Madison County’s Early Years


Behind the barrier of the Blue Ridge and Smoky Mountains lay the highlands of Madison County before 1776, uncharted and virtually unknown to anyone but the Cherokee Indians. It was the thrust of the new country In the 1780s, with land grants for Revolutionary War heroes and treaties with the Indians that encouraged settlers to invade the wilderness In search of home sites and privacy.

They were a rugged people, these first settlers, a people loyal to family, religion, and the land, who came because the felt crowded by growing settlements in the east. They were not to escape the political system, however, for In 1792 the House of Commons of the newly forming state of North Carolina recognized a mountain constituency and created a new county to be known as Buncombe for the Revolutionary War hero, Edward Buncombe. Its territory would encompass all the land west of the Blue Ridge. an area so large that Is was dubbed “the State of Buncombe.”

Buncombe County Included what Is known today as MadIson County. In 1796 the state of Tennessee was formed, and the commission which established the boundary between the two states drew Madison’s northwestern border.

In the Journal kept by the commissioners, they recounted pleasant baths In hot waters at Warm Springs, now Hot Springs, to “get clear of the fatigue of the tour.” The popularity of Warm Springs and the Increase In travel between the western settlements end the south along the French Broad River, caused talk of a new road by 1825. With funds from the House of Commons, the Buncombe Turnpike was opened In 1827, making profitable a stage coach route from Paint Rock to Saluda, through Asheville.

A host of inns and road stands emerged along the route, operated by the Alexanders, the Barnetts, the Barnards, the Farnsworths, and David Vance, father of Civil War Governor Zebulon Baird Vance. Names of these road stands still linger as names of communities in Madison.

In addition to the fine. bright colored stagecoaches, it was not unusual in the fall for the turnpike to be crowded with stockmen, drovers from Tennessee and Kentucky, driving herds of hogs and fowl to markets further south. When night came these men would seek shelter In a road stand and their hogs and turkeys would be pinned up and fed great quantities of grain to keep them from becalming too lean on the long trip. Growing grain to feed these animals, sometimes 100,000 head at a time, became a supplementary income for the mountain men.

In 1851 the House of Commons ordered that there should be created “a county called Madison,” after former President James Madison of Virginia. It was to be carved of the northwestern part of Buncombe and and an area of Yancey County.

The county seat of Madison would be named for the late John Marshall, chief Justice of the United States Supreme Court. Two locations vied to be chosen, Jewell Hill, now Walnut, and Lapland, the boyhood home of Zebulon Vance Court was being held at Jewell Hill, but Vance may have settled the Issue when he donated to the county 50 acres of land in Lapland and his friend Samuel Chunn gave another 25 acres. In June 1855 the matter was put to public vote and Lapland became the • county seat; Marshall.

The population of Madison County In 1890 was 17,805. The railroad from Asheville had joined with one from Tennessee at Paint Rock on January 25, 1882. It was then possible for those seeking the “curative waters” at Warm Springs to travel In the comfort of a railroad car. Stockmen could ship their animals by boxcar Gone was the need for overnight hostelries. Gone was the need for growing quantities of grain for feed. The county moved into the twentieth century ready for a new kind of development.

The Historic News, Feb. 1999

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