North Carolina’s Lost Province | Ashe County
Up until the dawn of the 20th century there were many corners of North Carolina that remained relatively inaccessible for travelers and trade.
Roads, railways, and other major forms of transportation were extremely limited due to the rugged nature of the Blue Ridge Mountains rising sharply in the western part of our beautiful state.
The Blue Ridge Mountains at times rise more than 2000 feet over the valley below – posing a formidable obstacle to those who may wish to venture westward from the Piedmont region.
The Horton Turnpike
In the late 19th century, there was a push by some local citizens and Ashe County’s government to create a road leading from Jefferson into Wilkesboro.
Colonel Nathan Horton, a particularly impassioned Ashe County citizen, personally funded a large portion of the “Horton Turnpike” which was to connect Wilkesboro to Jefferson and continue to the Tennessee border.
In those days, tolls were commonly charged for road use due to the large costs incurred from road construction through the mountains.
Travelers were typically charged 50 cents for a 4-wheel carriage, 10 cents for each passenger on horse, 5 cents for each foot passenger, 2.5 cents per cattle head, and 1 cent for every hog or sheep. Due to steep terrain and trouble securing laborers, the “Horton Turnpike” was never completed.
Ashe County Known as Lost Province
In 1887, Ashe County instead turned its attention to completing a road leading to Marion, Virginia – the closest railroad connection at the time. The road to Marion resulted in increased trade with Virginia and less commerce with the rest of North Carolina, thus unofficially designating Ashe County as North Carolina’s “Lost Province.”
In the early 20th century, some route changes were made to original Horton Turnpike: grades were made manageable, bridges were built, and some sand/clay surfaces were added to replace the original dirt.
These updates were funded through a joint effort from the State and private subscriptions from the citizens of Ashe and Wilkes Counties. The new road, known as the Jefferson Turnpike, was a major improvement over prior passageways leading through the mountains and provided a dependable - albeit temporary - connection to the rest of the North Carolina.
Unfortunately, an infamous rainy period in 1916 caused flooding across western North Carolina. Most of the Jefferson Turnpike was permanently washed away in 1916 and roads temporarily deteriorated to back to 19th century conditions.
North Carolina establishes the State Highway System
It was not until North Carolina’s General Assembly established the state highway system in 1921 that Highway 16 was constructed. Highway 16 is currently used today and provides a reliable passageway from Wilkesboro into Ashe County. Highways 421, 221, 88, and 163 also provide easy transportation throughout the area to present day.
As of current, US Highway 221 is being upgraded – designed to be the safest road of its kind upon completion later this year. A modern, four-lane divided highway will replace the original two-lane road leading from Deep Gap to West Jefferson. When completed, Ashe County will become even more accessible and easy to find for those visiting our scenic mountain province.
Although the region is now well-connected to the rest of the state, some still endearingly refer to Ashe County as North Carolina’s “Lost Province.” Our beautiful corner of the state has an untouched feel compared to other regions, tucked away in the pristine Blue Ridge Mountains.
Arthur Lloyd Fletcher, 2006. Ashe County, A History, a new edition. Contributions to Southern Appalachian Studies, 14.