BAKERSVILLE, N.C. — The story of the agricultural and mining community of Bakersville, N.C., and surrounding villages in the late 19th and early 20th centuries is told primarily through rustic photographs in “Around Bakersville,” a recently released book from Arcadia Publishing.
According to authors Bruce Koran and Sandy Grisham, white settlers began to populate Mitchell County in the late 1700s as speculators who received land in 1778 sold properties to the early European settlers of the area.
Around this time, David Baker purchased around 100 acres of property, moving his family to the area from Morganton. “Around Bakersville” states that the Baker family was reputed to be the first white family to reside in the area, which was originally referred to as “Baker’s Plantation” and “Baker’s Place.” Eventually, the area would come to be known as Bakersville and would be selected to serve as the county seat for Mitchell County.
Koran and Grisham write that the Charleston, Cincinnati and Chicago Railroad planned to build a line from Ohio to South Carolina to transport coal through the area and, in its initial plans in 1888, this railroad was intended to extend through Erwin to Marion, N.C., passing through Bakersville. However, Bakersville would not contribute land to the railroad.
“A local legend states that the county seat’s citizens thought the railroad noise would scare their cows; others thought that this railroad would not be a commercial success,” the book states.
Like Unicoi County, Mitchell County was home to its own historic hotel, which is highlighted in “Around Bakersville.” According to the authors, John Thomas Wilder bought more than 40,000 acres on top of Roan Mountain where he built the Cloudland Hotel. The hotel eventually grew from 20 rooms to more than 260 and remained in business for 25 years.
The timber business and farming were early ways to make a living in Mitchell County, with commercial mica mining beginning in the mid-19th century. There were more than 100 known mica mines in Mitchell County, the authors note.
“It is estimated that the bulk of the 400,000 tons of mica mined in North Carolina from 1862 to 1882 came from Mitchell,” Koran and Grisham write.
Although the demand for mica eventually fell, large-scale feldspar mining continues in Mitchell County to this day. Feldspar has been mined for centuries and, according to the authors, many farmers turned to mining as a source of income for their families.
Following World War II many of the county’s residents settled elsewhere.
“Some of the engineers who helped put a man on the moon were born in upper Mitchell County. Doctors, lawyers, educators and business leaders learned their ABCs in the county’s small, rural schools,” Koran and Grisham write. “Those same school populations plummeted in the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s; churches found that older members made up the vast majority of their congregations, and stores closed their doors for lack of business.
“These decades saw the area’s mica mining and manufacturing reach a peak before outsourcing and mechanization reduced the number of factories. Locals found themselves in what might be best described as ghost towns. Newly paved roads allowed residents to pass by the crossroads where the small country stores stood. Soon, those stores were empty and boarded up. Automobiles replaced railroads, and passenger trains vanished. Depots were abandoned and virtually disappeared.”
“Around Bakersville” highlights the people who resided in the Bakersville area and its surrounding villages who helped shape Mitchell County, and a significant portion of the area’s history is shown in photographs in the book.
“Around Bakersville,” $21.99, from Arcadia Publishing, is available at local retailers, online bookstores, or through Arcadia Publishing at www.arcadiapublishing.com or 888-313-2665.