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Rutherfordton is located in the foothills of western North Carolina and offers great views of the Blue Ridge Mountains. It is also located in a documented Isothermal Belt that affords mild weather and outstanding beauty in four distinct seasons. Rutherfordton was founded in 1787 and is among the oldest towns in western North Carolina. Both the County and the Town are the namesakes of General Griffith Rutherford, a popular western North Carolina politician and general during the Revolutionary War. This small picturesque town is rich in history and is the seat of the oldest continuous government in the region. Rutherfordton is home to the only remaining cluster of antebellum houses and public structures in the southern foothills of North Carolina. Downtown Rutherfordton is listed on the National Register of Historic Places as a historic district.
During the American Revolution, the corps of Patriots known as the OverMountain Men marched through present-day Rutherfordton on their way to the Battle of Kings Mountain where they defeated British troops on October 7, 1780in a decisive battle that was a turning point in the Southern campaign.
The first U.S. Post Office in western North Carolina was established in Rutherfordton in 1798. The town was home to the first school chartered by the state legislature for western North Carolina, the Rutherfordton Academy, which opened in 1806, and also the site of the first newspaper published in the western portion of the state, The North Carolina Spectator and Western Advertiser, founded in 1831.
In the 1830s and 1840s, Rutherfordton was home to a successful private mint which produced more than $2.25 million dollars in gold coinage. The Bechtler Mint, founded in 1831, is credited with producing the nation’s first $1 gold coin. The Bechtler family also manufactured fine jewelry, watches, clocks and candlesticks. The family is equally noted as gunsmiths, for their production of long guns and pistols. In 1931, the Doncaster Collar & Shirt Company was founded in Rutherfordton by S.B. Tanner II. That firm was the forerunner of both the Doncaster and Tanner labels that are today recognized as among the oldest and best-known manufacturers of fine women’s fashions in the nation. The company’s headquarters remain in Rutherfordton.
During the Civil War, Cleghorn Creek in Rutherfordton was the location of an iron foundry which manufactured ball shot ammunition for the Confederate Army. In April 1865, during the final days of the war, Rutherfordton was ransacked by Union soldiers. U.S. General George Stoneman sent troops into Rutherfordton to quell rebel uprising and pro-Confederate sentiment in what is known as Stoneman’s Raid. Following the war, Rutherfordton was occupied for 11 months by federal troops and placed under martial law because of civil unrest.
The Rutherfordton City Cemetery, which encompasses more than 20 acres along North Main Street, is one of the most historic burial grounds in all of western North Carolina. Thousands of graves can be found here, many dating to the 1770s. Statesmen, industrialists, authors, and prominent physicians are buried among the plots of families who have lived in the town for more than 220 years. Of particular note is the grave of Joshua Foreman, who is credited with founding the City of Syracuse, New York. He was also one of the original trustees of the Erie Canal project. A historical marker is located along North Main Street that identifies the location of his grave.
In 1995, much of downtown Rutherfordton was listed on the National Register of Historic Places, including more than 45 commercial and public structures. Six other properties in town are also listed independently on the National Register - St. John’s Church (1849), the Carrier Houses (1835, 1879), the Rutherford County Court House (1926), St. Luke’s Chapel at Rutherford Hospital (1907), and the original Rutherfordton-Spindale Central High School building (1925), now R-S Middle School.
The Town of Rutherfordton maintains four municipal parks to accommodate a broad spectrum of recreational activities. Crestview Park is a 26 acre, multi-purpose park that contains three Little League baseball fields, one tee ball field, one senior league baseball field, one multi-purpose field, four lighted tennis courts, two lighted basketball courts, 1/3 mile lighted walking trail, horseshoe pits, 2 playgrounds, a picnic shelter with lights (available by reservation). Bathrooms and water fountains are also available at the park. The 9-hole Rutherfordton Municipal Golf Course provides another alternative to relax and enjoy the beauty of the area.
Today, Rutherfordton has a population of approximately 4,200 residents. The downtown commercial district is alive with a variety of traditional and specialty shops and businesses, including regional attractions such as KidSenses Children’s InterACTIVE Museum. Downtown Main Street is also host to both the Annual MayFest Street Festival and the Hilltop Fall Festival (OctoberFest).The Rutherfordton Regional Medical Center (Rutherfordton Hospital) is a top 100 national hospital and is one of the only two hospitals(the other being Duke University Hospital) to share that distinction from North or South Carolina.
Copyright 2011 David Brown