History of Caldwell County

Formation of Caldwell County

Caldwell County, carved from the counties of Burke and Wilkes, was actually formed in January 1841, several weeks after the bill was introduced in the legislature. The bill to establish the county was rejected in 1839 because a faction within the state legislature wished to form two Democratic counties instead of one Whig county. The bill was reintroduced by Representative Elisha P. Miller on November 19, 1840. The bill of 1840 proposed to establish a county from Burke and Wilkes to be named Boone. It was first read and rejected on December 5, 1840. It was read a second time and passed by the casting vote of the Speaker, Robert B. Gilliam on December 14, 1840. There was some confusion over the selection of the name, however, but when Charles Manley, Clerk of the House, suggested to Representative Miller that the county be named for Dr. Joseph Caldwell, former President of the University of North Carolina and advocator of a public school system and a railroad system stretching from Morehead City through the questioned county to Tennessee, the bill was ratified and signed on January 11, 1841.

Geographical Features

Caldwell County is in the northwest section of North Carolina in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains and is bounded on the northwest by Watauga County, on the northeast by Wilkes County, on the east by Alexander County, on the south by Catawba and Burke Counties and on the west by Burke and Avery Counties. It is located approximately 69 miles northwest of Charlotte, 84 miles southwest of Winston-Salem, and 90 miles northeast of Asheville and proudly displays breathtaking vistas from elevation ranges from 900 feet to 5,964 feet. Today, there are nine incorporated municipalities in the County: Lenoir, Hudson, Granite Falls, Cedar Rock, Cajahs Mountain, Gamewell, Sawmills and parts of Blowing Rock and Rhodhiss. The main rivers are the Yadkin, Johns, and Catawba.

From a Barn to a City

The original settlement of Lenoir was first known as Tucker's Barn. The community of Tucker's Barn, which was settled by a family named Tucker around 1765, was on the north side of Lower Creek. Their home became a gathering place for many occasions. It was a voting precinct, a muster ground, a store and a place for "frolics" and celebrations. At least one large Fourth of July celebration included a drum corps, a march of Revolutionary veterans and speeches by General William Lenoir, Edmund Jones, Parson Miller, the McDowells, and a barbeque. The place was so popular that a piece of music suitable for violins was composed by a musician and entitled "Tucker's Barn".

In the first Federal Census of North Carolina taken in 1790 is recorded all the names of all the heads of families living around Tucker's Barn. These citizens composed the Ninth Company of the Morgan District North Carolina Militia and included: George Tucker, Peter Thompson, Fred Grider, Sr., Fred Grider, Jr., John Grider and Jacob Grider. The author of Here Will I Dwell states that the barn was near the present junction of West Harper Avenue and Beall Street and that the Tucker School was nearby. However, the first Tuckers in the area seem to have settled in the vicinity of Norwood Street and Pennton Avenue giving rise to stories the barn was there. Another location sometimes cited is where Highway 18 crosses Highway 321 on the site of the present Lenoir Crossings Shopping Center. This location is probably given because the Tucker Cemetery is near the shopping center. The Tuckers were apparently large property owners with many acres of land covering all three of these locations.

When Caldwell County was formed, a commission appointed to lay off a county town met to decide upon a location. There was some division over a proper site. One party favored the south side of Lower Creek, the present-day Whitnel Area, because of the scenic visibility of the Blue Ridge, but since the bulk of the citizenry lived on the north side of Lower Creek, Tucker's Barn was chosen. The choice was made because of the accessibility of Tucker's Barn in the event of a Spring "freshet". The commission charged with the responsibility of laying a 25-acre site for the courthouse and jail consisted of Catlett Jones, Edmund Jones, William Dickson, Daniel Moore, Sr., William Watson, John Blair, Sr., Levi Laxton, Sr., Peter Ballew, Jr., and Abner Pain. The new county seat was named Lenoir in honor of General William Lenoir.

Facts & Figures

  • 1771 The region's settlers petitioned for the creation of a new county.
  • 1790 The Caldwell area had a population of about 2,675
  • 1791 Caldwell's first industries were located on Gunpowder Creek, near Granite Falls. Here the Pierce Iron Forge was erected and gunpowder was manufactured for the patriots.
  • 1825 Tucker's Barn area became the seat of government of the new county.
  • 1850 A toll road was built across the Blue Ridge to Blowing Rock - a road that is now U.S. Highway 321.
  • 1878 Grist and sawmills were developed along streams within the county. The county had 51 grain mills, 41 sawmills and 5 furniture shops, 8 tanneries, a pottery, an implement factory, four gold mines, and innumerable iron ore beds.
  • 1884 The Chester and Lenoir Railway (a narrow gauge) came to the county.
  • 1889 The first modern furniture factories were organized.
  • 1910 There were 2,548 farms in the county.
  • 1938 Caldwell was one of the first counties to achieve a rural electrification program.