Avery County, North Carolina

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Avery County, North Carolina
Avery County Courthouse in Newland.jpg
Avery County Courthouse
Map of North Carolina highlighting Avery County
Location in the state of North Carolina
Map of the United States highlighting North Carolina
North Carolina's location in the U.S.
Founded 1911
Named for Waightstill Avery
Seat Newland
Largest town Banner Elk
 • Total 247 sq mi (640 km2)
 • Land 247 sq mi (640 km2)
 • Water 0.1 sq mi (0 km2), 0.04%
 • (2010) 17,797
 • Density 75/sq mi (29/km²)
Congressional district 11th
Time zone Eastern: UTC-5/-4
Website www.averycountync.gov

Avery County is a county located in the U.S. state of North Carolina. As of the 2010 census, the population was 17,797.[1] The county seat is Newland.[2] The county seat was initially established in Elk Park when the county was first formed, but was moved to Newland upon completion of the courthouse in 1912. Founded in 1911, it is the youngest of North Carolina's 100 counties.


The county is the newest of North Carolina's 100 counties. It was formed in 1911 from parts of Caldwell County, Mitchell County, and Watauga County. It was named for Waightstill Avery, a colonel in the American Revolutionary War and the first Attorney General of North Carolina (1777–1779). It is often noted for the large amount of Christmas trees that the county produces.


Stream within a Linville community

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the county has a total area of 247 square miles (640 km2), of which 247 square miles (640 km2) is land and 0.1 square miles (0.3 km2) (0.04%) is water.[3] Avery County is extremely rural and mountainous with all of the county's terrain located within the Appalachian Mountains range. The highest point in the county is Grassy Ridge Bald, which rises to 6,165 feet (1,879 m) above sea level. Most of Grandfather Mountain (whose highest point is Calloway Peak 5,946 feet (1,812 m) shared with Watauga and Caldwell counties) is within Avery county. At an elevation of 5,526 feet (1,678 m) above sea level, Beech Mountain (also shared with Watauga county) is the highest incorporated community east of the Mississippi River. At an elevation of 3,606 feet (1,099 m) Newland is the highest county seat in the Eastern USA.

National & state protected areas[edit]

Adjacent counties[edit]

Transportation infrastructure[edit]


Avery County Airport (7A8) is a small, public general aviation facility with no control tower. It primarily serves private aircraft and has no regularly scheduled commercial or cargo flights or major carriers. The facility jointly serves Avery and Mitchell Counties and is located on Grassy Creek Road, just off US19E near the Mitchell County Line in Green valley, 10 miles south of Newland and 4 miles east of Spruce Pine. It is jointly operated by both counties and has a 3000-foot long runway that is 60 feet wide, with over runs at both ends in excess of 110 feet. The facility has private contractors who offer private air services, flying lessons and charter flights. The airport has seen increased usage in recent years and has been upgraded several times. The county has made cursory inquiries into resurfacing the airport to a heavier weight rating, to allow NC Air National Guard C-130 aircraft from Charlotte Douglass International Airport Air National Guard Base to conduct intermittent landing and "touch and go" combat exercises. The US Marine Corps on the NC coast at New River and Cherry Point Air Stations has also expressed an interest in conducting mountain landing training for Osprey vertical takeoff aircraft if the airport runway is thickened, as has the NC Army National Guard for its helicopters located in Salisbury. The Avery County runway is of sufficient length to accommodate large military aircraft, but not of sufficient surface thickness. Mission Hospital in Asheville has also been approached to possibly establish an air ambulance base at the airport.

A smaller private airport is also located in Banner Elk parallel to NC 194 at the Elk River Club resort development. It is controlled access with a gate that is manned by security 24 hours daily. It is for use by residents and approved guests of the Elk River Property Owners Association.

Major highways[edit]

Law and government[edit]

The county is governed by a five-member Board of County Commissioners who are elected to two- or four-year terms. The current Board Chairman is Kenny Poteat, who has been served for 20 years as a commissioner after retiring as a local educator. Currently serving as vice chain is Phyllis Forbes, a retired educator who has been on the board 18 years. Other commissioners are Glenn Johnson, Martha Hicks and Robert Griffith. Avery County is a member of the regional High Country Council of Governments. The county commissioners appoint a county manager to oversee day-to-day operations. This role is currently filled by Robert Wiseman, who has served over 20 years. The county seat in Newland is the highest county seat in eastern America, as is the courthouse, at an elevation of over 3600 feet.

Pursuant to state law, some of the most important officials in the county are elected. These include the offices of Sheriff (currently filled by Kevin Frye), Register of Deeds (currently Renee Dellinger), Clerk of Superior Court (presently filled by Lisa Daniels), and Coroner (currently John Millan). Elected court officials include District Attorney. who like the judges covers the 24th Judicial District of Avery, Watauga, Mitchell, Yancey and Madison Counties. The current DA is retired State Supreme Court Justice Robert Orr, who was appointed in April of 2014 by Governor Pat McCrory for the remainder of the term ending in DEC of 2014 which was vacated by 30-year prosecutor Jerry Wilson who retired early due to health reasons. The DA and his assistants and staff work out of the main DA office in Boone and sub offices in each county in the district. Resident Superior Court Judge is Phil Ginn, who also works out of Boone and the Chief District Court Judge position is vacant, based in Newland. District court judges are Greg Horne, Gary Gavenus, Ted McIntyre, and Warren Hughes. The county's magistrates are Chief Magistrate Bruce Lacey, Dale Buchanan and Steve Clawson. Other appointed officials and department heads include tax collector-assessor Phillip Barrier and building inspector Tommy Burleson; the latter is perhaps best known for his career as a professional basketball player.

Avery County is part of the 45th NC Senate District which includes Avery, Watauga, Ashe, Wilkes and Alexander Counties. The senate seat is currently held by Dan Soucek of Boone, a West Point graduate and former US Army Officer who is a current officer in the NC Army National Guard. The county is part of the 85th NC House District, a three-county district comprising Avery, Mitchell and McDowell Counties. Currently representing the 85th is Josh Dobson, a graduate of Avery County High School and a resident of neighboring McDowell County, where he previously served as county commissioner.

The county also has a non-partisan elected school board to oversee the countywide school district. The current school board chairman is John Greene, with Kathy Aldridge serving as vice chair. Other school board members are Keith Tutterow, Steve Smith and Dr. Bob Clark. The county's superintendent of schools is Dr. David Burleson.

Overlooking Avery Square is the historic 1912 Avery County courthouse which was remodeled in 1996, adding additional office space and a second smaller courtroom. Additional renovations began in 2013 and are scheduled to be completed in fall of 2014 to add even more office space and renovate the older clerk of court office and vaults, along with the main courtroom. The local office of the NC Probation and Parole Division, judges offices, district attorney's sub-office, the county map office, tax office, inspection office, register of deeds, clerk of superior court, Guardian Ad Litem office and NC Juvenile Justice offices are all located in the courthouse. Connected to the courthouse is a newly renovated sheriff's office and state-of-the-art new jail, both of which were completed in 2011, an elections office, 911 center and magistrate's court.

The county administrative building is located a short distance south and down hill from the courthouse, providing workspace for the county manager and many other county offices such as social services, payroll, finance, veterans services, fire marshal, emergency management and personnel. The complex also serves as the site of county commission meetings and is available for other public meetings. It was sometimes used as an auxiliary courtroom for juvenile and district court until the new smaller courtroom was added to the courthouse in 1997. The county's senior center, health department and public pool are all located adjacent to the county office building. A new county museum, built to look like the Newland ET & WNC Railroad station was finished in 2012 and it is located behind the jail, next to the old Avery County Jail which closed in 1973, which is now the county historical museum and on the National Registry of Historic Places. The Newland Town Square, immediately in front of the courthouse, contains memorials to the county's veterans and fallen law enforcement officers.

The Avery County Sheriff's Office provides law enforcement protection to the county and also operates the jail complex. Other county services include an integrated enhanced-911 emergency dispatch center, county fire marshal and emergency management office, a countywide transportation service, a veterans services office, and an office of economic development, along with manned trash collection sites throughout the county and a landfill. County recreational services are located in the old Newland High School rock gym, next to Newland Elementary School. The county operates a 24-hour paramedic-level EMS service with at least two ambulances in service at all times, along with an EMS supervisor's SUV. Other emergency services such as fire and first responder/rescue are provided by ten volunteer fire departments and a volunteer rescue squad; the county's fire commission supplements the volunteer fire agencies by providing a paid employee for weekday coverage at all of the volunteer fire departments and also has a ladder truck available for countywide use. Several town fire departments also have paid staff of their own. The county fire commission is appointed by the county commissioners.

A privately-operated Avery Fairgrounds is located on Vale Road just outside the Newland city limits. It is funded both by allocated county funds and private funding and controlled by a fair board.

A privately-operated animal shelter, built in 2011 is located on Vale Road in Newland. It has been recognized as one of the nicest "no-kill" animal shelters in the United States.


The county contains local attractions such as Grandfather Mountain, Grandfather Mountain State Park, Linville Gorge Wilderness, Linville Falls, Pisgah National Forest and the Blue Ridge Parkway, which all attract large numbers of visitors. The annual "Wooly Worm" festival in Banner Elk draws world visitors who come to see caterpillar races that locals happily claim can predict the severity of coming winters based on the fur coats of the worms. The Grandfather Mountain Highland Games is held each year the first full weekend after July 4 and is one of the largest Scottish gatherings outside of Scotland and features bagpipes, bands, Scottish food, music, authentic clothing and games such as log and caber toss and use of dogs in sheep herding. Oz Days at the former Land of Oz theme park on Beech Mountain in the fall also attracts visitors who love the legacy of the famous Judy Garland movie "The Wizard of Oz" based on Frank Baum's famous book. The annual Music Festival in Newland on July 4 also attracts many visitors.

Ski Resorts are vital to the county.

Second homes, condominiums, rental properties and hotel-motel lodging, along with real estate in general all are critically important sources of jobs, income and tax revenue. Fall colors and winter sports make for a year-round real estate market.

Mining continues to play a role in local economy, with several mica mines in the lower end of the county near Spruce Pine still actively operating, including the Unimin Schoolhouse Mine on US 19E on the banks of the Toe River in Green Valley. Though they are now closed, the historic iron ore mines in Cranberry were once a major employer and economic cornerstone in the county. They were vital to the Confederacy in the Civil War. The now abandoned mines are homes to endangered species of bats.

Manufacturing has declined in recent decades, but US Textiles still operates an active mill in Newland.

Major Employers: The State of North Carolina is the largest employer in the county. It operates a forestry center, DOT office, State Highway Patrol office, state agriculture extension office, probation/parole office, alcohol law enforcement office, a state park service office and two prisons in lower Avery County on the Mitchell County border. Those side-by-side facilities are Mountain View and Avery-Mitchell. A third prison facility, the BRIDGE Unit, was a novel project to use non-violent, first-time youthful felony offenders to work on state lands and fight forest fires as "smoke jumpers." It was closed in the late 1990s and torn down. Other major employers are: the Avery County School System, Mayland Community College, Cannon Memorial Hospital, Lees-McRae College, Avery County government, Lowes Foods, US Textiles, Unimin, various large tree farms and mining operations which are also important local employers.

Avery County is one of 420 counties and 8 independent cities that fall into the Appalachian Region as defined by the US Government's Appalachian Regional Council (ARC). ARC was founded by President Lyndon B. Johnson in 1965 to address poverty in the 13 Eastern states of Appalachia. Avery is listed as "Transitional" by the ARC. Based on 2006 statistics from the US Government, the five classification categories for factors such as unemployment, income and poverty rate, the levels are: Distressed (worst), At-risk, Transitional, Competitive and Attainment. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the unemployment rate as of August 2013 was 10.6% (not seasonally adjusted), down from 11.2% for 2012. According to Census American Community Survey data for 2011 the poverty rate is listed at 18.1%.


The county's agricultural focus is the mass production of Fraser Fir Christmas Trees. Tree farms produce trees year round and they are harvested in mid October, wrapped, stacked and sold in bulk at local or far away lots or shipped to wholesalers across the country. Some farms also sell directly to visitors. Shrubbery, landscaping and greenhouses all are important agricultural aspects of the county's economy, as is beef cattle farming. Grape growing and vineyards are becoming popular with three vineyards presently operating in the county.


Based in Newland, The Avery Post and The Avery Journal-Times cover all of Avery County. The Avery Journal-Times newspaper is owned by Jones Media publishing company and is a sister publication of the Watauga Democrat in Boone, while the Post is locally owned [4]

WECR radio station at 1130 on the AM dial serves the local area with local programs and religious music, along with local news, events and weather.

Television coverage is primarily based out of Charlotte, which the county is in its Designated Market Area (DMA). However, because of proximity, several stations in the Tri-Cities also cover the area and are carried on local cable.


The county's hospital is Charles A. Cannon Memorial Hospital, a campus of Appalachian Healthcare System. The hospital is centrally located in Linville and opened in 2000. The campus also hosts the Sloop Medical Building, housing various doctor's offices, the local YMCA complex, and a pharmacy. The hospital is a critical care facility with a 24-hour emergency department as well as imagery, lab, surgery, and other services. It has 25 medical beds and ten psychiatric beds. Critical illnesses and injuries and trauma patients are often stabilized at Cannon, then flown or transported by ambulance to hospitals in Charlotte, Asheville, or Johnson City, Tennessee. Cannon Hospital is named for decorated US Army Air Corps aviator 1st Lt. Charles Cannon of Banner Elk, killed in combat during World War II. The Sloop Medical Building is named for husband-and-wife pioneer physicians, Dr. Eustace Sloop, MD, and Mary Martin Sloop, MD, who long provided care for the local population; the pair also founded the Crossnore Home for Children. The new facility replaced two older hospitals, one in Banner Elk and one in Crossnore; the two former hospitals also bore the names of Cannon and Sloop, respectively.


Historical population
Census Pop.
1920 10,335
1930 11,803 14.2%
1940 13,561 14.9%
1950 13,352 −1.5%
1960 12,009 −10.1%
1970 12,655 5.4%
1980 14,409 13.9%
1990 14,867 3.2%
2000 17,167 15.5%
2010 17,797 3.7%
Est. 2012 17,635 −0.9%
U.S. Decennial Census[5]
2012 Estimate[1]

As of the census[6] of 2000, there were 17,167 people, 6,532 households, and 4,546 families residing in the county. The population density was 70 people per square mile (27/km²). There were 11,911 housing units at an average density of 48 per square mile (19/km²). The racial makeup of the county was 93.95% White, 3.48% Black or African American, 0.34% Native American, 0.19% Asian, 0.04% Pacific Islander, 1.28% from other races, and 0.71% from two or more races. 2.41% of the population were Hispanic or Latino of any race.

There were 6,532 households out of which 27.10% had children under the age of 18 living with them, 57.10% were married couples living together, 9.10% had a female householder with no husband present, and 30.40% were non-families. 26.60% of all households were made up of individuals and 11.00% had someone living alone who was 65 years of age or older. The average household size was 2.34 and the average family size was 2.82.

In the county the population was spread out with 19.40% under the age of 18, 10.30% from 18 to 24, 30.10% from 25 to 44, 24.40% from 45 to 64, and 15.70% who were 65 years of age or older. The median age of Avery County is aging, with it at 38 years. For every 100 females there were 111.80 males. For every 100 females age 18 and over, there were 112.90 males.

The median income for a household in the county was $30,627, and the median income for a family was $37,454. Males had a median income of $25,983 versus $21,652 for females. The per capita income for the county was $15,176. About 10.90% of families and 15.30% of the population were below the poverty line, including 19.30% of those under age 18 and 19.00% of those age 65 or over.


Map of Avery County, North Carolina With Municipal and Township Labels




The county is divided into nineteen townships: Altamont, Banner Elk, Beech Mountain, Carey's Flat, Cranberry, Elk Park, Frank, Heaton, Hughes, Ingalls, Linville, Minneapolis, Montezuma, Newland No. 1, Newland No. 2, Pineola, Plumtree, Pyatte and Roaring Creek.

Unincorporated communities[edit]


Unusual, doubly terminated quartz crystal with clay inclusions, found in Avery County, which is well known for producing quartz specimens.

Avery County schools[edit]

Avery County Schools has eight schools housed on seven campuses, ranging from pre-kindergarten to twelfth grade: five elementary schools, two middle schools and a central high school. The two middle schools are: Avery Middle across from the High School built in 1978 and Cranberry Middle in Cranberry on a joint campus with Freedom Trail elementary near Elk Park was built in 1998. Other elementary schools are located in: Newland (fully renovated in 2002), Crossnore Elementary was built on a new campus in 2003, Riverside Elementary in lower western Avery built in 1987 and the new Banner Elk Elementary, between Banner Elk and Sugar Mountain was built in 2011. All Avery elementary schools are newly built since 1987 or were renovated from between 1996 to 2011. A massive renovation or replacement of the current high school building which was built in 1969 is slated for no later than 2023.

Three small local high schools were closed in 1969 with the opening of the present central Avery County High School near Newland. The old Newland High School Gym adjacent to Newland Elementary School is now a county parks and recreation facility and is famous for NBA player Tom Burleson of Newland, who played there in high school. Crossnore High School was torn down in the early 1970s. The largest of the old high schools, Cranberry High School, is now preserved as a community center in Cranberry near Elk Park. Numerous older historic rock work schools built by the Depression-era Work Projects Administration (WPA) that had been community K-8 schools were closed, starting with the old Riverside School in 1987. Both Elk Park School and Minneapolis Schools were closed in 1998 and consolidated into the new Cranberry Middle-Freedom trail School. Beech Mountain school was the last K-8 school in Avery County. It was closed in 2008 and is now a community center. The area students were moved to Cranberry Middle-Freedom Trail School. The last WPA school still operating in the county was the old downtown Banner Elk School, which closed in 2011. The county is currently debating the disposition of the old Banner Elk School site, which is prime real estate property in the center of Banner Elks downtown business district.

Avery County gained national attention for being the first school system in the USA to issue all students in the system laptop computers.

Avery County High School is located on High School Road just south of Newland. It is at the highest elevation of any high school in the Eastern United States, located on the Eastern Continental Divide. The school has a dual-enrollment program with Mayland Community College, allowing students to complete college credits and certificate level vocational skills (such as CNA and welding) while still in high school. There is also an Army JROTC at the school. Avery High is home of Avery Vikings athletics, named for the school's mascot, the Viking. Home football, basketball and other athletic games and events attract large crowds to the school. The Vikings have gone to state playoffs several times in various sports, including football, basketball and wrestling. The school's athletic fields are housed in McDonald Stadium, which was renovated from 2000-2010 and it is a popular destination during football season with large crowds turning out for local games and events.[7]

Charter schools[edit]

Two authorized charter schools operate in Avery County:[8]

  • Crossnore Academy, formerly an orphanage in the Town of Crossnore
  • Grandfather Academy, formerly Grandfather Home Orphanage in Banner Elk

Colleges and universities[edit]

  • Lees-McRae College, located in Banner Elk, is a private, four-year liberal arts college that is Presbyterian Church affiliated.
  • Mayland Community College, ranked in 2010 as the fourth-best community college in the United States, has a campus main site that straddles the county line of both in Avery and Mitchell Counties and the school is located in both counties, though it has an address in nearby Spruce Pine in Mitchell County. The school offers various continuing education programs, studies in technical areas and a two-year transfer or associate's degree program in various areas of study, including general education and large programs in nursing and criminal justice, along with various trade and technical careers. Mayland is a partner college with Lees-McRae College in Banner Elk and nearby Appalachian State University in Boone. There is a recently built sub-campus on the north side of Newland and the college primarily serves Mitchell, Avery and Yancey Counties, hence the name of Mayland for the three counties, though many students from McDowell, Burke and Watauga Counties in NC and some from adjacent Carter and Johnson Counties in Tennessee also attend.

Notable people[edit]

  • Tommy Burleson, former NBA star.
  • Paul Johnson, college football coach of Georgia Southern, Navy and Georgia Tech.
  • Joyce McKinney, former beauty queen, famous for allegedly kidnapping Mormon missionary Kirk Anderson in the UK in 1977. She later again gained fame for cloning her pit bull terrier "Booger" in Korea in 2008.
  • John Mark Bentley, US Collegiate Wrestling Hall of Fame inductee.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b "State & County QuickFacts". United States Census Bureau. Retrieved October 17, 2013. 
  2. ^ "Find a County". National Association of Counties. Retrieved 2011-06-07. 
  3. ^ "US Gazetteer files: 2010, 2000, and 1990". United States Census Bureau. 2011-02-12. Retrieved 2011-04-23. 
  4. ^ "Our Publications". Mountain Times Publications. Retrieved December 8, 2012. 
  5. ^ "U.S. Decennial Census". Census.gov. Retrieved October 17, 2013. 
  6. ^ "American FactFinder". United States Census Bureau. Retrieved 2008-01-31. 
  7. ^ "School Directory". Avery County Schools. Retrieved December 8, 2012. 
  8. ^ "A-E Counties". Office of Charter Schools. North Carolina Department of Public Instruction. Retrieved December 8, 2012. 

Further reading[edit]

  • Cooper, Horton. History of Avery County, Biltmore Press, 1964
  • Cooper, Horton. North Carolina Mountain Folklore and Miscellany Murfreesboro, N.C., Johnson Pub. Co., c1972
  • Hardy, Michael C. Avery County: Images of America, Charleston, SC: Arcadia Publishing, 2005
  • Hardy, Michael C. Remembering Avery County, Charleston, SC: The History Press, 2007
  • Hardy, Michael C. and Jimmie Daniels Families, Friends, and Felons: Growing Up in the Avery County Jail. Lulu.com, 2008
  • http://mountaintimes.com/advertising/publications/

External links[edit]

Coordinates: 36°05′N 81°55′W / 36.08°N 81.92°W / 36.08; -81.92