Some of the earliest evidence of human settlement in the area points to ancient tribes of people who were ancestors of the Cherokee. An archeological site in Yancey County revealed a village inhabited during the pre-Cherokee Woodland period. A trade network connected these peoples to settlements far away; mica mined near High Cove has been found in Hopewell culture sites in Ohio. Some archaeological research points to the Black Mountains / Toe River area as a land between the Cherokee and Catawba, sacred to both tribes.
Newcomers to the region.
In the 1700s, large numbers of Lowland Scots who had settled in Ulster made a second migration across the Atlantic, many of them landing at first in Philadelphia as indentured servants. As they set out on their own to claim their own land, a large concentration of these Ulster Scots settled in the Southern Appalachian region, which at that time was a rugged frontier. With them, they brought a fiercely independent spirit, skills for making things by hand, and a tradition of ballad singing and fiddle playing that harkens back to the travelling troubadours of the middle ages in Europe.
Photo: Howell Homestead (1842). Photo thanks to Byrne Tinney.
The Appalachian region has struggled with poverty throughout most of its history. The Great Depression hit the Appalachian people particularly hard.
In 1920, a woman named Lucy Morgan came to Mitchell County from Chicago to teach. She fell in love with traditional weaving patterns made by local women, started a school to use those traditional weaving skills as an economic development project. Over time, her weaving school grew into Penland School of Crafts, which is now an internationally recognized leader of contemporary crafts.
Because Penland draws craft artists from all over the world who are often masters of their craft, a robust craft economy has grown up in its midst, with over 400 artists in Mitchell and Yancey counties who make at least part of their living from crafts.
Photo: Dye Shed at Penland.
The Region Today…
Over the past few decades, more people have flocked to the Mitchell, Yancey and Avery County region for its natural beauty, adventure, and solitude. Folks come to our counties to hike or kayak for a few days, to stay the summer in second homes, to immerse themselves in a few years of apprenticeship with local craft artists, or to just enjoy the beauty of our green hills.
We make an interesting stew — remnants of ancient Cherokee culture, the predominance of the Ulster Scots, skilled makers, adventure seekers, part-timers, and recent arrivals. One thing we can all agree on — the mountains feel like home.
Photo: Yancey County Courthouse, Burnsville.