Richmond County History

The Richmond County Historical Society is proud to announce the release of The Architectural History of Richmond County, North Carolina  This publication is based on a county-wide architectural survey sponsored by the North Carolina State Historical Preservation Office.  Order your copy today by printing Order Form #1 for The Architectural History of Richmond County, North Carolina .

The History of Richmond County

Highland Scots were among the first to settle in this area of North Carolina.  They pushed up the Cape Fear river in search of fresh grazing and crop lands.  English settlers also came into the county from the direction of the “panhandle” in the northwest.  Many of North Carolina’s counties were formed in response to complaints about having to travel long distances to get to court, and Richmond County was no exception.

The difficulty of having to cross the Pee Dee River to get to Anson’s county seat spurred the Assembly to create Richmond county from Anson in 1779.  It was named in honor of Charles Lennox, the Duke of Richmond and friend of the American colonies.  He petitioned the House of Lords to grant the colonies their independence.  The county seat was first known as Richmond Court House but was changed in 1784 to Rockingham.  In 1899, the county split to form Scotland County.

In the preface of his book No Ordinary Lives: The History of Richmond County 1750 to 1900,  author John P. Hutchinson writes:

Ours is a county with a remarkable past.  Settled early by restless souls, Richmond became one of North Carolina’s economic leaders after the American Revolution. Dozens of families grew wealthy growing cotton-though the slaves who toiled in their fields twice plotted revolts.

Though wrecked by the Civil War and General Sherman’s brief visit, Richmond County again grew wealthy in the late 1800s.  Under the supervision of local leaders and entrepreneurs, textile mills rose along the creek banks.  They supported thousands of struggling individuals and lined owners’ pockets with money.

Dozens of other events and challenges have affected our tiny corner of North Carolina: the rise of Hamlet and Hoffman; the founding of Ellerbe and Norman; the creation of Scotland County; the challenges faced by African Americans following the Civil War.

By the turn of the 20th century, Richmond County was one of the most wealthy in the state.  While there was yet much agriculture, the thrust of business leaders was towards textile mills and they provided employment for thousands.

This golden era continued until the Great Depression.  The textile mills faced hard times with orders slowing to a trickle.  Most of the workers found places for gardens, pigs and cattle in order to survive.

As with most of the nation, the coming of World War II brought an end to the misery.  Orders for textile products once again rolled in as the nation prepared an army for war.

The county was again prosperous, work available for anyone who wanted it.

At the close of the war, the textile mills which had been built mostly by Rockingham businessmen were sold to national manufacturers.  The county became familiar with the names J. P. Stevens, Lowenstein, Beaunit, Safie, and Burlington.  Of the large plants, only Ledbetter Mfg. Co., built in 1890 by Ledbetter families, remained in local ownership.

Hamlet became the nation’s largest railroad classification yard during the time, Seaboard Airline Railroad spending several million dollars to build a state of the art train yard where long lines of car could be divided and remade for destinations up and down the East coast. Engine and car repair shops were also constructed.

The second Technical School in a new state program was located in Richmond County.  It has now grown to become Richmond Community College.

By the mid 1970s, the balloon began to lose air.  Seaboard RR had been sold and resold, merged and merged yet again.

The textile mills were beginning to lose orders to the cheaper labor of Mexico and South America.  The buildings were beginning to approach 100 years of age, not suitable for modern equipment.  Today, most of the buildings are vacant. Burlington constructed a new plant and continues, the last of the large plants.

Today’s excitement centers on the approach of Interstate highway 73-74 which will split in Richmond County, I-73 going South to Myrtle Beach and I-74 going East to the North Carolina coast before also heading South to Myrtle Beach.

The location of Richmond County is fortunate: 75 miles East of Charlotte, 100 miles South of the Triad composed of High Point, Winston-Salem and Greensboro; 110 miles Southwest of Raleigh; 120 miles to the Northwest of Myrtle Beach; and 150 miles East of Asheville and the mountains.  As a part of the Coastal Plains of North Carolina, the climate is mild and thus golf is a big attraction. Richmond borders Moore County, where Pinehurst is a golf capital.

A giant sleeping? Perhaps.

Not only will the new Interstate highway open new doors, North Carolina is looking strongly at an East-West passenger rail service which would connect with the present North-South service through Hamlet.

An eight-million dollar fine arts center is now a part of the Richmond Community College campus, the 1,000 seat auditorium regularly filled with everything from Mozart to Forever Plaid.

Progress Energy has spent many millions in construction of their new power generating facilities.  The projects won’t create many new jobs, but will add considerably to the county’s tax base.

Public education has air conditioned all school classrooms and in the past five years constructed new elementary and middle schools.

Still not at the level of prosperity once known, Richmond County stands ready with clean air, a county wide water system of almost limitless capacity and a people proud of their heritage but willing to work for an even better future.

Prepared by J. Neal Cadieu, Secretary.


Richmond County Historical Society
P. O. Box 1763
Rockingham, N.C. 28380


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