In 1791, David Vance and William Davidson presented to the North Carolina House of Commons a "petition of the inhabitants of that part of Burke County lying west of the Appalachian Mountains praying that a part of said county, and part of Rutherford County, be made into a separate and distinct county." The original bill to create the county gave as its name "Union." The name was changed, however, to Buncombe in honor of Col. Edward Buncombe, a Revolutionary War hero from Tyrell County.
The Buncombe bill was ratified on January 14, 1792. The new county included most of Western North Carolina and was so large it was commonly referred to it as the "State of Buncombe." Approximately 1,000 people lived in the county.
The Buncombe Turnpike was completed in 1827 connecting Tennessee and Kentucky to South Carolina. The turnpike ran along the French Broad River in the northern part of the county and through the heart of the county in the south. The turnpike caused an economic revolution to the region. By 1840, the first public schools had opened and by 1850 there were 57 schools enrolling more than 4,500 students.
Economic prosperity in 1850 was based on the drover trade; driving hogs, cattle, sheep and turkeys from the West to markets in South Carolina. Corn, used to feed the animals being driven to market, was the key money crop. However, new railroads running into Tennessee and Kentucky greatly diminished the drover trade, as did the Civil War.
Zebulon Vance, Buncombe native and Governor of North Carolina, reflected the views of most citizens regarding the issues that resulted in the Civil War. He was opposed to secession, nevertheless he said, "If war must come, I prefer to be with my own people." Support for the Confederacy, however, formed quickly after the fall of Fort Sumter. The Buncombe Riflemen were the first to ride out. The war left Buncombe County's economy drained.
Economic salvation for Buncombe County arrived on October 3, 1880 when the first train pulled into Asheville. Building the railroad across the Blue Ridge Mountains was an engineering feat only equaled by the strength of the men who built it.
During the next ten years, the County's population increased more than 13,000 people-- 61 percent. The most important agricultural commodity was tobacco. It replaced corn as the county's key money crop. Fruit and dairy products continued to grow in importance as well.
In 1890, George Vanderbilt began building Biltmore House, the largest private home in America. The artisans and others he brought to build his estate brought changes in views about forestry, agriculture and handicrafts. During this era, 1890-1910, Buncombe County's cool, crisp mountain air made the area a popular location for tuberculosis sanatoriums. The area also became one of America's best known tourist centers.
By 1920, Buncombe County was firmly established as a transportation, manufacturing, forestry, agricultural, educational, medical and tourist center. Thomas Wolfe put Asheville on the literary map as well.
Despite the profound impact of the "great depression" that began in 1929, those same industries exist today in a vibrant metropolitan area surrounded by unsurpassed natural beauty. Our population has grown to more than 200,000. Yet, the qualities of intelligence, hard work, faith, honesty and "people to match our mountains" is prevalent today, as it has been throughout Buncombe County's extraordinary history.
A five-member Board of County Commissioners governs Buncombe County today, and they appoint a County Manager. The Board of Commissioners is chosen every four years in partisan elections. The Commissioners set policy, determine budgets for several agencies and set property tax rates for the entire county. The County Manager is the chief administrative officer, and prepares and recommends the annual budget. Also, the County Manager is responsible for program development and personnel management.