County History

Alleghany County History

History of Alleghany County
Tucked away in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Northwestern North Carolina, Alleghany County is the state's fifth smallest county in land area encompassing 233 square miles and sixth smallest in population with around 10,000 residents. It is bordered by Grayson County, Va., on the north, and by North Carolina counties: Ashe on the west, Wilkes to the south and Surry to the east. Sparta, its county seat and only municipality, sits at the crossroads of US 21 and NC 18 at the county's center.

Alleghany is shaped by the land. The Crest of the Blue Ridge -- the Eastern Continental Divide -- forms the eastern and southern border and is home to the Blue Ridge Parkway. Average elevation is from 2,500 to 3,000 feet with the highest peaks of 4,000 feet or more in the Peach Bottom Mountains in the mid-section of the county.

The county is principally drained by the New River, which flows along the western and northern border, and its main tributary, the Little River, which runs through the central portion of the county. The North Carolina portion of the New River is designated a National Scenic River and offers camping and other recreational opportunities along its shore.

For years, the Blue Ridge Mountains were not a vantage point, but rather a barrier separating Alleghany from the rest of the state. Commerce and society were inclined into Ashe County and northward into Virginia such that Alleghany was dismissed as one of the state's "Lost Provinces." 

The development of the Blue Ridge Parkway in the 1930s and modern paved roads now make Alleghany easily accessible to everyone. However, that earlier isolation allowed the county to escape some of the mixed blessings of modern life -- strip malls and freeways -- such that it claims the title "Unspoiled Province." Today, it is a modern bustling rural community where its rich mountain heritage is revealed in the people and the peaks and valleys of the countryside.

The word "Alleghany" is said to be derived from the Indian name meaning "fine stream", a suitable name for these scenic hills drained by the New River, the second oldest river in the world. Legend has it that the New River was discovered by Peter Jefferson, relative of Thomas Jefferson. Leading a party of surveyors, he was surprised to come upon a "new" river behind the mountains. Tools and artifacts have been found in the New River Valley dating back to the Paleo-Indian culture. Native American tribes that have occupied the area include the Cherokee and Shawnee. 

The county was settled in the late 1700's by hardworking pioneers mostly of English, German, Scottish, and Irish descent, some having migrated down the "Wagon Road" from Pennsylvania. Many of their descendants still live on land that was granted to their families nearly 200 years ago.

One of the earliest settlers to the county was Joseph Doughton, believed to have been a member of that early surveying team. He contracted typhoid fever and was taken in by Lieutenant George Reeves who had settled along the New River just north of Alleghany County in what is now Grayson County, Va. Doughton was nursed back to health by Lieutenant Reeves' daughter, Mary. During his convalescence, they fell in love and were married.

The Doughtons made their home in what was then Wilkes County, soon to become Ashe and later Alleghany County. Others were also settling the area when Doughton claimed his land. The earliest arrivals were fiddle-footed hunters, but the farmers soon followed with names like Osborne, Gambill, Cox, Bryant, McMillan, Tolliver, Woodruff, Simmons, Crouse, Edwards, Pennington, Jones and Choate. Many of these family names are rare to other areas, but still common in the county today.

Like the Doughtons, these pioneer families cleared the high land first.The bottoms were too marshy and the first settlers lacked the time and equipment to drain the soil.

Alleghany County was formed by an act of the 1858-59 session of the North Carolina legislature out of the northeastern portion of Ashe County. A surveyor was hired to locate the most central location for the county seat, but squabbling over the location and the Civil War delayed the establishment of a permanent home for county government until 1868.

In 1870 James H. Parks, David Landreth and David Evans donated 50 acres of land for the county seat where Sparta is now located. Tradition has it that it was proposed the county seat be named after Parks, but he declined and suggested it be named after the Greek city-state.

Many well-known citizens claim Alleghany County as their home. These include Rufus Doughton, who was elected Lieutenant Governor of North Carolina in 1892; and Robert Doughton, U.S. Representative from 1910 to 1953. Mr. Doughton was chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee from 1933 to 1953 and was the major force in the establishment of Social Security and in promoting the construction of the Blue Ridge Parkway. Just a few miles from Doughton Park, his namesake attraction along the Parkway, his home is preserved as the Doughton-Hall Bed and Breakfast in Laurel Springs.

In all, 35 Alleghany citizens have served as state representatives, and 13 have served as state senators in the NC General Assembly -- a remarkable record for a small, rural mountain county. 

Historic area attractions listed in the National Register include the Brinegar Cabin on the Blue Ridge Parkway; the William Weaver House on the New River (locally known as the Fred Weaver House); the Alleghany County Courthouse in Sparta; the R.L. Doughton home place mentioned above; and the Elbert Crouse home near the Parkway. Also located here are Cumberland Knob, where construction of the Blue Ridge Parkway began in 1935, and Doughton Park, largest and most diverse of the Parkway's recreational areas. Portions of Stone Mountain State Park and New River's State Park are also within Alleghany's boundaries.

For folks who enjoy outdoor recreational activities, Alleghany County offers excellent fishing, small game and deer hunting, hiking, camping,and canoeing, plus public tennis courts and a public swimming pool.


This page was last updated August 1, 2010.

1997-2010 by the Alleghany County Coordinator
for the NCGenWeb Project