Rutherfordton...Rutherford County Seat
The town of Rutherfordton, the current county seat was founded in 1787 and lies in the very heart of Rutherford County. The town was originally named Rutherford Town after the county's namesake, Brigadier General Griffith Rutherford. (for more information on General Rutherford, see our Rutherford County History page) The town's name was shortened to Rutherfordton, which is still a bit of a tongue twister.
Rutherford County was originally named Tryon County during the pre-Revolutionary War era. The original county seat founded 1779 was at Gilbert Town, it was necessary to move the county seat from Gilbert Town to a hill top area where it was less muddy in 1787. Even though a few miles and 8-years separate these two 18th century towns, the Rutherford County seat is considered the oldest continuous government in this region of far Western North Carolina dating back to the arrival of the Colonial Settlers in the mid-1700's.
The grand old courthouse at the center of the town of Rutherfordton still echoes historical significance throughout the county. Standing high upon a stone pillar on the front courthouse lawn is a lone civil war sentry symbolically guarding the official grounds where the first courthouse was built in 1787. The statue commemorates the men and women's devoted loyalty to their beloved county. The impressive courthouse occupying the site today was built in 1926.
Many historical events took place in the town of Rutherfordton. The first U.S. Post Office in Western North Carolina was established in Rutherfordton. The Rutherford Academy that opened in 1806 was the first school chartered by the state legislature for Western North Carolina. The first currency mint in North Carolina, the Bechtlers Mint was established here during the Western North Carolina gold rush days in 1831, minting the first gold dollar in the United States in 1832. In 1865, Yankee Calvary stormed thru the town assaulting local citizens, burning, pillaging and ransacking multiple properties, an engagement that was ordered by Union General George Stoneman. Stoneman sent troops into the town of Rutherfordton and the local countryside to quell citizens from uprising, stop pro-Confederate sentiment and to help themselves to supplies, which usually included war booty taken by the troops; this historical event is called "Stoneman's Raid." A re-enactment festival remembers this historical event each year.
Not only has recorded history documented Rutherfordton's longevity, historic architecture fills the town with accents of its timeless beauty. Rutherfordton has the recognition of having the largest remaining cluster of antebellum houses and public structures anywhere along the southern foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains in Western North Carolina. All this wealth of architectural history lies within a stroll along and just off Main Street in downtown Rutherfordton. More than 45 commercial and public structures in downtown Rutherfordton were put on the National Register of Historic Places in 1995. Six additional properties are listed independently on the register, such as St. John's Church built 1849, the two Carrier Houses built in 1835 and 1879, St. Luke's Chapel at Rutherford Hospital built 1907, the Rutherfordton-Spindale Central High School (today a middle school) constructed in 1925 along with the Rutherfordton County Court House last constructed in 1926.
St. Francis Episcopal Church, located on North Main Street is an outstanding example of the Gothic-Revival style of architecture. This impressive stone structure was first completed in 1899 and was originally intended to be used as the private residence of Colonel Franklin Coxe and his family. The Episcopal congregation has occupied the building since 1900.
Although built as a private home, it has all the ear markings and style of a exquisite cathedral church, yet modest in size with an intimate outer courtyard. The church's interior has a barrel shaped cathedral ceiling supported by arched wooden beams. It would have made an outstanding private home, though it has been enjoyed by so many more as a house of worship for over 100-years. One of the exceptional details displayed throughout the church are the stained glass windows depicting different religious scenes including three stained-glassed windows crafted in the 1920's by the Louis C. Tiffany Company of New York.
Rutherfordton Main Street is lined with shops, eateries and other points of interest such as the KidSenses Children's InterACTIVE Museum filled with things the kids will love to see. The older out of date toys within the museum will take you big kids back to your own childhood. An afternoon stroll through Rutherfordton will take you up and down Main Street and in and out of antique shops, art galleries and other specialty stores, a treasure hunt in a historical setting.
While shopping and sightseeing in downtown Rutherfordton you'll come across a life sized mural painted alongside a building on Main Street by local artist Clive Haynes depicting one of Rutherfordton's historic buildings. An inspiring work beautifully done and worthy of an "I was here" pose and snap shot of the artwork to take back home.
To rest you tired pup's (that's feet to you layperson) there's the Main Street Park that's located just across the street from the painted mural between two of the historic downtown buildings. The park is laid out with cobble-stoned walkways and round molded tables with seating fitting for a picnic. Large colorful flower displays in the modest size park along with rod-iron arches lined with lights, illuminate the park for your outdoor comfort, enjoyment and convenience. The atmosphere of this park is a very fitting accent to the historic downtown district.
In the evening after the shops close, its time to relax at one of the local downtown eateries for a fine dining experience or one of the popular grills located along Main Street.
After dinner, before you head back home or to your lodging to relax, make sure to take time to walk off those delicious calories by strolling north along Main Street where you can marvel at all the antebellum homes lining the historic street. Venture down the side streets Northwest of the courthouse to see many other historic homes. Streetlights and interior home lights will guide your way during the quiet evening hours offering a soothing and peaceful experience to your strolling delight.
The town of Rutherfordton has several local events and festivals. Events like MayFest, a festival offering art shows, live entertainment and numerous children activities is an annual favorite. The Hilltop Fall Festival features a 5k run to coincide with the Tour de Pumpkin on the same weekend. The Rutherford Outdoor Coalition sponsors the tour, which includes 100k, and 50k ride and is one of Western North Carolina's most popular biking events.
The town of Rutherfordton has a lot to say about its historic legacy and its devoted citizens, a history and lifestyle that embrace both the past and the present. Technically being the oldest and continually active county seat government in Western North Carolina makes Rutherfordton a must see when visiting this region of Western North Carolina.
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