Warren County


Warren County was formed in 1779 out of the no longer existent Bute County, which was named after former British Prime Minister and Lord of the Treasury, John Stuart, the third earl of Bute. Following the American Revolution, the legislature did not want a county bearing the name of the former prime minister, which led to the division of Bute County into Warren and Franklin counties. Warren was named after Dr. Joseph Warren, a general and physician who was killed during the Battle of Bunker Hill.

In the 1800s, Warren County saw tremendous economic prosperity thanks to booming tobacco and cotton industries and the hot springs resorts, which attracted wealthy tourists. The addition of the railroad in 1840 only fortified the county’s economic position. By 1860, Warren was the wealthiest county in the state. Following the Civil War, Warren’s prosperity began to decline quickly. Today, Warren is designated as a Tier 1 county – a designation given to the most economically distressed counties – and ranks 19th in the state for economic distress.

Warren County has a rich history of politics and activism. The first Black congressman to represent the state was John Hyman, born near Warrenton, who served in North Carolina’s 2nd congressional district from 1875-1877. In 1969, civil rights activist Floyd McKissick (father of former NC senator, Floyd McKissick Jr.) proposed Soul City, a planned community on 5,000 acres in Norlina, which would be open to all but would focus on developing black economic power and empowering low-income communities and communities of color. Former U.S. House Representative Eva Clayton was instrumental in the project and worked for the Soul City Company.

In 1972, Soul City received a Housing and Urban Development (HUD) grant for $14 million under the Nixon administration and was one of 13 model cities of its kind designated under the 1970 Urban Growth and New Community Development Act. Economic decline and rising inflation in the latter half of the 1970s, along with political challenges, significantly impacted the community’s development. In 1979, the federal government foreclosed on the project.

Warren County is often referred to as the birthplace of the environmental justice movement, following the PCB Protests of 1982. In 1978, a Raleigh-based transformer manufacturer began dumping hazardous toxins known as PCBs along roadsides in the state. The state of North Carolina chose a site in Afton for the landfill where the hazardous waste would be disposed. While proper disposal of waste was regulated by state law in 1976, the law did not empower communities to have a say in where the waste would be disposed of and stored. Residents in Warren County mobilized protests garnering national attention and participation. While the protests alone did not halt construction on the landfill in Afton, it did lead to a promise from Governor Jim Hunt that the site would undergo decontamination as soon as possible. Decontamination took place at the Afton landfill from 1993-2004.

Warren remains a solidly Democratic county, though Democratic margins have decreased by over 10 points in the last decade. In 2012, Barack Obama carried the county by a 37.8% margin. In 2020, Joe Biden won by 25.5% and in 2022, Cheri Beasley carried the county by a 22.4% margin.


Elected Officials

County Data