Historical evidence shows that Ashe county was inhabited by Native Americans, which included the Cherokee, Creek, and Shawnee tribes. Pieces of broken pottery, arrowheads, and other Native American artifacts have been found, indicating their presence. Most of these artifacts have been found in the Old Fields area of Ashe County.
The earliest Europeans to explore Ashe County were Bishop Augustus Gottlieb Spangenberg – head of the Moravian Church in America – and his associates, Timothy Horsefield, Joseph Mueller, Henry Antes, Johan Merck, and Herman Loesch. Bishop Spangenberg wrote about his journey in Ashe in a diary that has been preserved by the Moravian church. He was given 100,000 acres (400 km2) in Virginia as a place for his fellow Moravians to settle. The only one of Spangenberg's group to return and permanently settle in Ashe County was Herman Loesch. Other early settlers were David Helton, William Walling, William McLain and Daniel Boone, the famous pioneer. With the exception of Boone, these men and their families all settled in Ashe in 1771.
During the Revolutionary War one skirmish was fought in Ashe County. It is called the "Battle of the Big Glades". The battle was fought in July 1780 between a force of Americans, led by Captain Robert Love, and a force of 150 British Loyalists on their way to Charlotte to join Lord Cornwallis, the British commander in the Southern colonies. The Americans won the skirmish.
In the 1780s, Ashe County was considered a part of the "State of Franklin". It consisted of three counties – Washington, Greene, and Sullivan. Ashe was considered to be a part of Washington County. The "State of Franklin" marked the beginnings of the State of Tennessee. Ashe County did not formally become a part of North Carolina until 1785. In late 1799 composed of 977 square miles, Ashe was finally pronounced an official county of the United States and of North Carolina. Many family surnames noted in the 1800 Ashe County Census, Blevins, Hart, Bare, Barker, Stamper, Miller, Burkett, Gambill, Baldwin, and Ballou as a sample, are still present today. Ashe County was named in honor of Samuel Ashe, a Revolutionary patriot, a superior court judge, and the Governor of North Carolina from 1795 to 1798. From 1807 to 1913 the county went through numerous boundary changes. In 1849, to form Watauga County, the southwestern part of Ashe County was combined with parts of Caldwell County, Wilkes County, and Yancey County. Ten years later in 1859, the eastern part of the remainder of Ashe County became Alleghany County.
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the county has a total area of 429 square miles (1,110 km2), of which 426 square miles (1,100 km2) is land and 3.1 square miles (8.0 km2) (0.7%) is water.
Ashe County is located in extreme northwestern North Carolina. The county is bordered by two states: Virginia on the north; and Tennessee to the west. The county is located entirely within the Appalachian Mountains region of North Carolina. Most of the county is located atop a rolling plateau that ranges from 2,500 feet (760 m) to 3,000 feet (910 m) above sea level. On the county's southeastern border the land drops to about 2,300 feet (700 m) toward the Foothills region of North Carolina in neighboring Wilkes County, North Carolina. Numerous mountains and hills dot the plateau. The highest being The Peak at 5,195 feet. In total five mountains tower 5,000 feet plus. Among the highest peak is Mount Jefferson, which is a State Natural Area and rises to 4,665 feet (1,422 m), and towers more than 1,600 feet (490 m) above the towns of Jefferson and West Jefferson.
The county's main river is the New River, which is one of the oldest rivers in the world, and one of the few major rivers in the southeastern United States to flow primarily north instead of south, east, or west. There are 34 recorded creeks and streams that flow into the New River in Ashe County. In 1998 the river was designated an "American Heritage River" by President Bill Clinton, and it is famed for its beautiful rural scenery, clear water, fly fishing, and kayaking and canoeing.
Ashe County generally is known for its mountain scenery, and the tourism industry is an important mainstay of the county's economy. The Blue Ridge Parkway runs along the county's southeastern border. Ashe County has historically consisted of rural farmland, with numerous cattle and poultry farms. However, cattle farming in recent decades has given way to the industry of raising Christmas trees. Many cattle farmers have switched to growing Christmas trees, and in 1997, 2007, 2008, and 2012, an Ashe County Christmas tree was selected as the official White House Christmas Tree by the National Christmas Tree Association. The tree was put on display in the Blue Room (White House). As of 2014 Ashe County grows more Christmas Trees than any other County in the Eastern United States.
Ashe County, North Carolina has a considerably different climate than most of the Southeastern United States. Summers typically average around 80 degrees Fahrenheit. Temperatures rarely exceed 90 degrees Fahrenheit, but temperatures such as they did in 2012 can reach the mid-90s. 100+ has never been observed. Summer nights are cool, and temperatures often dip to near 60 Fahrenheit even in July. In winter there is snow, averaging about 30 inches for the towns of Jefferson & West Jefferson during the past 30 years. Considerably more snow falls on the peaks and the western slopes of the Appalachian Mountains. During the 2009–2010 snow season Jefferson received some 60+ inches of snow. For the past three seasons (2013–2014 & 2014–2015 & 2015-2016) West Jefferson has averaged 24.7 inches of snow (as reported by a CoCoRaHS Observer 1 mile ESE of West Jefferson). Snow has been observed as early as around October 1 and as late as around May 1. Ashe County is also a very windy location especially in winter when several times per year the Jefferson Airport sees the wind gusting 60 to 85 MPH. In addition it does get very cold in Ashe County. In 2015 the temperature dipped below zero Fahrenheit on four occasions, the coldest being negative eight Fahrenheit. The average winter high is in the 40s with an average low near 20 Fahrenheit. Often feeling more like the northeastern United States when wind chill factors are also observed.Blue Ridge Parkway (part)
Cherokee National Forest (part)
US 221 (BUS)
Grayson County, Virginia – north
Alleghany County, North Carolina – east
Wilkes County, North Carolina – southeast
Watauga County, North Carolina – southwest
Johnson County, Tennessee – west
As of the census of 2000, there were 24,384 people, 10,411 households, and 7,423 families residing in the county. The population density was 57 people per square mile (22/km²). There were 13,268 housing units at an average density of 31 per square mile (12/km²).
The racial makeup of the county was:97.16% White
0.66% Black or African American
0.32% Native American
0.01% Pacific Islander
1.05% from other races
0.56% from two or more races.
2.42% of the population was Hispanic or Latino of any race.
There were 10,411 households out of which 26.20% had children under the age of 18 living with them, 59.40% were married couples living together, 8.40% had a female householder with no husband present, and 28.70% were non-families. 25.80% of all households were made up of individuals and 12.10% had someone living alone who was 65 years of age or older. The average household size was 2.31 and the average family size was 2.75.
In the county, the age distribution of the population shows 19.80% under the age of 18, 7.50% from 18 to 24, 27.00% from 25 to 44, 27.70% from 45 to 64, and 18.00% who were 65 years of age or older. The median age was 42 years. For every 100 females, there were 97.40 males. For every 100 females age 18 and over, there were 94.90 males.
The median income for a household in the county was $28,824, and the median income for a family was $36,052. Males had a median income of $25,666 versus $19,983 for females. The per capita income for the county was $16,429. About 10.10% of families and 13.50% of the population were below the poverty line, including 16.30% of those under age 18 and 17.30% of those ages 65 and over.
As of the census of 2010, there were 27,281 people, 11,755 households, and 8,030 families residing in the county. The population density was 60 people per square mile (23/km²). There were 17,342 total housing units at an average density of 37 per square mile (12/km²). Of the total 11,755 housing units were occupied.
The racial makeup of the county was:95.5% White
0.6% Black or African American
0.2% Native American
0.01% Pacific Islander
2.2% from other races
1.0% from two or more races.
4.8% of the population was Hispanic or Latino of any race.
There were 11,755 households out of which 23.1% had children under the age of 18 living with them, 54.5% were married couples living together, 9.3% had a female householder with no husband present, and 31.7% were non-families. 27.5% of all households were made up of individuals and 13.0% had someone living alone who was 65 years of age or older. The average household size was 2.29 and the average family size was 2.75.
In the county, the age distribution of the population shows 10.5% under 10, 10.9% from 10 to 19, 9.9% from 20 to 29, 11.6% from 30 to 39, 13.8% from 40 to 49, 15.2% from 50 to 59, 14% from 60 to 69, 8.7% from 70 to 79, and 5.1% who were 80 years of age or older. The median age was 45.5 years. For every 100 females, there were 97.80 males. For every 100 females age 18 and over, there were 96.39 males.
The per capita money income was $20,706 and the median household income was $34,056. 18.1% of the population was below the poverty level.
The Ashe Mountain Times is the newspaper of record for Ashe County. According to the Annual Periodicals Report from the U.S. Postal Service October 2015, it is the largest newspaper in Ashe County serving readers with the latest news and on-goings throughout the county. They are a weekly, paid circulation newspaper that is published every Thursday with breaking news posted immediately on www.ashemountaintimes.com. The newspaper is owned by Mountain Times Publications, a subsidiary Jones Media Publishing Company and is a sister publication of the Watauga Democrat.
Jefferson (county seat)
The Jefferson Post is the newspaper of record for Ashe County and is a twice-weekly publication based in West Jefferson. It has existed in its current form for 23 years. The publication is owned by Civitas Media.
The population ranking of the following table is based on the 2010 census of Ashe County.
† county seat
Ashe County has been home to, produced, or been visited by, several prominent people. Among them are Monte Weaver from Helton, a famous baseball player, who pitched for the Washington Senators and pitched a World Series game in 1933. After being traded from the Senators, he pitched for the Boston Red Sox, before being called into service in World War II. Weaver died in 1994. Albert Hash a well-known and beloved fiddler and instrument maker at one time resided in Lansing. Helen Keller visited an Ashe County native, Marvin Osborne, in 1944 when he was wounded in France in World War II. Loretta Lynn sang at the Central Food Market in West Jefferson in the late 1960s(The Central Food building formally housed a locally owned auto parts store and is now the location of a local restaurant). Roni Stoneman was a visitor to Ashe Park in the 1980s. In 1998, then-President Bill Clinton and his Vice-President, Al Gore, held a ceremony on the banks of the scenic New River to designate it as an American Heritage River. After the ceremony, both men had lunch at the historic Glendale Springs Inn, also located in Ashe County. Fiddle player G. B. Grayson was born in Ashe County in 1887.