Posted on: October 18, 2022 Posted by: Sarah Giavedoni Comments: 0

Last Updated on April 10, 2023

Here are four museums and sites you need to visit to understand the history of Yancey County.

Can you name five famous residents of Yancey County? How about the site of Native American petroglyphs that date back nearly to the construction of the Egyptian pyramids? Do you know why there’s a monument to lost submarines at the top of a mountain? Or the original name of Mount Mitchell?

You already live like a local. Want to know the area’s history like one, too? Here are four museums and sites you need to visit to understand the history of Yancey County.

Cane River Park

For centuries before Europeans made their way to the region, ancestors of the Cherokee made their home on the rich land bordering the Cane River. In recent years, archaeologists have documented artifacts dating from as far back as the Late Archaic period throughout Yancey and Mitchell Counties. Nearby Blue Rock Soapstone Quarry was a source for stone bowls created as many as 4,000 years ago. Gardner Rock features ancient Cherokee petroglyphs of numerous animal prints and designs, along with artifacts from 1,000–1,500 years ago. And archaeologists discovered one of the best-documented dwelling sites behind Cane Creek Middle School in 1989.

To better preserve and perpetuate Cherokee culture, the Cherokee Preservation Foundation, Blue Ridge Resource Conservation and Development, and Yancey County government partnered to restore stands of river cane along the river throughout Cane River Park. Visit the park today, and you should be able to spot this cousin of bamboo traditionally used for making arrows, baskets, blowguns, fish traps, flutes, furniture, knives, mats, pipes, and even walls for houses. 

258 Whittington Road, Burnsville

Mount Mitchell Museum

Mount Mitchell State Park has generated many accolades. The site was the first state park in North Carolina, established in 1915. The peak on which it sits is also the highest point in North America east of the Mississippi River. Indigenous peoples originally called the peak Black Dome for its wide, rounded shape. The summit was later named for Dr. Elisha Mitchell, the first Westerner to explore the Black Mountain subrange of the Appalachians in 1835. Next door to the concession stand and gift shop, the park’s 1,385-square-foot exhibit hall features hands-on and replica exhibits that offer visitors insight into Mount Mitchell’s natural and cultural history. The museum is open daily May–October.

2388 N.C. 128, Burnsville | (828) 675-4611 |

Rush Wray Museum of Yancey County History

Much of Yancey’s recent cultural history is housed at the site of the Yancey History Association. In 1989, the association purchased the “McElroy House”, located just off Main Street. Local businessman John Wesley McElroy built this Georgian-style home in the 1840s. Step back in time to see much of the house as it would have appeared in the mid-1800s. Artifacts from the frontier era until the 1950s are on exhibit.

In 1999, the house was listed on the National Register of Historic Places and was dedicated as the Rush Wray Museum. In 2004, the house became part of the North Carolina Civil War Trails. An adjacent building known as the Lloyd Bailey Annex houses the county’s genealogy library and veterans “Hall of Honor”. According to Blue Ridge National Heritage Area, “the Proffitt-Cousins cabin is located on the grounds, as well as the original cabin from Elk Shoal, a smoke house.”

3 Academy Street, Burnsville | (828) 678-9587 |

Lost Boats Memorial on Moonshine Mountain

The town of Burnsville was named after the famous privateer Otway Burns, who fought off the coast of North Carolina during the War of 1812. Later a state representative, a statue of Burns stands in the middle of Burnsville’s public square. It should come as no surprise, then, that another monument dedicated to courageous seamen is located in Yancey County. Erected in 2003, the Lost Boats Memorial at Moonshine Mountain honors the submarines lost during service to our country, specifically during WWII. Members of the United States Submarine Veterans gather each year on Armed Forces Day to honor fellow submariners who died in the line of duty.

2285 Moonshine Mountain Road, Burnsville | 

Live Abundantly in Yancey County

Yancey is an elevated county that offers living situations and outdoor experiences that go above and beyond the norm. Burnsville, the county seat, has just over 2,000 residents. Just a few miles away looms Mount Mitchell, the tallest peak east of the Mississippi (6,684 feet above sea level). The 2,000-acre Mount Mitchell State Park surrounds the mountain, which is full of choice spots for hiking, camping, picnicking, and outdoor education.

Does that sound like the perfect lifestyle for you? Find your dream home in Yancey County now!

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