Rowan County, North Carolina

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Rowan County
Rowan County courthouse
Rowan County courthouse
Official seal of Rowan County
Map of North Carolina highlighting Rowan County
Location within the U.S. state of North Carolina
Map of the United States highlighting North Carolina
North Carolina's location within the U.S.
Coordinates: 35°38′N 80°31′W / 35.64°N 80.52°W / 35.64; -80.52
Country United States
State North Carolina
Named forMatthew Rowan
Largest citySalisbury
 • Total524 sq mi (1,360 km2)
 • Land511 sq mi (1,320 km2)
 • Water12 sq mi (30 km2)  2.4%%
 • Estimate 
 • Density289.9/sq mi (111.9/km2)
Time zoneUTC−5 (Eastern)
 • Summer (DST)UTC−4 (EDT)
Congressional district8th

Rowan County is a county in the U.S. state of North Carolina that was formed in 1753, as part of the British Province of North Carolina. It was originally a vast territory with unlimited western boundaries, but its size was reduced to 524 sq mi after several counties were formed from Rowan County in the 18th and 19th centuries, as population increased in the region. As of the 2020 census, its population was 146,875.[1] Its county seat, Salisbury, is the oldest continuously populated European-American town in Western North Carolina.[2]

Rowan County is located northeast of Charlotte, and is considered part of the Charlotte metropolitan area. Its population has increased as Charlotte has generated more industries and jobs.


An 1808 Map of Rowan County published in Philadelphia, created by Jonathan Price, John Strother, et al.
An 1833 map of Rowan County, North Carolina, from map of North Carolina by Robert H. B. Brazier

The first Europeans to enter what is now Rowan County were members of the Spanish expedition of Juan Pardo in 1567. They established a fort and a mission in the native village of Guatari, believed to be located near the Yadkin River and inhabited by the Wateree. At the time, the area was ruled by a female chief whom the Spaniards called Guatari Mico (Mico was the Wateree's term for chief). The Spaniards called the village Salamanca in honor of the city of Salamanca in western Spain, and established a mission, headed by a secular priest named Sebastián Montero.

This fort was one of six that Pardo's expedition established before he returned separately to Spain in 1568. Small garrisons were stationed at each fort.[3] They were built into the interior, including across the mountains in what is now southeastern Tennessee. In 1568, Native Americans at each fort massacred all but one soldier in the garrisons. The Spanish never returned to this interior area in other colonizing attempts, instead concentrating their efforts in La Florida.[4][5]

English colonial settlement of North Carolina came decades later, starting in the coastal areas, where settlers migrated south from Virginia. Explorers and fur traders were the first to reach the Piedmont, paving the way for eventual settlers. Rowan County was formed in 1753 from the northern part of Anson County. It was named for Matthew Rowan, acting governor of North Carolina from 1753 to 1754. It was intended to incorporate all of the lands of the Granville District that had previously been included in Anson County.[6]

A house several miles west of present-day Salisbury in "the Irish settlement" served as the first courthouse starting June 15, 1753. Daniel Boone's father Squire Boone served as one of the first magistrates. By mid-1754 a new courthouse site was selected near "the place where the Old Waggon Road (crosses) over Grant's Creek."[7]

As was typical of the time, Rowan County was originally a vast territory with an indefinite western boundary. As the population increased in the region, portions were taken to organize other counties and their seats. In 1770, the eastern portion was combined with the western part of Orange County to form Guilford County. In 1771 the northeastern portion of what was left became Surry County. In 1777 the western part of Rowan County was organized as Burke County.[8]

After the American Revolutionary War, in 1788, the western portion of the now much smaller Rowan County was organized as Iredell County. In 1822, Davidson County was formed from an eastern section. Finally, in 1836, that part of Rowan County north of the South Yadkin River became Davie County, and Rowan County took its present form and size.[8]

A center of textile manufacturing from the late 19th to the late 20th centuries, the county has worked to attract new industries after that one moved offshore in the late 20th and early 21st centuries to cheaper wage markets in Asia.

In 2003, the county held the "250 Fest", celebrating its 250th anniversary.[9]

Racial tension[edit]

Since Rowan County was developed for tobacco, cotton cultivation, and mixed farming in the antebellum period, many of the plantation owners and some farmers were dependent on enslaved labor. Cotton and tobacco continued as a commodity crop after the war and into the 20th century. The population of Rowan County was 27.1 percent slaves in 1860.[10]

During and following Reconstruction, the state legislature encouraged investment in railways, which had not occurred before. In addition, textile mills were built here and elsewhere in the Piedmont, bringing back cotton processing and manufacturing from centers in New York and New England. Urban populations increased.

At the turn of the 20th century, after losing to Republican-Populist fusionist candidates, Democrats regained power and passed laws erecting barriers to voter registration in order to disenfranchise most Blacks. Together with the passage of Jim Crow laws, which suppressed Blacks socially, these measures ended the progress of African Americans in the state, after Republican men had already been serving in Congress. Charles Aycock and Robert Glenn, who were elected as state governors in 1900 and 1904, respectively, ran political campaigns to appeal to Whites. After the passage of civil rights legislation in the mid-1960s, most African Americans in North Carolina recovered the ability to vote; they had never lost their constitutional right as citizens.[11]

Six lynchings of African Americans were recorded in Rowan County from the late 19th into the early 20th centuries. This was the second-highest total of killings in the state, a number of extrajudicial murders that two other counties also had.[12]

The racial terrorism of lynchings enforced White suppression of African Americans. In 1902, brothers James and Harrison Gillespie, aged 11 and 13, were lynched by a White mob for allegedly killing a young White woman working in a field.[11] In August 1906, six African-American men were arrested as suspects in the murder of a farm family. That evening, a White mob stormed the county jail in Salisbury, freeing all the White prisoners, interrogating the Black ones, and taking out Jack Dillingham, Nease Gillespie, and his son John. The mob hanged the three men from a tree in a field, mutilated and tortured them, and shot them numerous times.[11]


According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the county has a total area of 524 square miles (1,360 km2), of which 12 square miles (31 km2) (2.4%) are covered by water.[13]

The county's eastern border is formed by the Yadkin River. North of Ellis Crossroads, the South Yadkin River meets the Yadkin. The South Yadkin forms the county's northern border with Davie County. The southern border is an east-west line that bisects the city of Kannapolis.

State and local protected areas[edit]

Adjacent counties[edit]

Major water-bodies[edit]

Major highways[edit]

Interstate 85 passes through the county from southwest to northeast. In the early 2000s, I-85 was widened [14] in the central and northern part of the county, from exit 68, US 29 Connector, north almost to the Davidson County line. A new bridge over the Yadkin River was also built.[15]

U.S. Route 70 enters the northwestern part of Rowan County, west of Cleveland. It runs southeast into Salisbury, where it follows Jake Alexander Boulevard to the southeast and joins US 29 North as Main Street. US 70 continues northeast as Main Street; it is called Salisbury Avenue in Spencer before crossing into Davidson County.

U.S. Route 29 forms Main Street in Kannapolis, China Grove, and Landis in the southern part of the county. It joins US 70 as Main Street through Salisbury, and as Salisbury Avenue in Spencer.

U.S. Route 52 is the main artery for the southeastern part of the county, serving the towns of Gold Hill, Rockwell, and Granite Quarry. Just before reaching downtown Salisbury, US-52 joins Interstate 85, which it follows into Davidson county.

Other major infrastructure[edit]


Historical population
Census Pop.
2021 (est.)148,150[16]0.9%

2020 census[edit]

Rowan County racial composition[17]
Race Number Percentage
White (non-Hispanic) 100,135 68.18%
Black or African American (non-Hispanic) 22,730 15.48%
Native American 444 0.3%
Asian 1,505 1.02%
Pacific Islander 71 0.05%
Other/Mixed 6,050 4.12%
Hispanic or Latino 15,940 10.85%

As of the 2020 United States census, there were 146,875 people, 55,241 households, and 37,900 families residing in the county.

2010 census[edit]

As of the census[18] of 2010, there were 138,428 people, 53,140 households, and 37,058 families residing in the county. The population density was 270.7 people per square mile (98/km2). There were 60,211 housing units at an average density of 117.7 per square mile (41/km2). The racial makeup of the county was 76.52% White, 16.18% Black or African American, 0.34% Native American, 1.00% Asian, 0.035% Pacific Islander, 4.33% from other races, and 1.60% from two or more races. 7.69% of the population were Hispanic or Latino of any race.

Of the 53,140 households, 29.30% had children under the age of 18 living with them, 50.20% were married couples living together, 8.49% had a female householder with no husband present, 5.41% had a male householder with no wife and 30.26% were non-families. 25.22% of all households were made up of individuals, and 10.15% had someone living alone who was 65 years of age or older. The average household size was 2.52 and the average family size was 3.00.

In the county, the population was spread out, with 23.80% under the age of 18, 9.00% from 18 to 24, 25.40% from 25 to 44, 27.40% from 45 to 64, and 14.40% who were 65 years of age or older. The median age was 39.1 years. For every 100 females, there were 97.57 males. For every 100 females age 18 and over, there were 95.28 males.

According to the 2000 Census,[19] The median income for a household in the county was $37,494, and the median income for a family was $44,242. Males had a median income of $31,626 versus $23,437 for females. The per capita income for the county was $18,071. About 8.10% of families and 10.60% of the population were below the poverty line, including 13.70% of those under age 18 and 11.40% of those age 65 or over.

Law and government and public safety[edit]

The primary governing body of Rowan County is a council–manager government. The five-member Board of Commissioners are elected from single-member districts. As a group, they hire the County Manager, who is responsible for operations. The current County Manager is Aaron Church. The current Commissioners are Greg Edds (Chairman), Jim Greene (Vice-Chairman), Judy Klusman, Mike Caskey, and Craig Pierce. Commissioners are elected to four-year terms, with three being elected during midterm national elections, and two being elected during presidential election years.[20] The commission passes the Code of Ordinances for the county.[21]

Rowan County is a member of the regional Centralina Council of Governments.[22]

In the U.S. Senate, the county is represented by Richard Burr and Thom Tillis.[23]

The current Sheriff of Rowan County is Kevin L. Auten, who was appointed after the retirement of George Wilhelm in 2009. Auten won election to a full term in his own right in 2010. For a complete list of sheriffs, see Rowan County Sheriff's Office[24]

County commission prayer[edit]

In 2013 the American Civil Liberties Union filed suit on behalf of three Rowan county residents against the county commission's practice of starting their meeting with sectarian prayers by the commissioners, who instructed attendees to stand and join in. A federal district court issued an injunction forbidding the county commissioners from praying at their meetings.[25][26] After a divided panel of the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit found that the prayers did not violate the Establishment Clause of the United States Constitution, the full court sitting en banc disagreed and affirmed the injunction.[27][28] The Supreme Court of the United States declined to review, over the written dissent of two justices.[29][30] In 2019, the county was forced to pay $285,000 to the ACLU for the plaintiffs' legal fees because it had lost the lawsuit.[31]


United States presidential election results for Rowan County, North Carolina[32][33]
Year Republican Democratic Third party
No.  % No.  % No.  %
2020 49,297 67.15% 23,114 31.49% 997 1.36%
2016 42,810 66.51% 19,400 30.14% 2,159 3.35%
2012 38,775 62.23% 22,650 36.35% 887 1.42%
2008 37,451 60.84% 23,391 38.00% 718 1.17%
2004 34,915 67.32% 16,735 32.27% 217 0.42%
2000 28,922 65.53% 14,891 33.74% 320 0.73%
1996 22,754 57.94% 13,461 34.28% 3,058 7.79%
1992 21,297 49.84% 14,308 33.48% 7,127 16.68%
1988 23,192 65.48% 12,127 34.24% 97 0.27%
1984 25,207 70.20% 10,643 29.64% 57 0.16%
1980 18,566 59.68% 11,671 37.52% 872 2.80%
1976 14,644 48.44% 15,363 50.82% 222 0.73%
1972 20,735 73.34% 6,834 24.17% 705 2.49%
1968 15,207 46.79% 8,074 24.84% 9,220 28.37%
1964 14,804 49.78% 14,934 50.22% 0 0.00%
1960 17,726 57.84% 12,919 42.16% 0 0.00%
1956 17,562 64.28% 9,761 35.72% 0 0.00%
1952 17,535 60.82% 11,296 39.18% 0 0.00%
1948 5,722 36.44% 6,799 43.30% 3,181 20.26%
1944 5,862 37.62% 9,721 62.38% 0 0.00%
1940 4,059 23.76% 13,023 76.24% 0 0.00%
1936 4,306 25.16% 12,808 74.84% 0 0.00%
1932 4,464 30.94% 9,782 67.81% 180 1.25%
1928 7,957 62.46% 4,783 37.54% 0 0.00%
1924 3,560 39.06% 4,816 52.84% 738 8.10%
1920 4,888 43.22% 6,421 56.78% 0 0.00%
1916 2,320 43.18% 3,053 56.82% 0 0.00%
1912 280 6.06% 2,748 59.43% 1,596 34.52%
1908 2,009 45.02% 2,392 53.61% 61 1.37%
1904 1,215 33.21% 2,424 66.25% 20 0.55%
1900 1,555 36.25% 2,460 57.34% 275 6.41%
1896 1,468 31.91% 3,095 67.28% 37 0.80%
1892 876 21.84% 2,303 57.42% 832 20.74%
1888 1,274 31.35% 2,732 67.22% 58 1.43%
1884 1,372 34.18% 2,642 65.82% 0 0.00%
1880 1,377 40.36% 2,035 59.64% 0 0.00%



Rowan–Salisbury School System[edit]

The Rowan–Salisbury School System is a PK-12 graded school district covering nearly all of Rowan County. The 35 schools in the district serve 20,887 students as of 2009–2010.[37] It was formed in 1989 with the merger of Rowan County Schools and Salisbury City Schools.[38]

Kannapolis City Schools[edit]

Students living in the portion of Kannapolis located in Rowan County (the city is mostly in Cabarrus County) attend Kannapolis city schools. Their public school system operates independently of the countywide school systems.

Private schools[edit]

  • North Hills Christian School - (pre-school through high school)
  • Rockwell Christian School (pre-school through high school)
  • Sacred Heart Catholic School - (elementary through middle school)
  • Salisbury Academy - (pre-kindergarten through middle school)
  • Salisbury Adventist School


  • Rowan Public Library
    • Headquarters (Salisbury)
    • East Branch (Rockwell)
    • Frank T. Tadlock South Rowan Regional Library (China Grove)
    • West Branch (Cleveland)


The Salisbury Post, founded in 1905, is a local newspaper that is published several days a week.


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


  • Kannapolis (portions in Cabarrus County, incorporated in 1984)
  • Salisbury (county seat and largest city. Founded in 1753; first post master George Lauman, June 12, 1792)[39]


  • China Grove (post office first established on November 27, 1823 with Noah Partee as postmaster; also called Luthersville in 1846-1849 and Eufaula 1855-1859)[39]
  • Cleveland (first postmaster William A. Allison, March 3, 1887; was Third Creek 1884–1887, postmaster William L. Allison; was Rowan Mills 1856–1884, was Cowansville 1831–1856, first postmaster John Cowan)[39]
  • East Spencer (first postmaster William J. Hatley, February 12, 1913)[39]
  • Faith (first postmaster John W. Frick, January 24, 1889 to July 16, 1906)[39]
  • Granite Quarry (founded in the 1800s; originally called Woodsides, first postmaster was John F. Wiley, August 7, 1891 to Jan 14, 1902; first postmaster was William S. Brown, January 15, 1902)[39]
  • Landis (first postmaster was Joel Corriher, July 17, 1902)[39]
  • Rockwell (first postmaster was Peter Miller, March 1, 1872)[39]
  • Spencer (founded in 1896, first postmaster Hugh Smith, July 15, 1897)[39]

Census-designated place[edit]

Unincorporated communities[edit]

  • Bear Poplar (post office from September 12, 1878 to February 11, 1966, Lucy J. Kistler first postmaster)[39]
  • Bostian Heights (formerly Bostians, Post office: August 6, 1875 to July 16, 1877, Sophia L. Bostian as first postmaster)[39]
  • Crescent (post office from March 5, 1898 to May 29, 1925, J.M.L. Lyerly first postmaster[39]
  • Dogwood Acres
  • Dukeville
  • Gold Hill (post office established on May 15, 1844, Robert E. Rives first postmaster)[39]
  • Liberty
  • Mill Bridge (post office from July 23, 1874 to September 30, 1903, Mary E. McCublin first postmaster)[39][40]
  • Mount Ulla (formerly Wood Grove, post office from April 12, 1830 to April 22, 1843, first postmaster Julius J. Reeves; Mount Ulla post office from April 22, 1843 to October 24, 1899, first postmaster James Cowan, post office re-established on November 22, 1899)[39]
  • Woodleaf (first postmaster was Daniel Wood, September 4, 1855)[39]


By the requirements of the North Carolina Constitution of 1868, the county was divided into townships. Previous to that time, the subdivisions were Captain's Districts. While the Captain's Districts referred primarily to the militia, it served also for the election precinct, the tax listing and tax collecting district.[41] The following townships in Rowan County were created in 1868:

Notable people[edit]

County-wide notables include the following:

For a full list of notables from Rowan County and places within the county, see Category:People from Rowan County, North Carolina.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "U.S. Census Bureau QuickFacts: Rowan County, North Carolina". Retrieved May 2, 2022.
  2. ^ "Find a County". National Association of Counties. Retrieved June 7, 2011.
  3. ^ Simmons, Geitner (August 29, 1999). "An unknown South: Pardo story helps Rowan learn about itself". Salisbury Post. Archived from the original on November 3, 2006. Retrieved January 11, 2013.
  4. ^ "Today in Asheville history: Explorer arrives". Citizen Times. December 1, 2015.
  5. ^ Simmons, Geitner (August 22, 1999). "Understanding the "original Southerners"". Salisbury Post. Archived from the original on November 3, 2006. Retrieved January 11, 2013.
  6. ^ Rumple, Jethro (1916). A History of Rowan County, North Carolina. Daughters of the American Revolution, Elizabeth Maxwell Steele Chapter (Salisbury, N.C.). p. 59.
  7. ^ Freeze, Gary (October 10, 2021). "Rowan County's first courthouse". Salisbury Post.
  8. ^ a b Corbitt, David Leroy (1987). Formation of North Carolina Counties, 1663-1943. State Department of Archives and History. pp. 185–188.
  9. ^ The Dispatch (April 12, 2003). "Congrats Rowan County on 250 Years and a Happy Birthday to Davidson as Well".
  10. ^ "Slavery". NCPEDIA. Retrieved February 27, 2021.
  11. ^ a b c Amy Louise Wood, "Lynching and Local History: A Review of 'Troubled Ground'", Southern Spaces, 08 May 2012; accessed 08 June 2018
  12. ^ "Lynching in America, 3rd edition, Supplement: Lynching by County, Montgomery, Alabama: Equal Justice Initiative" (PDF). 2017. Archived from the original (PDF) on October 23, 2017. Retrieved June 8, 2018.
  13. ^ "2010 Census Gazetteer Files". United States Census Bureau. August 22, 2012. Archived from the original on January 12, 2015. Retrieved January 19, 2015.
  14. ^ "Rowan Emergency Services". November 16, 2009. Archived from the original on July 21, 2011. Retrieved April 12, 2010.
  15. ^ "Office of the Governor of North Carolina". March 12, 2009. Retrieved April 12, 2010.
  16. ^ "U.S. Census Bureau QuickFacts: Rowan County, North Carolina". Retrieved May 2, 2022.
  17. ^ "Explore Census Data". Retrieved December 21, 2021.
  18. ^ "U.S. Census website". United States Census Bureau. Retrieved May 14, 2011.
  19. ^ "U.S. Census website". United States Census Bureau. Retrieved January 31, 2008.
  20. ^ "Board of Commissioners". Rowan County website. Rowan County, NC. Retrieved October 25, 2011.
  21. ^ Rowan County Code of Ordinances.
  22. ^ "Centralina Council of Governments". Retrieved August 10, 2019.
  23. ^ "Senators of the 113th Congress". U.S. Senate website. United States Senate. Retrieved October 25, 2011.
  24. ^ "Salisbury Post staff votes on the biggest stories of the year". Salisbury Post. December 31, 2010. Retrieved December 18, 2011.
  25. ^ Note, Fourth Circuit Holds that County Commissioners’ Practice of Offering Sectarian Prayers at Public Meetings Is Unconstitutional, 131 Harv. L. Rev. 626 (2017).
  26. ^ Lund v. Rowan County, 103 F.Supp.3d 712 (M.D.N.C. 2015).
  27. ^ "Rowan County meeting prayers being reconsidered by federal appeals court". Charlotte Observer. Retrieved January 10, 2019.
  28. ^ Lund v. Rowan County, 863 F.3d 268 (4th Cir. 2017 (en banc).
  29. ^ Rowan County v. Lund, 138 S.Ct. 2564 (2018).
  30. ^ Note, Pressure to Pray? Thinking beyond the Coercion Test for Legislator-Led Prayer, 86 U. Chicago L. Rev. 151 (2017).
  31. ^ Bergeron, Josh. "Rowan County commissioners to pay $285,000 after losing prayer lawsuit". Salisbury Post. Retrieved January 10, 2019.
  32. ^ Leip, David. "Dave Leip's Atlas of U.S. Presidential Elections". Retrieved March 17, 2018.
  33. ^ Retrieved January 13, 2021. {{cite web}}: Missing or empty |title= (help)
  34. ^ "About Catawaba College". Retrieved February 10, 2019.
  35. ^ a b c "Visit Rowan County". Retrieved February 10, 2019.
  36. ^ "Campbell announces teaching hospital agreement with Novant Health Rowan Medical Center". Retrieved February 10, 2019.
  37. ^ "Search for Public School Districts – District Detail for Rowan-salisbury Schools". National Center for Education Statistics. Institute of Education Sciences. Retrieved October 29, 2011.
  38. ^ Campbell, Sarah (July 1, 2011). "Developer offers plans for central office downtown for schools". Salisbury Post. Archived from the original on July 3, 2011. Retrieved October 26, 2011.
  39. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p "Rowan County Post Offices, 1785 to 1971". Retrieved July 4, 2019.
  40. ^ Cheeseman, Bruce S. "Historical Research Report of Kerr Mill and Mill Bridge Community, Rowan County". Retrieved March 31, 2019.
  41. ^ "North Carolina Constitution" (PDF). 1868.
  42. ^ John W. Ellis marker.
  43. ^ James Graham bio.
  44. ^ Locke, Francis; Brawley, James S.; 1991;; transcription from "Dictionary of North Carolina Biography," (6 volumes); edited by William S. Powell; copyright ©1979-1996; University of North Carolina Press; accessed January 2015
  45. ^ NC Manual of 1913
  46. ^ Lee S. Overman marker.

Further reading[edit]

  • Clegg, Claude A., III. Troubled Ground: A Tale of Murder, Lynching, and Reckoning in the New South (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2010).
  • Gehrke, William H. "The Beginnings of the Pennsylvania-German Element in Rowan and Cabarrus Counties, North Carolina." Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography 58.4 (1934): 342–369. online
  • Rumple, Jethro. A History of Rowan County, North Carolina (Heritage Books, 2009). This publication does not include all lynchings, only those of black skin or those of known African heritage.

External links[edit]

Coordinates: 35°38′N 80°31′W / 35.64°N 80.52°W / 35.64; -80.52