Surry County: 250 years | Mount. Airline News
Surry County officially celebrates its 250th anniversary on Thursday, the anniversary of the Legislative Act and Royal Decree that created the county from the vast Rowan County. North Carolina was still a British colony at the time, but the unrest that would break that tie was already in full swing.
People across the county had planned a one-year celebration of the half-centennial, but COVID-19 has delayed those plans until this summer, which is to be expected.
But today I want to celebrate the awe-inspiring journey that took this region from a beautiful isolated piece of Piedmont to the communities, industries and, most importantly, the people who live here today.
Farms, roads and war – 1771-1821
1771 – After more than a year of petitions, Royal Governor William Tryon creates County Surry. It encompassed all of what is now Surry, Stokes, Forsyth and Yadkin counties as well as parts of Wilkes, Ashe and Alleghany. Rich in raw materials such as lumber and iron ore, perhaps the area’s greatest value has been the trails between Greensboro and Salem and the Cumberland Gap in Virginia.
At the same time, some farmers in Surry are joining groups of regulators, informal militias, to take charge of resolving grievances, real and perceived.
1776-1789 – Citizens of the region are deeply divided during the Revolution with material support, and combatants surrender in both loyalist and patriotic societies.
1789 – Stokes County is separated from the eastern part of the county; in 1849 it was again divided to form Forsyth County; 1790 – Surry is home to just over 7,000 souls
1801 – Congress established an official US Post route from Salem to Mount Airy through Wythe County, Virginia, roughly parallel to US 52 and the main street of Mount Airy.
Catalan forges and flour mills operate along Big Elk Creek and the Fisher, Yadkin, and Ararat rivers; Stages of stagecoach attracts other companies laying the foundation for the towns of Mount Airy, Pilot Mountain and Elkin
Industry takes root – 1821-1871
1830 – The population of the county is 14,504
1840 – Brower Cotton Mill (one of only 25 statewide at the time) is established on Ararat in the community of Hamburg with a shoe factory and other businesses
1851 – Yadkin County is cut off from the southern half of Surry, leaving the present boundaries; the county seat moves from Rockford to the new town of Dobson
1857 – Establishment of the Pilot Mountain post office
1860 – The county’s population was 10,380, down 44% after Yadkin’s formation. 1,200 other slaves live in the county; During the Civil War, 750 Surry men fought, including more than 100 on the Union side.
The modern world – 1871-1921
1877 – Alexander Chatham opens a woolen mill which becomes Chatham Manufacturing which produces, among other things, blankets for the US military. From 1919 to 1955, Chatham was the largest blanket manufacturer in the world, employing more than 3,500 people. After the war, companies take off and promote the modernization and improvement of living conditions in the region.
1885 – Mount Airy incorporates
1888 – Cape Fear & Yadkin Valley Railroad arrives at Pilot Mountain and Mount Airy
1889 – The towns of Pilot Mountain and Elkin are incorporated; Mount Airy granite quarry begins mining
1899 – Creation of Chestnut Ridge. One of the county’s many predominantly African-American farming communities, locals established a school and church within a decade. Farmers, black and white, work together to plant and harvest the tobacco crops.
1890 – Northwestern North Carolina Railroad arrives at Elkin
1892-1895 – Electricity, telephone and public water service arrive in cities
1896-1920 – Mount Airy Furniture Company, National Furniture Company, Mount Airy Mantel and Table and Mount Airy Chair Company are formed
1916 – The United States enters World War I; Surry Rifles mobilizes as part of the 30th Division of the United States Army
1920 – Surry County Health Unit is created in direct response to the 1918 influenza pandemic; public schools open throughout the county
The county flourishes with industries – 1921-1971
1930s – Factories organized a five-and-a-half-hour, 10-hour-a-day workweek, paying an average of $ 30 / week
1939 – Many textile factories open, including the Amos & Smith Hosiery factory built at Pilot Mountain; Armtex Manufacturing Company, 1945; and Pilot Hosiery Mill, 1949.
1948 – WPAQ begins broadcasting
1950s-1960s – Opening of several manufacturing plants: Insteel Industries, 1955; Proctor Electric Company toaster factory, 1957
1963 – Mount Airy / Surry County Airport opens and Surry County Community College is established in Dobson
1968 – Pilot Mountain becomes the 14th state park in the state
The Rise of Difficult Times – 1971-2021
More recent history has been turbulent. Regional manufacturing was strong until the turn of the century, but longtime regional employers began to shut down in the mid-1990s: the Chatham family lost control of the business due to a hostile takeover of ‘a Danish company, 1995; Hamilton Beach / Procter Silex, 1998; Bassett Furniture Co., 2005; and Spencer Inc, 2007.
But Surry is still home to strong companies such as Insteel Industries, NCFI Polyurethanes, Leonards Buildings and Altec Industries. The county is home to a growing carport industry, an eccentric tourist clientele, a thriving wine tradition and unique cultural treasures with a core of dedicated citizens who work to build the community. I hope you take the time this year to learn more about the history, but more importantly to join those who are working for the next 250 years.
Kate Rauhauser-Smith is the director of visitor services for the Mount Airy Museum of Regional History with 22 years of journalism before joining the museum staff. She and her family moved to Mount Airy in 2005 from Pennsylvania where she also participated in museum and history tours. She can be reached at [email protected] or by calling 336-786-4478 x228