The City of Marion, serving as the County Seat of McDowell County, was planned and built on land selected by the first County Commissioners, “after much bitterness and in‐fighting among a number of local citizens”. The community was divided, many citizens wanting the County Seat to be built near the Carson House at Buck Creek several miles from its present location. Prior to creating the city boundaries, court was held at the Carson’s home. Sam Carson himself did not want the town built close to his home fearing it would disrupt plantation life. To settle the matter, Mr. Carson and his family donated 50 acres for the County Seat, and the commissioners acquired an additional thirteen acres at a cost of $65.00 dollars. The land acquisition settled the debate, and Marion was established in a centralized location at a crossroads of the county on March 14, 1844.
Though referred to as Marion, it was not until 1845 that the official name City of Marion was sanctioned as the County Seat by the North Carolina State Legislature. The city was named in honor of Brigadier General Francis Marion, the American Revolutionary War Hero, who is well known for his service with the Continental Army and the South Carolina militia, where his talent in guerilla warfare earned him the name “Swamp Fox”.
In 1843, a committee of founding fathers whose last names are still recognized today, including Thomas Baker, Samuel W. Davidson, A.D. Whitesides, David Corpening, and J.J. Erwin, were charged with selecting a site for the new town. Benjamin Burgin and David Chandler surveyed the 63 acres of acquired land, and laid out the town’s original jurisdictional boundaries. George S. Walton, John Dobson, Andrew Hemphill, and Jesse Burgin were on the committee charged with the task of platting the new town, and for selling lots to the highest bidders.
The town was divided into 90 lots, which sold based on size and location. According to early records, the corner lot directly across from the courthouse sold for a premium at $601.00, while the corner lot diagonally across the street sold for half that amount. The first town residents to officially call Marion home were Alfred M. Finley and Samuel J. Neal.
Marion began to grow at a steady pace following the topography of the land and the multiple wagon trails that emerged with growth. Main Street and Court Street were the first public streets established in town stretching from the base of Mt. Ida and traveling north to where the street branched into smaller wagon trails. Horses, mules, and wagons were all used to help build the first streets in town long before the first train or Ford Model T rolled through town.
Marion was the “end of the line” west for the new railroad, and the old stage coach road west wound around from the end of Main Street winding by the pastures of Pleasant Gardens following the Catawba River. Here buggies, horses, wagons, carriages, and stagecoaches could ford the river when levels were low. The road then made its way to Buck Creek, the Carson House, and on westward.
In the early morning hours of November 25, 1894, a big fire swept through downtown Marion destroying most of the buildings in its path. At the time, most of the construction in town utilized local timber as the primary building material. The fire spread through Main Street and Court Street, even jumping the railroad bridge destroying everything within its path. With no public water supply available at the time, even the few brick buildings that existed were destroyed by the fire. Cinders and burning timbers were blown all the way to the top of Mt. Ida, but miraculously some homes escaped damage with help from bucket brigades. The original county courthouse building constructed between 1843 and 1845 was destroyed in the fire along with many original town documents. Marion’s citizens took in neighbors and shared what they had until homes and businesses could be replaced. Citizens were determined to rebuild their town, and their efforts paid off with many of those same buildings still standing today as a testament of their determination. These buildings are recognized as some of the most significant architectural resources in the community, and are identified as contributing structures within the Main Street Historic District listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
By this time, the Industrial Revolution was beginning to make its mark on the community, and this shift dramatically changed Marion from a small rural community to a booming urban mill town. By the late 1800’s, Marion was well on its way to becoming a highly productive industrial town. The Southern Railway constructed a railway line westward through Marion to Asheville to help link the Greensboro‐Knoxville line; and in 1908, the Clinchfield Railroad competed its track through the Blue Ridge Mountains to Marion. Marion was at the junction of two railroads linking north to south and east to west. Convenient freight shipping made Marion an attractive location for a number of industries looking establish operations in the region. By the early twentieth century, three large industries including Marion Mill, Clinchfield Mill, and Cross Mill had established operations in the area. The mills not only provided jobs, they were responsible for installing water and sewer infrastructure, streets, sidewalks, parks and homes for employees and their families. Though the mills are no longer in operation, the neighborhoods known as “mill villages” have flourished. Many former employees and their families still call these areas home, and share an unwavering pride for their community with fellow neighbors. Aside from work and family, church has always been a central part of life for Marion residents, and as such has always played an important role in the community. By the early twentieth century, six churches of varying denominations had been established in Marion, and all but one still hold regular service in their original sanctuaries. Every Sunday morning church bells would ring throughout town calling their members to worship. Each bell had a unique tone giving each congregation the ability to identify the right bell for service. Today, these churches are all individually listed as historic sites on the National Register of Historic Places.
While Marion continues to grow and evolve economically, culturally, and environmentally, the civic foundation it was built upon remains strong and steadfast. Today, citizens are committed to preserving Marion’s historically significant architecture, cultural and natural resources, and most of all its sense of place which can best described as a small town community with a big civic heart.
While most visitors are familiar with the mountains of Western North Carolina, some may not be as familiar with our growing community and the business friendly climate offered in Marion. Since its incorporation in 1844, Marion has grown in an orderly and efficient manner due in part to the efforts of private citizens and City leaders working together to build an ideal community that is conducive to business, the entrepreneurial spirit, and a high quality of life for residents. Whether you are a resident, a business, or a visitor the community has something to offer for everyone, and that is why people enjoy calling Marion home.
In 2011, the U.S. Census Bureau reported that Marion had a permanent population of 7,838 residents, as of the April 1, 2010 Census, an increase of 58.6 percent over the 2000 Census figure of 4,943 for Marion. This considerable increase places Marion among the fastest growing communities in North Carolina over the past years. The City's 2017 State certified population is 8,601 and continues the rapid growth shown by the City of Marion in recent decades. Since 1970, Marion has increased in population by 158 percent.
Source: U.S. Census Bureau and NC Office of State Budget and Management
Because of Marion's growth in recent years, Marion was designated by the U.S. Census Bureau in 2013 as a Micropolitan Statistical Area. Micropolitan Areas are a fairly recent designation of the U.S. Census Bureau and are defined as areas with an urban core of at least 10,000 residents but less than 50,000 total population plus adjacent territory that has a high degree of social and economic integration with the urban core. The Marion Micropolitan Area includes a population of approximately 45,000 people. The Marion Urban Core has a population of 13,363, according to the 2010 U.S. Census, representing approximately 30 percent of the population of the Marion Micropolitan Area.
Marion is one of 25 designated Micropolitan Areas in North Carolina and one of 536 such areas in the United States. The Marion Micropolitan Area ranks in the top half in population among the 536 Micropolitan Areas in the United States. Marion was named one of the Top 100 Micropolitan Areas in the United States, in terms of economic growth, in 2014 by Site Selection magazine.
Past trends and its excellent location indicate that Marion and its Micropolitan Area are poised for additional growth in the future.
The City of Marion, approximately 6.3 square miles in size, is ideally situated in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains of Western North Carolina. Marion is located just 30 miles east of Asheville, which is well known for being the home of the Biltmore Estate and a destination for arts, culture, and recreation enthusiasts; and just an hour’s drive from Charlotte International Airport. Major highways serving Marion include Interstate 40, US Hwy 70, US Hwy 221, NC Hwy 226, and the Blue Ridge Parkway which offer convenient access between the mountains and piedmont regions of North Carolina and locations beyond.
The City of Marion, serving as the county seat of government for McDowell County, offers convenient access to year-round outdoor recreational activities including water sports and fishing on Lake James and the Catawba River, hiking trails to scenic waterfalls and wildlife observation areas, golfing, snow skiing, gem and mineral mining, historical and cultural destinations, and so much more. To learn more about activities and events in and around Marion please visit the McDowell Tourism Authority.
At an average elevation of 1,400 feet, Marion offers a comfortable climate throughout the year. Temperatures during the summer months average between 70 and 80 degrees, while winter months average between 30 and 40 degrees Fahrenheit. The mild climate makes Marion an ideal community for participating in many outdoor activities, as well as the added benefit of low energy costs typically associated with heating and cooling homes and businesses.
The total annual precipitation in Marion is approximately 56 inches, with roughly half this amount falling between the months of April and September. Marion’s average seasonal snowfall is about 13 inches, but the number of average snow days varies greatly from year to year. Access to fertile soils and bountiful water make the area ideal for gardening enthusiasts, horticulturalists, and other water dependent enterprises.
To request more information about Marion please contact City Hall at (828)652-3551.