The people of Cherokee County are proud of their heritage and proudly maintain eight properties on the National Register of Historic Places. Some of these are public and can be visited, while others are privately owned. Call the Chamber for information about visiting those that are of interest to you.
The Southern Appalachian Mountains are believed to be among the oldest on the planet. As early as 1540 the mountains and valleys now known as Cherokee County were explored by DeSoto and inhabited by the Cherokee Indians. The great Tennessee, Hiwassee, and Valley Rivers were mined for gold as evidenced by old tunnels, shafts, Spanish cannon balls, pistols bearing the Spanish coat of arms, and coin molds found along their river banks.
In the early 1800's as the white man coveted the rich lands and beautiful swift rivers of Western North Carolina, President Jackson sent 7,000 troops into Western North Carolina who built six forts to oversee the removal of the Cherokee to Oklahoma. The largest of these was Fort Butler, built at the present site of Murphy on the Hiwassee River. The removal of the Cherokee along the "Trail of Tears" was described and recorded as "the greatest blot on America's history". More than 4,000 Native Americans died before they reached Oklahoma. Cherokee who were able to elude their captors hid in the hills and were later granted lands in Cherokee County. For more information provided by the Cherokee Nation Cultural Resource Center, please click here.
As the white settlers built their forts and towns on the rivers, they farmed near the streams and creeks, and built dams to produce power to operate tub mills, grind flour and create flumes for mining gold. Logging became the first industry in the area and primary means of making a living. Logs flowed down the rivers to the sawmills; rafts, flatboats and canoes brought in supplies. As early as 1820 a Baptist mission school was established at the Old Natchez Town on the Hiwassee River and the first Methodist Church, Harshaw Chapel (a standing historic site) was built in Murphy in 1869.
In 1861 Cherokee County raised 1,100 men for the Confederate Army as the state seceded from the union. In 1865 Kirk's Raiders burned the County Courthouse in Murphy (the first of four courthouse fires between 1865 and 1926). The present Courthouse, now over 80 years old, is constructed of solid masonry and blue marble quarried from the county. Following the Civil War, in 1888, the way of life changed for the better with the introduction of the railroad.
In 1922, the first paved highway opened from Cherokee County to the Georgia line and the Asheville to Murphy highway opened in 1926. The Hiwassee, Valley, and Nottely Rivers and their tributaries provided an abundant supply of water for residents. The Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) was able to harness the power of the rivers in Cherokee County with construction of the Hiwassee Dam in 1936. Two years later, the lights came on in nearly every home, barn, and store throughout the mountains of Cherokee County.
Over 3,000 people lived in the area when Cherokee County was formed in 1839. By 1860, the population had grown to over 9,000 and today's population is over 27,000. Our county is blessed with many families who have spent generations in our community, as well as many who have moved to Cherokee County in search of the mountain views, moderate weather, and natural beauty.