McDowell County


Established in 1842 out of Rutherford and Burke counties, McDowell receives its name from Joseph McDowell, a Revolutionary War colonel. Marion, the county’s seat, was named after Gen. Frances Marion, known as the “Swamp Fox” of the Revolution who received the nickname for his cunning ability to outwit and outmaneuver his enemies. His reputation endures to this day, as Gen. Marion provided one of the key inspirations for the character of Benjamin Martin, played by Mel Gibson, in The Patriot (2000)

Located approximately 30 miles from Asheville and surrounded by the Blue Ridge Mountains and Pisgah National Forest, early inhabitants of McDowell referred to the County as the “gateway to the mountains.” Over time, this motto has evolved into, “where Main Street meets the mountains.” With 75% of the county comprised of forests, McDowell is known for its natural beauty and hiking trails. Open to the public since 1937, McDowell is home to the Linville Caverns, the only show caverns in the state.

Built in 1798 by Colonel John Carson, the Carson House served as the county’s courthouse and was a popular meeting place for politicians in the nineteenth century, hosting the likes of Andrew Jackson, Sam Houston, and Davy Crockett. Today, the House is a historical attraction and museum and is considered one of the best house museums in the state.

From 1804-1827, McDowell was the nation’s top producer of gold. The historic gold mines remain a tourist attraction today. Marion hosts the North Carolina Gold Festival annually during the last weekend of May.

McDowell County is also home to North Carolina’s first African American statewide official. Born in Marion, Richard Erwin was appointed to the Court of Appeals in 1977 by Gov. Jim Hunt and elected by voters in 1978 to continue serving in the seat. In 1980, Erwin was nominated by President Jimmy Carter to the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of North Carolina. Erwin’s confirmation in the same year made him the state’s first African American federal judge.

Politically, McDowell County solidly favors the GOP, with Republicans receiving an average of 70% of the vote in the past two elections. The last Democratic presidential candidate to carry McDowell was Carter in 1976.


County Seat: Marion
Biggest Cities:
  • Marion
  • Nebo
  • Glendwood
  • West Marion
  • Old Fort
Media Market: Greenville, SC/Asheville, NC

Elected Officials

County Data