The History of Buncombe County

Buncombe County has changed in form since its inception, but it was always within the folds of the Appalachian mountains, judged to be the oldest in the world. Named after a Revolutionary War figure, Colonel Edward Buncombe, the county was formed from parts of Burke and Rutherford counties in 1791.

Buncombe County was initially much larger than it is today. It once incorporated all of Rutherford County west of the mountains and most of the western part of Burke County while, to the south, it reached to the South Carolina border and then ran westward all the way to the Tennessee line. It has gone through at least ten distinct permutations from its creation until present day. Today it consists of 646 square miles lying on the western slopes of the eastern continental divide. It is bounded on the north by Madison and Yancey counties, on the east by McDowell and Rutherford, on the west by Madison again and Haywood, and finally on the south by Henderson county. It is roughly bisected by the French Broad river which has the distinction of being the third oldest river in the world as well as one of the few rivers to flow from south to north. At the county's center lies Asheville, the county seat, named after Samuel Ashe, governor of North Carolina from 1796-1798. Originally Asheville was named Morrisville and known in Thomas Wolfe's novel Look Homeward Angel as Altamont.

Although the Cherokee have lived in this area for a long time, longer than any of the European immigrants, they say that they were not the first ones here. They tell strange tales of tiny white men with 'almond shaped eyes' living in this area long ago. These tales seem to be buttressed by the word the Native American Crow as well as early adventurers such as trappers and members of military survey expeditions through this area. Other accounts tell of accidently discovered graveyards consisting entirely of tiny graves. Mysteries and legends abound in the early history of this area. Tales of Spanish miners who were slaughtered on the banks of a river due west of the county and their laboriously lode of silver dumped into the depths of the river and the opening to the mine hidden again forever. They had been drawn to the area by tales of gold and gems to find silver. In their feverish efforts to extract the mineral they neglected to provide for themselves, electing instead to rob the nearby tribe of Cherokee. The tribe were at first patient but the increasing boldness of the small party of Spaniards ultimately had to be dealt with in swift, bold methods.

Geologically, the area is rich in a variety of minerals and other natural resources as a result in its early era of considerable volcanic activity.