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Burke County, North Carolina facts for kids

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Burke County
Burke County Courthouse
Burke County Courthouse
Official seal of Burke County
Map of North Carolina highlighting Burke County
Location within the U.S. state of North Carolina
Map of the United States highlighting North Carolina
North Carolina's location within the U.S.
Country  United States
State  North Carolina
Founded 1777
Named for Thomas Burke
Seat Morganton
Largest city Morganton
 • Total 515 sq mi (1,330 km2)
 • Land 507 sq mi (1,310 km2)
 • Water 8.0 sq mi (21 km2)  1.5%%
 • Estimate 
 • Density 179/sq mi (69/km2)
Time zone UTC−5 (Eastern)
 • Summer (DST) UTC−4 (EDT)
Congressional district 5th

Burke County is a county located in the U.S. state of North Carolina. As of the 2010 census, the population was 90,912. Its county seat is Morganton. Burke County is part of the HickoryLenoir–Morganton, NC Metropolitan Statistical Area.


Indigenous peoples inhabited the interior as well as the coastal areas for thousands of years. Native Americans of the Mississippian culture inhabited the county long before Europeans arrived in the New World. The largest Mound Builder settlement was at Joara, a 12-acre (49,000 m2) site and regional chiefdom near present-day Morganton. It was the center of the largest Native American settlement in North Carolina, dating from about 1000 AD and expanding into the next centuries.

In 1567, a Spanish expedition arrived and built Fort San Juan, claiming the area for the colony of Spanish Florida. They had been sent by the governor at Santa Elena (Parris Island) in South Carolina. Captain Juan Pardo, leader of the expedition, left about 30 soldiers at the fort while continuing his exploration. In the spring of 1568 the Indians attacked the fort, killing the soldiers and burning the fort. Indians killed the garrisons at five other Spanish forts in the interior. Introduction of European diseases caused high fatalities among the Mississippians, and takeover of survivors by larger tribes led to Native American abandonment of the area. Two hundred years passed before the next Europeans: English, Scots-Irish and German colonists, attempted to settle here again.

In 1777, Burke County was formed from Rowan County. It was named for Thomas Burke, then serving as a delegate to the Continental Congress (1777 to 1781). He was later elected as Governor of North Carolina, serving from 1781 to 1782. The western Piedmont was settled by many Scots-Irish and German immigrants in the mid-to-late 18th century. They were generally yeoman farmers and fiercely independent. Most Burke families were not slaveholders; however, some researchers have reported that, by 1833, 5000 slaves were mining gold in Burke County (Speculation Lands Collection of the University of NC at Asheville). The 1860 U.S. Census found 9237 persons living in Burke County, which included 2471 slaves and 276 free persons of color. During the 1920's, five Rosenwald schools were built, making Burke a full participant in the historic movement that benefited so many African-American families and communities across the South.

As population increased, the county was divided to form other jurisdictions. In 1791, parts of Burke County and Rutherford County were combined to form Buncombe County. In 1833, parts of Burke and Buncombe counties were combined to form Yancey County. In 1841, parts of Burke and Wilkes counties were combined to form Caldwell County. In 1842 additional parts of Burke and Rutherford counties were combined to form McDowell County. Finally, in 1861, parts of Burke, Caldwell, McDowell, Watauga, and Yancey counties were combined to form Mitchell County.

Burke County citizens participated in the Battle of Kings Mountain, which pitted Appalachian frontiersmen against the Loyalist forces of the British commander Ferguson at Kings Mountain, SC in the American Revolution. Rather than waiting for Ferguson to invade their territory, militiamen throughout the Blue Ridge crossed over the mountains and thus were called the "Over Mountain Men". (Clark, "Burke County," pp. 37–39)


Table Rock

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the county has a total area of 515 square miles (1,330 km2), of which 507 square miles (1,310 km2) is land and 8.0 square miles (21 km2) (1.5%) is water. The county contains portions of two lakes: Lake James along its western border with McDowell County and Lake Rhodhiss along its northeastern border with Caldwell County.

Table Rock, a prominent peak in the county in the east rim of Linville Gorge, part of Pisgah National Forest, has been described as "the most visible symbol in the region".

Adjacent counties

National protected areas

Major highways

  • I-40
  • US 64
  • US 70
  • US 221
  • US 321
  • NC 18
  • NC 114
  • NC 126
  • NC 181
  • NC 183


Historical population
Census Pop.
1790 8,106
1800 9,929 22.5%
1810 11,007 10.9%
1820 13,411 21.8%
1830 17,888 33.4%
1840 15,799 −11.7%
1850 7,772 −50.8%
1860 9,237 18.8%
1870 9,777 5.8%
1880 12,809 31.0%
1890 14,939 16.6%
1900 17,699 18.5%
1910 21,408 21.0%
1920 23,297 8.8%
1930 29,410 26.2%
1940 38,615 31.3%
1950 45,518 17.9%
1960 52,701 15.8%
1970 60,364 14.5%
1980 72,504 20.1%
1990 75,744 4.5%
2000 89,148 17.7%
2010 90,912 2.0%
U.S. Decennial Census
1790–1960 1900–1990
1990–2000 2010–2014

2020 census

Burke County racial composition
Race Number Percentage
White (non-Hispanic) 68,664 78.41%
Black or African American (non-Hispanic) 4,762 5.44%
Native American 238 0.27%
Asian 3,150 3.6%
Pacific Islander 64 0.07%
Other/Mixed 3,508 4.01%
Hispanic or Latino 7,184 8.2%

As of the 2020 United States census, there were 87,570 people, 36,634 households, and 25,391 families residing in the county.


Map of Burke County North Carolina With Municipal and Township Labels
Map of Burke County, North Carolina With Municipal and Township Labels




  • Drexel
  • Icard
  • Jonas Ridge
  • Linville
  • Lovelady
  • Lower Creek
  • Lower Fork
  • Morganton
  • Quaker Meadows
  • Silver Creek
  • Smoky Creek
  • Upper Creek
  • Upper Fork
  • Hildebran
  • Connelly Springs
  • Rutherford College
  • Valdese

Census-designated places

Unincorporated communities

In popular culture

Many scenes from the 1992 film Last of the Mohicans were filmed in Burke County. A full-scale fort was built next to the Linville boat access on Lake James for the filming. The fort was later destroyed and the land replanted with trees. Many of the extras who played settlers, British soldiers, and Native Americans were locals from Burke and surrounding counties.

The final scene from The Hunt for Red October had the backdrop filmed on Lake James, while the actors stayed in Hollywood

In 2011, scenes for the Lionsgate adaptation of The Hunger Games were filmed near Hildebran, North Carolina at the Henry River Mill Village.

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