index entry for the county:


Brawley, James S. Rowan County: A Brief History. Raleigh: North Carolina Department of Cultural Resources, Division of Archives and History, 1977. (accessed February 15, 2019).

Additional resources:

Corbitt, David Leroy. The Formation of the North Carolina Counties, 1663-1943. Raleigh: Division of Archives and History, North Carolina Department of Cultural Resources, 1987. (accessed June 20, 2017).

Rowan County Government. "Rowan County, North Carolina." (accessed February 15, 2019).

Rowan County Chamber of Commerce. "Welcome to the Rowan County Chamber of Commerce." (accessed February 15, 2019).

DigitalNC. "Rowan County." North Carolina Digital Heritage Center. (accessed February 15, 2019).

North Carolina Digital Collections. "Explore by ... [place, time period, format]." North Carolina Department of Natural and Cultural Resources. (accessed February 15, 2019).

Image credits:

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

Origin - location: 


I am hoping you can point me in the direction to find the confiscated land court records for Mary Jane Spurgeon/Spurgin (she went by the name Jane). Her husband, Col. William Albertus Spurgeon, was an officer with the British forces and remained a Loyalist even after running to Canada. Jane was a staunch Patriot! They never divorced, although William married a second time, becoming a bigamist. Jane's lands were confiscated. She appealed, trying to have the land returned or sold back to her. She was denied. Long complicated story. I have SEEN the court records but failed to print or secure the reference source. I've looked every place I know to look. Is it possible someone there can give me a source? Mary Jane is my 6th GG and the only female, so far, I have found who quailifies for DAR. She has been previously approved. Unfortunately, DAR no longer accepts the family data/stories. I need solid proof. Court records should do this. I thank you for any help you can offer.
Marlene Musgrave Hargrove

Hi Marlene! I am looking for the exact same records and was curious about whether or not they were sent to you.

Were you successful in locating this record? I am looking for the same thing.

Thank you for visiting NCpedia and for sharing your family history and question. I have forwarded your question to reference services at the NC Government & Heritage Library and a librarian will email you shortly.
Carla Morris, Government and Heritage Library

Hi, my name is Breonna. I'm looking for information on thy he Matherly's in Rowan county. They are my mothers ancestors and they married into the John Patterson's family whom the John Patterson’s Upper Line was named after. I'm looking for any records on them and the Patterson's. My Matherly's married John Patterson's daughters I believe.
Thank you

Dear Breonna,

Thank you for visiting NCpedia and for sharing your family history and question. I have forwarded your question to reference services at the NC Government & Heritage Library and a librarian will email you shortly.

Best wishes,

Kelly Agan

Government & Heritage Library

My great great great great grandfather was Captain Christopher Houston, his son James is my great great great grandfather.

I'm very interested in finding out as much about him and his family as possible. I am considering planning a trip to North Carolina but I would want to make sure I'd be able to see places and have someone help me to do prep work to make sure where all I need to go to see actual documents and such. I spoke with the UNC library about the collection they have from the Mary Hunter Kennedy papers but you have other leads listed here.

Can you help me find more resources and perhaps contact information for other organizations/groups that would know where I need to look?

Thank you for your time.

Dear Gina,

Thank you for visiting NCpedia.  NCpedia has an article on Christopher Houston -- which may be your ancestor.  Please visit this page:

I'm also include a link to the Genealogy resources web page for the State Library of North Carolina --  You'll find information about conducting family history research, how to contact the library, the type of services the library offers, and other resources.

I hope this helps!

Best wishes,

Kelly Agan

I was born and raised at the foot of the Balfour Quarry in 1942 and spent many of my growing up years scouting the quarry on the weekends (it's a wonder I survived) as it was still being mined during the weekday hours. I am 72 years old now and in telling people about the size of the quarry hole back then people think I am exaggerating. Who knows? Maybe this old man remembers it being larger than it was? I was born like I said in a house that was all but at the foot of that quarry back then as an unpainted wood frame house that the quarry itself owned one of three. We lived there until I was 12. This house I was born in was across the street from what eventually became the Charleston family home as they purchased it maybe circa mid 50s ( and restored it as was the home I was born in as I visited that area back when my father passed away in 1979 and was very surprised to see the remodeling that had been accomplished. We moved from that area at that same time and ended up on Old 80 where dad purchased property that is now owned by a Yost family. I have tried unsuccessful to find the depth and width of the Balfour Quarry back in it's hay day in the late 50s/early 60s. Does anyone know those dimensions?

I am a retired lawyer in Salisbury. Years ago I saw an old Rowan county map that showed farm holdings. My grandfather, T. Gray Kenerly, was shown as a property owner in the Woodleaf area of western Rowan. I believe that the map was dated around 1934. I would like to locate this map and obtain a copy. Can you help? Bill Kenerly

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