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Clay County, North Carolina facts for kids

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Clay County
Clay County Courthouse in Hayesville
Clay County Courthouse in Hayesville
Map of North Carolina highlighting Clay 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 1861
Named for Henry Clay
Seat Hayesville
Largest town Hayesville
 • Total 221 sq mi (570 km2)
 • Land 215 sq mi (560 km2)
 • Water 5.9 sq mi (15 km2)  2.7%%
 • Estimate 
 • Density 49/sq mi (19/km2)
Time zone UTC−5 (Eastern)
 • Summer (DST) UTC−4 (EDT)
Congressional district 11th

Clay County is a county located in the far western part of U.S. state North Carolina. As of the 2010 census, the county population was 10,587. The county seat is Hayesville, population 311, elevation 1,893 ft.


This area was occupied by the Cherokee Nation at the time of European settlement. The name of Brasstown, an unincorporated community in the county, was derived from a Cherokee term for a village location, which English speakers confused with another that meant "brass." They referred to the village as Brasstown, a translation unrelated to the Cherokee history of the site.

Migrants into the area were primarily of Scots-Irish descent, who had moved into the backcountry of the Appalachians from eastern areas. They moved south from Pennsylvania and Virginia after the American Revolution. Most became yeomen farmers and few owned slaves in the antebellum years.

In the fall of 1860, George Hayes, who was running for state representative from Cherokee County, promised his constituents to introduce legislation to organize a new county in the region. That would bring business associated with a new county seat, and make government accessible to more people. In February 1861 the legislation was introduced and passed by the North Carolina General Assembly. Clay County was formed primarily from Cherokee County, North Carolina, however a small area was taken from Macon County; it was named for statesman Henry Clay, former Secretary of State and member of the United States Senate from Kentucky. In honor of Mr. Hayes, the legislature designated the new county seat as Hayesville.

Given the interruption of the American Civil War, Clay County lacked an organized, formal government until 1868. Later that year, during the Reconstruction era, the first United States post office in the county opened in Hayesville. The first county courthouse was built in 1888; it has been listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Since the nineteenth century, Clay County has remained largely agricultural. Given its relative isolation, in the 21st century, residents continue to be overwhelmingly of European-American ancestry.

The Smoky Mountain Sentinel is the local newspaper, reporting mostly county news.


According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the county has a total area of 221 square miles (570 km2), of which 215 square miles (560 km2) is land and 5.9 square miles (15 km2) (2.7%) is water. It is the third-smallest county in North Carolina by land area and smallest by total area.

Clay County is bordered to the south by the state of Georgia and the Chattahoochee National Forest. The Nantahala River forms part of its northeastern border. The county is drained by the Hiwassee River. In the southern part of Clay County is Chatuge Lake, on the North Carolina–Georgia border. Much of Clay County exists within the Nantahala National Forest. Fires Creek Bear Reserve is north of the township of Tusquittee.

The eastern portion of the county is preserved as part of the Nantahala National Forest.


Clay County has a humid subtropical climate, (Cfa) according to the Köppen classification, with hot, humid summers and mild, but occasionally cold winters by the standards of the southern United States.

Like the rest of the southeastern U.S., Clay County receives abundant rainfall, which is relatively evenly distributed throughout the year. Average annual rainfall is 55.9 inches (1,420 mm). Blizzards are rare but possible; one nicknamed the 1993 Storm of the Century hit the entire Eastern United States in March, 1993.

Adjacent counties

Major highways

  • US 64
  • NC 69
  • NC 175


Historical population
Census Pop.
1870 2,461
1880 3,316 34.7%
1890 4,197 26.6%
1900 4,532 8.0%
1910 3,909 −13.7%
1920 4,646 18.9%
1930 5,434 17.0%
1940 6,405 17.9%
1950 6,006 −6.2%
1960 5,526 −8.0%
1970 5,180 −6.3%
1980 6,619 27.8%
1990 7,155 8.1%
2000 8,775 22.6%
2010 10,587 20.6%
2020 11,089 4.7%
U.S. Decennial Census
1790-1960 1900-1990
1990-2000 2010-2013

2020 census

Clay County racial composition
Race Number Percentage
White (non-Hispanic) 10,044 90.58%
Black or African American (non-Hispanic) 60 0.54%
Native American 44 0.4%
Asian 40 0.36%
Pacific Islander 7 0.06%
Other/Mixed 456 4.11%
Hispanic or Latino 438 3.95%

As of the 2020 United States census, there were 11,089 people, 4,996 households, and 3,424 families residing in the county.


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


Unincorporated communities


The county is divided into six townships: Brasstown comprises the westernmost township; Hayesville is centrally located and home to the county seat; Hiawassee, named after the major river in the region, is the smallest township, surrounding Lake Chatuge; Shooting Creek is the easternmost township; Sweetwater is a small township northwest of Hayesville; and Tusquittee is one of the larger townships and the most northern.

See also

Kids robot.svg In Spanish: Condado de Clay (Carolina del Norte) para niños

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