"It's a natural north-south corridor that's moved commerce and people. I suspect if you went back to the history, it was an old drover's route a hundred years ago."
North Carolina's first permanent European settlement was established on the Coastal Plain in 1655, but white settlers did not lay down roots in the mountains until 1784. Primarily of Scotch-Irish, English, and German descent, they migrated from the Piedmont and the Coastal Plain or came south from settlements in Maryland, Pennsylvania, and Virginia. They traveled by foot, wagon, or horseback to farm the fertile valleys and hillsides of the region. The Native Americans of the area, predominantly the Cherokee, were forced west as whites immigrated into the mountains.
For many years the steep, rough, and muddy roads of the mountains made trade very difficult, so farms were kept small and self-sufficient. In 1795 the trail from the settlement of Warm Springs (now Hot Springs) into Tennessee was improved to create the first route by which wagons could travel through the North Carolina mountains. In 1827 mountain transportation saw further improvement with the completion of the Buncombe Turnpike running from north of Asheville to Greenville, Tennessee. Road improvements made it easier for livestock and crops to be taken to market. New roads also increased tourism, with visitors coming in carriages and stagecoaches to Warm Springs and Asheville.
Development continued and in 1851 Madison County was incorporated, but this time of relative prosperity was short-lived as the Civil War (1861-1865) drew near. Throughout the war the county's loyalties were divided between the Confederacy and the Union. Men from Madison fought and died on both sides of the battlefield. At home, rifts in the community exacerbated what were already difficult times. Civilians faced repeated raids, disrupted trade routes, food shortages, illness, and death. Madison's residents relied on their self-sufficiency and ingenuity to survive many difficult years of war and reconstruction. They used skills that had been learned and passed down through generations of living in the mountains.