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The History of West Jefferson

  • The History of West Jefferson

Last modified on 2020-08-24

History of West Jefferson, North Carolina

The people of Ashe County and West Jefferson often hold deep ties to the area’s history. There is a sense of magnificence when entering the mountains of north western North Carolina – possibly looking back to the sense of wonder the first explorers felt as they ventured into the Blue Ridge Mountain’s immense beauty for the first time. 

Colonel Ben Cleveland, Revolutionary War hero particularly known for his leadership at the Battle of King’s Mountain, was the first settler to own land where West Jefferson now stands. 

History tells us, Ben Cleveland received the large tract of Appalachian mountain land, including what is now Ashe County, in 1795. Ashe County incorporated in 1799. 

The town of Jefferson, NC, charted by the General Assembly in 1803 and became the county seat but officially did not incorporate until 1854. County offices along with law office, surveyors, and general stores made up the town of Jefferson. 

Virginia-Carolina Railroad arrived in the Appalachian Mountains in the late nineteenth century. 

 In its early days, the railroad transported lumber, minerals, and agricultural products. Todd, NC was a main source for timber and minerals. 

When the railroad set up its route into North Carolina, the railroad company made the decision to bypass the town of Jefferson, the county seat, and pass through the small community of West Jefferson. This directly led to the establishment of West Jefferson in 1915. 

The locomotive made daily trips to Todd through West Jefferson from 1915 through the early 1930's. These regular trips were a key part of West Jefferson’s growing economy, with lumber companies, banks, land offices, and other businesses vying for the valuable real estate along the bustling Virginia-Carolina Railroad.

During the mid-30’s the timber and ore market in Todd was depleted. Timber in the mountains in and around Todd were lacking standing timber. The copper and mica mines dwindled. The track from West Jefferson to Todd was no longer profitable for the railroad.

During the Great Depression, the railroad pulled up its tracks and left Todd.  What was once a booming town, the commerce had all but vanished. 

The train made its last trip through West Jefferson in 1977.

Declining availability in the timber industry and the rise of the automobile as a convenient form of transportation were the main contributors to the railway’s end. The absence of the railroad was certainly difficult for West Jefferson’s economy. Small towns throughout western North Carolina were hard-hit by similar economic scenarios in the later 1970's and 1980's.

 After the departure of the railroad, other forms of transportation continued to enable the economic viability of West Jefferson as Ashe County’s hub for industry and retail.

 Increasingly accessible roads and the construction of Ashe County’s airport in 1977 expanded the area’s accessibility to the rest of the state and region. The 5,000 feet airport runway can accommodate small to medium sized jets and planes. 

Community leaders in West Jefferson, the town and business owners responded before the turn of the century with a renewed focus on the arts and tourism. Their efforts spurred a variety of shops, galleries, music venues, and restaurants in the downtown center.

The Town of West Jefferson has Become a Destination. 

Today, people come to the mountains for inspiration and renewal and the fresh cool mountain air. They also look to deepen their understanding of our shared history and cultural heritage of the Blue Ridge Mountain region and the town of West Jefferson.

Visitors drive the Blue Ridge Parkway as it runs through Ashe County and is a short driving distance to the towns of Jefferson and West Jefferson.

Mt. Jefferson State Natural Park overlooks the town of West Jefferson. The park offers over 500 acres of natural woodlands with hiking trails, overlooks and picnic areas.

The New River, one of the oldest rivers in the world flows through the area, and is famous for fishing, canoeing, and kayaking.   The town of West Jefferson is pedestrian friendly and offers two parks, craft breweries, street murals, art galleries, unique shops, a movie theater, antique shops, espresso bars, restaurants, Ashe County Cheese Plant and the famous frescoes painted by renowned artist Ben Long.

In West Jefferson you will find opportunities to enjoy and take part in cultural events and the arts, traditional Appalachian Mountain music or spend the day taking art classes at Florence School of Arts. 



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