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Cities and Towns in Wilkes County

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North Wilkesboro

History of Wilkes County

Old Wilkes County Jail


The act establishing the county stipulated that the first court was to be held at the home of John Brown. Commissioners were named to select a place centrally located for the construction of a courthouse, prison, and stocks. The second court was held June 1, 1778, in the "bent of the Yadkin." The next day, it was held at Mulberry Field Meeting House. One June 3, the commissioners who were to select a site for the county seat reported, "We, the commissioners appointed by act of Assembly to lay out and appoint pillory and stocks of the said county, have met and materially considered the same, do adjudge and appoint the place where the Mulbury Meeting House stands as the most central, suitable, and proper place whereon to locate public buildings." In September, 1778, court was held at the courthouse in Wilkes. In 1795, an act was passed naming new commissioners to select a site for the erection of a courthouse, pillory, and stocks. It also named commissioners to purchase fifty acres of land on which to lay out a town and to erect public buildings. By 1801, Wilkesborough had been laid out at the courthouse. In 1823, an act was passed authorizing a new courthouse to be erected on the public square in Wilkesboro, which has served as the county seat ever since.

The Old Wilkes Jail was constructed in 1859 and opened as jail in 1860. The history of its usage goes back to the War Between the States when it was used to house Confederate provisions as well as Union prisoners. After the war, Tom Dula (of the famous ballad "Hang Down Your Head Tom Dooley") was incarcerated here until the change of venue was obtained by his defense attorney, former Governor Zebulon Vance.

Another famous inmate was that of North Carolina's famous escape artist, "Otto Wood." The building was restored to its original state using as much of the original materials as possible. Access to the cells are through the original iron and wood doors. The Old Wilkes County Jail is one of the best-preserved examples of nineteenth century penal architecture in North Carolina. Of particular note is the survival of its primitive security, including the front door which contains nails an inch apart so that if a prisoner got hold of an object that he could not saw his way out of the building.

Wilkesboro is the county seat of Wilkes County, which was created from Surry County. A Moravian surveying party passed through the area in 1752, and documented that a Cherokee Indian village stood in the old fields. The Cherokee translation for Mulberry Fields is "Keowee." Keowee was often used by the Cherokees as a place name during the Colonial Period.

The act establishing Wilkes County stated that the first court would be held at the home of John Brown located at the bend of the Yadkin River on March 2, 1778. Commissioners were named to select a place centrally located for the erection of a courthouse, prison and stocks. On June 2, 1778, Mulberry Field Meeting House was chosen to serve as the courthouse.

During the Revolutionary War, the Mulberry Fields area was a common mustering site for the Wilkes County Militia. The Mulberry Meeting House was a common meeting place to discuss local government issues of the day.

In 1795, an act was passed naming new commissioners to purchase fifty acres of land on which to lay out a town and erect public buildings. Mulberry Fields became Wilkesboro in 1800 when the town was laid out by William Lenoir. Lenoir refused to allow the town to be named after himself. Later, following his death, the next town up the road was named for Lenoir.

Wilkes County has a rich and varied history involving the Revolutionary and Civil Wars.

- Source: J.D. Lewis - Little River, SC


More Information

As of the census[6] of 2000, there were 65,632 people, 26,650 households, and 19,321 families residing in the county. The population density was 87 people per square mile (33/km²). There were 29,261 housing units at an average density of 39 per square mile (15/km²). The racial makeup of the county was 92.95% White, 4.16% Black or African American, 0.14% Native American, 0.32% Asian, 0.04% Pacific Islander, 1.71% from other races, and 0.66% from two or more races. 3.45% of the population were Hispanic or Latino of any race.

There were 26,650 households out of which 30.20% had children under the age of 18 living with them, 59.10% were married couples living together, 9.40% had a female householder with no husband present, and 27.50% were non-families. 24.50% of all households were made up of individuals and 10.00% had someone living alone who was 65 years of age or older. The average household size was 2.43 and the average family size was 2.87.

In the county the population was spread out with 22.60% under the age of 18, 7.90% from 18 to 24, 29.70% from 25 to 44, 25.70% from 45 to 64, and 14.10% who were 65 years of age or older. The median age was 38 years. For every 100 females there were 97.30 males. For every 100 females age 18 and over, there were 95.70 males.

The median income for a household in the county was $34,258, and the median income for a family was $40,607. Males had a median income of $27,346 versus $21,089 for females. The per capita income for the county was $17,516. About 8.80% of families and 11.90% of the population were below the poverty line, including 13.20% of those under age 18 and 17.20% of those age 65 or over.

- Source: Wikipedia