Clay County, North Carolina

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Indians of the Area
Logo, Clay County, North Carolina

During early days of the Carolinas history the early European immigrants encounter the Catawba Indians , who were Siouan- speaking, and lived in the piedmont locale. Very little is known of the catawba Indian culture. The Catawba Nation had a military alliance with other siouan tribes. Historical records have mostly been reported by John Lawson. Other names for them were 
“Ysa”, or “Usi”. Following the Yamasee war these Indians were called “Catawba”. This meant “cut off” as perhaps other tribes cut them off from contact. The Cat called themselves Nieye, "real people” The Cherokee tribe was a larger tribe than the Catawbas which were on the same size as Tuscaroras”.[1]

Cherokee Indians lived here when the first Europeans arrived to settle. Brasstown, North Carolina was named from an error in translating a Cherokee village named "brass". [2][3]
When white men came here, and lived among the Indians, there are stories of scalping and burning of buildings. The settlers had to learn to make their survival from the land, use herbs for medicine, and preserve food and grain for winter. The Cherokee were advanced in culture, knowing how to weave baskets, make pottery, grow maize, beans and squash, and use knives and axes. They hunted deer, bear, and elk for meat as well as use the skins for clothing. Some people claim Indian ancestors. Some places are derived from Indian names.[3]
1783 Scots-Irish settlers migrated here from the backcountry of the Appalachians of Pennsylvania and Virginia after the American Revolution. They became yeomen farmers.[2][4][3]
1791 North Carolina formed its counties from a nearby county. According to North Carolina data, the legislature uses at least a "rib" of a county to form another county. The first rib was chopped out of Burke County to form Buncombe County. [3]
1799 President George Washington had friendly dealings with the Cherokee..Dartmouth College established loans to educate Cherokee youth.
mid 1810's The Indians adopted the agriculture methods the settlers were using. They also built log cabins for themselves. Cherokee Chief Sequoyah, (George Guess) created a way to write the Cherokee language, so the tribe became literate. It adopted a constitution and began a newspaper, called The Cherokee Phoenix.[3]
Chief Junaluska helped Pres. Andrew Jackson in Battle of Horseshoe Bend. [3]
County with Township labels
1830's John Covington Moore was possibly the first white settle in the wild country. Unfriendly Indians were in the region, but no one contested the settling in the region. He was probably very lonely. [3]
1830 White settlers moved further west, more land was used, adding pressure on the Indians living there. Some of the Cherokee members signed the treaty of New Echota, agreeing to move westward. Others objected, which split the Cherokee nation. Eventually the Cherokee were placed in forts (or stockades) to wait to begin the westward journey. One fort was at Murphy, NC, with a smaller one in Hayesville. According to Mr. Thompson, only five Indians ran away from the soldiers at the roundup of Ft. Hembree. The Indians did not give any resistance to being gathered up in Clay County.[3]
1832 This region was part of Macon County, when Gen. Winfield Scott was given the orders to gather the Indians in the mountain regions, create stockades and when organized, to take them to the Oklahoma Territory to the Indian Reservation. The first immigrants moved into this section, which at the time was a part of Macon County, in the early part of the 1830s with only the protection they could afford for themselves. The Indians did not give any resistance to being gathered up in Clay County.[3]
Description of Ft. Hembree was a log fort, built as a T with (4) chimneys and upstairs fireplaces. There were (3) staircases, with pillars made of locust. The windows were also locust and locked with hickory pins. A large seller in the basement preserved the food. The fort was originally built of logs. Later it was weather-boarded. The rocks in the chimney were dated 1817. The fort was built like a T and had four big chimneys with fireplaces upstairs. The biggest room was the dining hall. The fort had three staircases. Pillars were locust numbered with Roman numerals. The windows were locust locked with hickory pins. A big cellar was in the basement to preserve food.[3]
Waymarker for Fort Hembree, NC
1838 Capt. Hembree was sent to this section of what was to become Cherokee County and constructed a stockade about a mile south west of the present town of Hayesville. where the Indians were held until they had all been captured and the infamous "trail of tears" began. This stockade was called Fort Hembree. People could gather there to have the protection of the fort against the few Indians. According to Mr. Thompson, only five Indians ran away from the soldiers at the roundup of Ft. Hembree. [3]
1838 The Trail of Tears was the long journey to Oklahoma. The rations of flour and salt pork sickened many, combined with the grief, the food, measles and cholera. One third (1/3) of the Indians died in the journey known as the Trail of Tears. Some escaped to the North Carolina mountains, now known as Cherokee, North Carolina. The Ocanaluftee Indian Village population has increased to the thousands.[3]
1839 Settlers stayed a while, then the Westward HO lust for more or different land caused them to move westward. This caused Macon County out grew its lands in (11) eleven years. Thus the North Carolina legislature used a (rib) from Macon for forming Cherokee County. A while later a (rib) land would be used from Cherokee County and a piece of Macon to form Clay County.. [3]
1843-44 A hamlet grew up around Fort Hembree, one of Winfield Scott's corrals. It acquired a post office in 1843, and by 1850 had a small academy, run by John O. Hicks from Rutherford County. Both the post office and Hicks Academy later removed to Hayesville, just a mile away. This was discontinued Dec 16, 1866.[3]
Three churches were begun. The Presbyterian in an area which is only known as the Presbyterian Cemetery and or the baptist Cemetery. The second church was built by Baptists on a spot where currently a Church of God is located.. Then the Methodists built a church in the center of Hayesville Methodist Cemetery.[3]
Clay county map with county seat, lake, towns.
1860 People had trouble traveling to Murphy from the eastern end of Cherokee county. They could not do court business and return home in one day, since they traveled by walking, horseback or a buggy. George W. Hayes of Tomotia ran for the House of Commons 1860-1861 from Cherokee County in the fall election . Most of the Cherokee residents wanted separation from Cherokee County with a county seat of their own.. George Hayes captured the votes and swing the election. Since he promised a new county, he pushed for the county to be formed. He was successful.[3]
Henry Clay
Feb., 1861 North Carolina General Assembly created Clay County from Cherokee County and a small amount of Macon County. Its name is in honor of Henry Clay of Kentucky, was a former Secretary of State and Kentucky US Senator. N.C. General Assembly created Clay County from Cherokee County. The County Seat became Hayesville about 1891, which was named for George W Hayes, a Cherokee county General Assembly legislator who worked to form the County [2][5][4]
1861 Clay County was formed from Cherokee County. It was named in honor of Henry Clay, the noted U.S. Senator from the state of Kentucky. It is in the western section of the state and is bounded by the state of Georgia and Cherokee and Macon counties in North Carolina. [3][6][7]
Commissioners were directed to hold their first meeting in the Methodist Church near Fort Hembree. Commissioners were named to select a site for the court house and lay out a town named Hayesville. Hayesville was named in honor of George W. Hayes and has been the county seat ever since. [3]
Hayesville, Clay County, North Carolina
1868 Due to the Civil War battles, Clay County did not have a formal government until 1868. A US post office opened in Hayesville during the Reconstruction era, a United States post office opened in Hayesville and a courthouse was built1888. Prior to this there had been post offices serving what is now Clay County at Fort Hembree (1844), Tusquittee (1848), and Shooting Creek (1849). When Post offices began, more opened sometimes in a crossroad store or the postmaster's house.[2][3]
Citizens had only the bare necessities for life, such as an ax, some flour, dried beans, a few clothes. They grew their needed items, or transport them. When acreage was needed to farm, settlers would cut down the forests. Since this was early for a log market, the common practice was to pile up the logs and burn them. If there was not time to complete the clearing, they cut a ring around the largest tree roots to kill them. In 1920's one might see a field of corn with giant oaks and poplars scattered in the in the field, which had been killed and left to decay.
2nd Clay County courthouse.
1888 The second courthouse was built for Clay County,
1875-1895 Citizens realized they could not make all of the items on their farms with their crude tools and machinery. They needed saws, nails, items for the house, such as sewing thread, salt, sugar. [3]

Pre 1900's Horses were saddle horses or coach breeds. Some people in early 1900 bought purebred, Percheron, or Belgian. By 1920-1930's farm tractors and trucks replaced the horses. Oxen were used for heavy duty work, such as pulling logs, or heavy equipment, grain thrashing machines. These oxen were slow for road use. Each farmer became his own blacksmith. From a pile of scrap of iron he could make a crude plow point or repair the wagon.[3]
Early 1900's The settlers had to cross the mountain to Clarksville, Toccoa or Gainesville, Georgia for needed rations. They hauled their dried apples, dried beans, clay peas, dried pumpkin, and cured hams or side meat to last them through the (3) week trip with something for their stock. When they returned they brought green coffee beans, sugar, salt, calico cloth for the women to have a Sunday dress, and mens clothes, a crosscut saw or handsaw, new ax or knife. No-one made the trip alone, as wagons broke down, or had to have help reaching the top of a hill and mud hole. If three families were together, the extra team of oxen could help pull the wagon over the tough spots. [3]
1903 Rural Free Delivery began 1903 Once Rural routes opened the post offices were discontinued. [3]
1920 People still grew most of their food on their farm. They made the furniture from lumber they cut in their forests, and wove some of the clothes from cloth on a loom from wool of the sheep they raised themselves.. Each one had a milk cow, fattened hogs for their meat supply, and maintained a flock of hens for eggs and meat. This was "open range" for their cattle. By that is meant farmers had to build fences around the fields on which they expected to raise cultivated crops and they turned their cattle, hogs and sheep loose on whatever other land was available, whether it was their land or someone else's. [3]
Many larger farmers and cattlemen would drive great herds of cattle, hogs, and sheep to the mountains during the summer months, where they would grow and stay fat on wild vegetation. The mountains were covered with chestnut trees and the hogs would fatten on chestnuts and acorns from the mighty oaks. Each farmer would have a certain mark they would use in order to identify his stock. Usually this mark consisted of certain kinds and numbers of nicks in the right or left ear.[3]
1925 - Brasstown, NC was founded which settlers mis-interpreted when renaming an earlier Indian settlement of "brass". Tourists come here to visit the John C Campbell Folk School and buy crafts. This site shows the history of Clay County, the Indian culture traditions, myths, and artifacts. [2]
Chatuga Dam, Reservoir
For more than a century, agriculture was the backbone of the county’s economy; however, tourism now supports much of the county’s economy. The most popular tourist destination is the backdrop for the county's rural landscape, known as the Smoky Mountains.[2]
1941-1942 Chatuga Dam in Clay County near Cherokee County, North Carolina was constructed on the Hiwassee River The dam is50 feet high and stretches 3,336 feet across the Hiwassee. River to reduce downstream flooding. Its flood-storage capacity is 62,600 acre-feet to prevent flooding of North Carolina and Georgia. A hydroelectric plant was installed in 1954. [8]Chatuga Reservoir
Clay County prospers from a thriving tourism trade due to its rugged mountains, trout fishing, and crafts industry, centered on the John C. Campbell Folk School in Brasstown, founded in 1925. The school weds a Danish model of study with the cultural traditions of the region. The county's farms produce grain, tomatoes, vegetables, hay, poultry, swine, and beef and dairy cattle. Manufactured products include coaxial cables, textiles, trusses, and resistors for light fixtures.[9]
Near Hayesville, NC is the highest Indian mound for this county, near the Community Center in a field. Bones, pottery shards, and arrowheads have been found at the mound site. Earlier Indian tribes than the Chrokee Indians built the mounds, prior to white settlement. [3]
Today there are only three post offices for the whole county in Hayesville, Brasstown and Warne. [3]

Adjacent counties:<b/>

clay County and surrounding counties
  • Macon County (northeast)
  • Rabun County
  • Georgia (southeast)
  • Towns County, Georgia (south)
  • Union County, Georgia (southwest)
  • Cherokee County (northwest).

Government Offices

1st County Courthouse, 1865

The County Courthouse was destroyed in 1870 by fire, some earlier records were destroyed.

post 1870 Fire- A temporary building on the same spot the current courthouse is located. Thus this had to be torn down to build the new courthouse.
If a building burned, there was the loss of materials, coast, and tragedy. In 1870, this happened when the Clay County Courthouse in Hayesville burned. Records and local history were lost. County commissioners minutes indicate the Clay county met at local houses, until a makeshift building could be built. 1861-1870 history became just legend. County offices met in the Masonic Lodge for $1.00/month after window sashes and a stove were installed. 1885 Commissioners minutes noted the payment became $1.00/ month per the term of meeting in the Lodge totaling $5.00/year.

1887-1889 Court was held in the Presbyterian Church.

Sept., 1887 Commissioners hired J. A. Slagle to remove old court house building for $5.00 and all old materials."

2nd Courthouse, Oct 1888
On August 15, 1887 the County Commissioners: J. M. Crawford, Chairman, J. H. Penland, and A. B. Brown had before them plans and specifications for a new court house. W. G. Bulgin of Macon County had drawn up these plans similar to the court house that had been built in Franklin. It was ordered that they meet again on September 15, 1887 to open and consider bids for construction.

2nd Courthouse, 1888

Sept. 1887 J. S. Anderson was awarded the contract with lowest bid, which specified completion Oct, 1888. The new courthouse was to resemble the court house in Franklin. Total cost for the Courthouse was $7,799.50 which had $599 extras before completion.

Sufficient ventilation underneath the floor was evidently not provided in the original structure, since in only 21 years after construction the floor had to be replaced. A contract was awarded on February 10, 1912 to T. C. Lovin and George T. Love to put a concrete floor in the court house. This job called for filling in from the ground to a level of the old floor and bottom of doors, with rock; beating them down with hammers and then pouring a six inch layer of concrete on top of that. In consideration for the work Love and Lovin were paid $1,000.

County Commissioners responsible for the new floor were: W. S. Ledford, Chairman; E. V. McConnell and W. A. Cassada.


Size - 214.70 square miles
Population 2010 population was 10,587.
Drainage drains .
Lake - Chatuge Lake in south.
Fires Creek Bear Reserve is north of the township of Tusquittee.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the county has a total area of 221 square miles (570 km2), of which 215 square miles (560 km2) is land and 5.9 square miles (15 km2) (2.7%) is water. It is the third-smallest county in North Carolina by land area and smallest by total area.

Rainfall Clay county receives a lot all year long, averaging 55.9 inches.
Blizzards are rare but possible.
1993 Storm of the Century hit the entire Eastern USA in March.
Rivers Hiwassee River
Mountains -
Jack Rabbit Mountain
Chunky Gal Mountain
Yellow Mountain
Standing Indian Mountain.

Major highways

US 64
NC 69
NC 175
Climate- humid subtropical climate, (hot, humid summers and mild, but cold winters

Protected areas

  • Nantahala National Forest- eastern part of county
  • Chattahoochee National Forest.
  • Nantahala River forms part of its northeastern border.


  • 2004 Clay County's population was estimated to be 9,600.

County Resources

Historic landmarks, including
Pioneer Village in Tusquitee
Clay County Courthouse (1889). Cultural institutions include the
Clay County Art
Historical Museum
Peacock Playhouse.
Annual festivals and events,
Campbell Folk School Fall Festival
Blacksmith Auction.
Hayesville, NC Town Website
Hayesville, NC

  • Hiwassee
  • Shooting Creek
  • Sweetwater
  • Tusquittee
  • Warne.
  • Post offices were in Fort Hembree (1844), Tusquittee (1848), and Shooting Creek (1849).




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  8. Chatuga Reservoir

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