Watauga County, North Carolina

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Watauga County
United States Post Office (Boone, North Carolina)
Official seal of Watauga County
Map of North Carolina highlighting Watauga County
Location within the U.S. state of North Carolina
Map of the United States highlighting North Carolina
North Carolina's location within the U.S.
Coordinates: 36°14′N 81°42′W / 36.23°N 81.7°W / 36.23; -81.7
Country United States
State North Carolina
Named forWatauga River
Largest townBoone
 • Total312.56 sq mi (809.5 km2)
 • Land312.56 sq mi (809.5 km2)
 • Water0.9 sq mi (2 km2)  0.3%%
 • Estimate 
 • Density163/sq mi (63/km2)
Time zoneUTC−5 (Eastern)
 • Summer (DST)UTC−4 (EDT)
Congressional district5th

Watauga County (/wəˈtɔːɡə/)[1] is a county located in the U.S. state of North Carolina. As of the 2010 census, the population was 51,079.[2] Its county seat and largest town is Boone.[3][4] The county is in an exceptionally mountainous region and is the home of Appalachian State University with approximately 15,000 students.

Watauga County comprises the Boone, NC Micropolitan Statistical Area.


The county was formed in 1849 from parts of Ashe, Caldwell, Wilkes, and Yancey counties. It was named for the Watauga River, whose name is said to be a Native American word, the translations that range from among them, beautiful water, whispering waters, village of many springs, and river of islands.[5][6]


As with most of North Carolina's High Country, the climate of Watauga County is that of a Humid continental climate characterized by considerably cooler and more drastic weather than other parts of the state. Dramatic and unexpected changes in the weather are not uncommon in the county, particularly when it comes to precipitation. This is partly due to the elevation of the county, and partly due to orographic lifting, which causes precipitation to fall more readily in Watauga County than in lowland areas to the east. Summers can be very warm with temperatures commonly in the 80s and on a rare occasion in the 90s. Snow usually starts in November, and there can be snow falls in April, although this is not usual. Windy conditions tend to be amplified across the county due to the rugged terrain and high elevation. Many people have noted that the winters of Watauga County tend to resemble those of the northern United States instead of the South.

Because of the cold weather in Watauga County, the area is home to several ski resorts. Among them is Appalachian Ski Mountain.


Snake Mountain (5,564') in Northern Watauga County

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the county has a total area of 312.56 square miles (809.5 km2), of which 313 square miles (810 km2) is land and 0.9 square miles (2.3 km2) (0.3%) is water.[7]

Watauga County is extremely mountainous, and all of the county's terrain is located within the Appalachian Mountains range. The highest point in the county is Calloway Peak, the highest peak of Grandfather Mountain (shared with the adjacent counties of Avery and Caldwell), which rises to 5,964 feet (1,818 meters) above sea level. At an elevation of 5,506 feet (1,678 meters) above sea level, Beech Mountain is the highest incorporated community east of the Mississippi River. Boone, the county's largest city and county seat, has the highest elevation (3,333 feet) of any city over 10,000 population in the Eastern United States.

Isolated by mountainous terrain from the remainder of North Carolina to the east, Watauga County was described in the 19th and early 20th centuries as one of the Lost Provinces of North Carolina.[8]

National protected areas[edit]

Adjacent counties[edit]


Historical population
Census Pop.
Est. 201855,945[9]9.5%
U.S. Decennial Census[10]
1790-1960[11] 1900-1990[12]
1990-2000[13] 2010-2013[2]

As of the census[14] of 2000, there were 42,695 people, 16,540 households, and 9,411 families residing in the county. The population density was 137 people per square mile (53/km2). There were 23,155 housing units at an average density of 74 per square mile (29/km2). The racial makeup of the county was 96.45% White, 1.59% Black or African American, 0.25% Native American, 0.59% Asian, 0.04% Pacific Islander, 0.45% from other races, and 0.62% from two or more races. 1.46% of the population were Hispanics or Latinos of any race.

According to the 2000 Census the largest self-reported ancestry groups in Watauga County were: English (25.1%), German (22.5%) and Irish (13.3%). Most of those claiming Irish ancestry in Watauga county are actually of Scots-Irish/Ulster-Scots Protestant background and not Irish Catholics.

There were 16,540 households, out of which 23.20% had children under the age of 18 living with them, 47.40% were married couples living together, 6.80% had a female householder with no husband present, and 43.10% were non-families. 28.60% of all households were made up of individuals, and 8.00% had someone living alone who was 65 years of age or older. The average household size was 2.26 and the average family size was 2.80.

The age distribution is 16.30% under the age of 18, 27.80% from 18 to 24, 23.40% from 25 to 44, 21.50% from 45 to 64, and 11.00% who were 65 years of age or older. The median age was 30 years. The overall age distribution and median age are greatly affected by the presence of Appalachian State University in Boone. For every 100 females there are 99.30 males. For every 100 females age 18 and over, there were 98.20 males.

The median income for a household in the county was $32,611, and the median income for a family was $45,508. Males had a median income of $29,135 versus $22,006 for females. The per capita income for the county was $17,258. About 7.20% of families and 17.90% of the population were below the poverty line, including 11.50% of those under age 18 and 10.60% of those age 65 or over.


Map of Watauga County, North Carolina With Municipal and Township Labels


Unincorporated communities[edit]



  • The county produces heavy amounts of Fraser Fir Christmas Trees
  • The growth of produce was once a mainstay in the agricultural economy of the county. Cabbage was once widely grown, so much so, that a sauerkraut plant was once located in Boone. The plant has long been closed. Boone Creek, the main creek that runs through Boone and the Appalachian State University campus is still nicknamed Kraut Creek since it is said that the creek used to smell of sauerkraut juice coming out of the plant.
  • The Watauga County Farmers' Market has been operating in Boone since 1974.

Government, public safety, politics[edit]


Watauga County is governed by an elected Board of Commissioners who provide administration policy for the appointed County Manager.[15]

Watauga County is a member of the regional High Country Council of Governments.

Public safety[edit]

County sheriff and municipal police[edit]

The Sheriff's Office provides court protection, jail management, and protection of all county owned facilities for all of Watauga County and patrol and detective services for the unincorporated areas of the county. The towns of Boone, Beech Mountain, Blowing Rock, and Three Devils have municipal police departments.[16]

Fire protection and emergency services[edit]

Fire protection is provided by 13 fire departments in Watauga County including Beaver Dam, Boone, Beech Mountain, Cove Creek, Deep Gap, Foscoe, Meat Camp, Shawneehaw, Stewart, Simmons, Todd, and Zionville. The Emergency Management Office coordinates resources for emergency services.[17]


Historically, Watauga's strong Unionist sympathies – though not as strong as high-mountain counties like Avery and Mitchell or counties with Quaker, antislavery histories like Yadkin[18] – meant the county would vote Republican except in Presidential landslides. The only Democrats to gain an absolute majority of the county's vote in the twentieth century were Franklin Roosevelt in 1932 and 1936, and by a very narrow margin, Lyndon B. Johnson in 1964, whilst Woodrow Wilson in 1912 and Bill Clinton in 1992 obtained pluralities in three-cornered contests. The growth of Appalachian State University has, however, turned Watauga into a very competitive swing county, with Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton carrying the county in 2008 and 2016. The county has proved favorable for Libertarians, with Watauga being Gary Johnson's best county in all of North Carolina in both his 2012 and 2016 campaigns.

Presidential elections results
Presidential elections results[19]
Year Republican Democratic Third parties
2016 45.7% 13,697 47.2% 14,138 7.2% 2,150
2012 50.1% 13,861 47.0% 13,002 2.9% 811
2008 47.0% 13,344 51.3% 14,558 1.7% 470
2004 52.6% 12,659 46.7% 11,232 0.7% 159
2000 55.8% 10,438 42.5% 7,959 1.7% 326
1996 47.3% 8,146 42.7% 7,349 10.0% 1,727
1992 41.1% 7,899 43.0% 8,262 15.9% 3,064
1988 58.6% 8,662 40.9% 6,048 0.5% 75
1984 64.3% 9,370 35.4% 5,163 0.3% 46
1980 51.4% 6,149 42.0% 5,022 6.6% 787
1976 49.9% 5,400 49.5% 5,358 0.6% 59
1972 62.9% 6,017 36.1% 3,451 1.1% 105
1968 55.9% 5,081 32.5% 2,952 11.7% 1,060
1964 49.4% 3,932 50.6% 4,031
1960 59.3% 5,020 40.7% 3,440
1956 59.0% 4,636 41.0% 3,223
1952 55.7% 4,527 44.3% 3,600
1948 52.0% 3,851 45.7% 3,379 2.3% 170
1944 55.2% 3,954 44.8% 3,214
1940 50.8% 3,739 49.2% 3,615
1936 46.8% 3,409 53.2% 3,880
1932 47.9% 3,166 51.8% 3,419 0.3% 21
1928 54.9% 3,159 45.1% 2,591
1924 52.9% 2,665 46.9% 2,365 0.2% 8
1920 60.5% 2,631 39.6% 1,721
1916 54.2% 1,352 45.8% 1,141
1912 19.3% 420 42.9% 933 37.8% 821


K-8 schools[edit]

  • Valle Crucis
  • Blowing Rock
  • Parkway
  • Hardin Park
  • Green Valley
  • Bethel
  • Cove Creek
  • Mabel
  • Two Rivers Community School
  • Grace Academy
  • Mountain Pathways Montessori School

High school[edit]

  • Watauga High

Colleges and universities[edit]


No commercial airports or passenger train depots are nearby. AMTRAK serves High Point and Winston-Salem in the nearby Piedmont area, and Piedmont Authority for Regional Transportation (PART) bus provides connecting shuttle service to Watauga County. A helipad is in service at the Watauga Medical Center. A small general aviation airstrip (FAA Identifier: NC14) is located in Boone. Commercial airline passengers typically utilize the airports at Charlotte, Greensboro, and Raleigh-Durham in North Carolina, or Tri-Cities in Tennessee. There is a public transport system in Boone provided by Appalcart that services the downtown and some outlying areas, with special routes to rural areas and intercity transit routes to Wilkes, Winston-Salem, Greensboro, Lenoir, Hickory, Lincolnton, Gastonia and Charlotte for a small fee.[21]

Major highways[edit]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Talk Like A Tarheel, from the North Carolina Collection's website at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Retrieved 2013-01-31.
  2. ^ a b "State & County QuickFacts". United States Census Bureau. Retrieved October 30, 2013.
  3. ^ "Find a County". National Association of Counties. Retrieved 2011-06-07.
  4. ^ "Watauga County | NCpedia". www.ncpedia.org.
  5. ^ Scherlen, Allan. "What In The World Is Watauga?" The Mountain Times, 38 (April 27, 2000): 2 (3 p.).
  6. ^ "Watauga County, NC". www.wataugacounty.org.
  7. ^ "2010 Census Gazetteer Files". United States Census Bureau. August 22, 2012. Archived from the original on January 12, 2015. Retrieved January 20, 2015.
  8. ^ Tabler, Dave (August 30, 2016). "The Lost Provinces". Appalachian History. Retrieved 4 February 2018.
  9. ^ "Population and Housing Unit Estimates". Retrieved July 24, 2019.
  10. ^ "U.S. Decennial Census". United States Census Bureau. Retrieved January 20, 2015.
  11. ^ "Historical Census Browser". University of Virginia Library. Retrieved January 20, 2015.
  12. ^ Forstall, Richard L., ed. (March 27, 1995). "Population of Counties by Decennial Census: 1900 to 1990". United States Census Bureau. Retrieved January 20, 2015.
  13. ^ "Census 2000 PHC-T-4. Ranking Tables for Counties: 1990 and 2000" (PDF). United States Census Bureau. April 2, 2001. Retrieved January 20, 2015.
  14. ^ "U.S. Census website". United States Census Bureau. Retrieved 2008-01-31.
  15. ^ "Watauga County, NC". www.wataugacounty.org.
  16. ^ "Watauga County, NC". www.wataugacounty.org.
  17. ^ "Watauga County, NC". www.wataugacounty.org.
  18. ^ Auman, William T.; Civil War in the North Carolina Quaker Belt: The Confederate Campaign Against Peace Agitators, Deserters and Draft Dodgers, pp. 11, 66-68 ISBN 078647663X
  19. ^ Leip, David. "Dave Leip's Atlas of U.S. Presidential Elections". uselectionatlas.org. Retrieved 2018-03-17.
  20. ^ University, Appalachian State. "Appalachian State University". www.appstate.edu.
  21. ^ "appalcart". Retrieved 6 April 2011.

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]

Coordinates: 36°14′N 81°42′W / 36.23°N 81.70°W / 36.23; -81.70