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Morganton City

Morganton City Hall is located at 305 East Union Street, Morganton, NC 28655; phone: 828-437-8863.

Beginnings [1]

Morganton was established in 1784 as the county seat of Burke County and the court town for Morgan Judicial District. The act establishing the town specified that it be located as near the center of Burke County as possible.

Morganton began as a planned town. Commissioners were given specific instructions for the layout of the town and imposed a grid of streets and lots on a parcel of undeveloped land in the wilds of the west. The two streets called for in the act, Green Street and Sterling, today retain their original width of 94 feet and 99 feet respectively. The act also called for four lots to be reserved for public buildings and water access. The present public square, which has been the site of the county courthouse from ca. 1788 until 1976, is intact and still the visual center of the community, particularly since the restoration of the 1837 Old Burke County Courthouse as a museum and auditorium. Construction in the town was regulated, requiring log, frame, or brick buildings at least sixteen feet square be built within three years of the purchase of a lot. By 1802, Andre Michaux noted the presence of about fifty houses, many of which, especially those on the public square, did double duty as commercial establishments. That an 1816 source describes all but two of the buildings as log is not surprising; the wilderness village was likely not equipped to produce materials for sophisticated frame or brick construction on a large scale.

An 1806 plat of Morganton shows that the town had grown beyond the original boundaries set in 1782-84, but had retained its grid plan and lot sizes of 198' x 189' and 99' x 198'. Other streets, which included Water (now Bouchelle), Union, McDowell, Concord, King, and Queen streets, were forty-nine and one-half feet wide, half as wide as the two main streets. For the most part, that grid is still in place. The only two major changes are in the eastern corner where the construction of the Drexel Heritage plant cut out portions of McDowell and Bouchelle streets and Valdese Avenue was cut in as an extension of McDowell; and on Queen Street where all but one short block was sacrificed to parking and additional commercial space. Apparently the northern corner where Avery Avenue now runs was never completed.

Although it is known that the vast majority of Morganton's earliest residential development and all of its commercial building took place within the parameters of the grid area, none of that early building stock remains. Certainly there were properties in the area that reflected the education and sophistication of Morganton's wealthiest merchants, professionals, and planters. In the earliest years, however, these finer residences were generally constructed in the rural areas adjacent to the town, like Quaker Meadows (ca. 1812), Mountain View (ca. 1815), Magnolia (ca. 1818), and Creekside (ca. 1836), or out in the county like Cedar Grove (ca. 1825), and Bellevue (ca. 1823-26). Two of these country residences, Mountain View and Creekside, are now within the city limits of Morganton and are good examples of the refined residences constructed in the county during two different time periods. Although Samuel Greenlee's Mountain View has been greatly altered over the years, remnants of its original, vernacular, modified Quaker plan and sophisticated Federal ornamentation are evident. Mountain View bears a striking resemblance to other Federal period Quaker plan residences in the county including Bellevue and Cedar Grove, leading to the speculation that a master craftsman or skilled artisan may have been responsible for the entire group of houses. Creekside is a monumental, elegantly conceived Greek Revival mansion attributed to Jacob Stigerwalt, a master builder from Salisbury. Its owner, Thomas George Walton, was only twenty-one when Creekside was constructed; however, he had obviously been exposed through schooling or travel to fashionable high-style architecture of the day.

  1. Suzanne Pickens Wylie, Preservation Consultant, Historic and Architectural Resources of Morganton, Burke County, N.C., nomination document, 1986, National Park Service, National Register of Historic Places, Washington, D.C.
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