The village that became the City of Asheboro dates to 1780, when citizens demanded that the county seat be relocated from Johnstonville to a place more convenient for the citizens of Randolph County. Asheboro came to being on land owned by Jesse Henley. The first session of court was held in Asheboro on June 12, 1793. The charter for the Town of Asheboro was issued by the State Legislature on Christmas Day in 1796. The town was named for Samuel Ashe, governor from 1795-1798 (as was the City of Asheville).
The town of Asheboro began to take form on a 50-acre tract. The focal point was the courthouse square on Main Street. In 1805 a large, two-story frame building housed the courthouse. For almost the first century of the town’s existence, court-related business was the primary business of town. The sleepy village came to life when court was in session, turning the square into a carnival of activity that ranged from horse-swapping to the selling and imbibing of grog. The whooping and yelling often caused the presiding judge to order the high sheriff to halt the ruckus.
From 1800-1850, Asheboro saw the establishment of the first post office, the creation of a formal town government and the creation of the first church (Methodist Episcopal Church). During that time Asheboro also became home to a young lawyer named Jonathan Worth, who would go on to serve six terms in the Legislature, two terms as the state treasure and two terms as governor.
From 1836 to 1844, lawyer and editor Benjamin Swain published the town’s first newspaper – Southern Citizen – a weekly. In one of his editions, Swain called Asheboro an “uncommonly healthy and pleasant” village of about 100 in habitants. In 1850-51, the Fayetteville and Western Plank Road section through Asheboro was completed. At this time Asheboro had 32 households, totaling 154 people (including 11 free blacks). By 1852, much of the wealth in town resulted from gold mining operations nearby.
A period of stagnation followed the Civil War. In 1876, Asheboro’s population had grown to about 200. Asheboro still had only two churches and two academies, one for males and one for females. Two hundred bales of cotton were sold at the Asheboro market that year.
The High Point, Randleman, Asheboro and Southern Railroad arrived in Asheboro in July 1889, marking the beginning of a period of prosperity and growth. Competition came in 1896 with the arrival of the Montgomery Railroad, from Star to Asheboro. The railroad depots and a disastrous fire caused the center of town to shift from Main Street to Sunset Avenue.
The second century of Asheboro was marked by the establishment of its first bank, The Bank of Randolph, and Asheboro Telephone Company (both established in 1897). The arrival of the railroads caused a population explosion. The population nearly doubled every 10 years: 1890, 510; 1900, 992; 1910, 1,865; 1920, 2,559; and 1930, 5,021. By 1912 there already were about 30 stores in Asheboro plus two roller mills, two chair manufacturers, a lumber plant, hosiery mill, wheelbarrow factory and foundry.
The present county courthouse was completed in July 1909, at a cost of $34,000 and the next 10 years resulted in unparalleled growth. Electricity arrived, along with a water system fed by wells. The fire department was organized, a new public school built and the first hospital organized. The industrial base expanded from wood products and blacksmith shops to textiles. The first of today's base of hosiery mills came with the chartering of Acme Hosiery Mills on December 19, 1908. The original product was cotton stockings.
The business tempo of the 1920s was smothered by The Great Depression and World War II, but the aftermath of World War II resulted in a flurry in industrial plants to augment the cluster of hosiery plants here. Stedman Manufacturing Company expanded its handkerchief manufacturing during the war to make t-shirts for the navy. Klopman Mills was organized with its first plant in Asheboro. Eveready Battery Company, with two plants in Asheboro, was the first infusion of a mix of industries, followed by B.B. Walker Shoe Co., Black & Decker, Georgia Pacific, Klaussner Furniture Industries, Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co. wire plant, Knorr Best Foods, Kayser-Roth Hosiery, and others.
In 1979 the North Carolina Zoo just south of Asheboro opened its first permanent exhibit. Today, the world-renowned zoo draws hundreds of thousands of visitors to the area each year.
— Take from L. Barron Mills, Jr.’s history of Asheboro written for the 1996 Bicentennial.
For More Information
If you’re interested in learning more about the history of Asheboro, visit the Randolph Room at the Asheboro Library. You may also be interested in on-line videos about “residents” of the Old Asheboro cemetery.