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Morganton, North Carolina
Historic train station in Morganton
Historic train station in Morganton
Country United States
State North Carolina
County Burke
Founded 1777
Incorporated 1784
Named for Daniel Morgan
 • Total 19.24 sq mi (49.84 km2)
 • Land 19.24 sq mi (49.84 km2)
 • Water 0.00 sq mi (0.00 km2)
1,161 ft (354 m)
 • Total 16,918
 • Estimate 
 • Density 861.41/sq mi (332.59/km2)
Time zone UTC−5 (Eastern)
 • Summer (DST) UTC−4 (Eastern)
ZIP codes
28655, 28680
Area code(s) 828 Exchanges: 430,432,433,437,438,439,448,580
FIPS code 37-44400
GNIS feature ID 0990244

Morganton is a city in and the county seat of Burke County, North Carolina, United States. The population was 16,918 at the 2010 census. Morganton is approximately 240 miles (390 km) northeast of Atlanta.

Morganton is one of the principal cities in the Hickory-Lenoir-Morganton, NC Metropolitan Statistical Area. A site five miles north of here has been identified as the Mississippian culture chiefdom of Joara, occupied from AD 1400 to AD 1600. This was also the site of Fort San Juan, built in 1567 by a Spanish expedition as the first European settlement in the interior of North America, 40 years before the English settlement of Jamestown, Virginia.


Joara archeological site

The oldest-known European inland (non-coastal) settlement in the United States of Fort San Juan has been identified at Joara, a former Mississippian culture chiefdom located about five miles north of present-day Morganton. In 1567 a Spanish expedition built the fort there, while seeking to establish an interior route to Mexican silver mines. (They did not have an accurate grasp of the geography.) This was more than 40 years before the English settled Jamestown, Virginia, their first permanent settlement in North America.

The Spanish left a 31-man garrison that occupied the fort for 18 months before being overcome in a Mississippian attack. Five other Spanish forts in the larger interior region were also destroyed about that time. Only one soldier survived. The fort and Indian settlement have been under professional excavation since the early 21st century, with findings published since 2004. Europeans associated with the British colonies did not try to settle this far west for nearly 200 years, organizing Burke County in 1777.

Today Joara is identified as a significant archaeological and historic site near the Watersee River in the Upper Catawba Valley. Construction of its mounds is believed to have been started by the people of the Mississippian culture by AD 1000, and they occupied the site continuously from 1400AD to 1600AD. Based on additional archeological excavations at the "Berry Site" that revealed the remains of a defensive moat constructed in European style, researchers in 2013 concluded that this was the site of Fort San Juan and Joara. Earlier evidence found in the area included "military artifacts and burned remains of Spanish-built huts."

Colonial through 19th century

Public welfare facilities, such as the North Carolina School for the Deaf: Main Building and Western North Carolina Insane Asylum, were first authorized by the state legislature in the late 19th century after the American Civil War.

20th century to present

In the early 20th century, textile mills were developed in the Piedmont as industry left union-dominated areas of the Northeast United States. During the century, however, these industrial jobs gradually moved offshore.

In the late 20th century, Morganton and Burke County, which was still largely rural and with big poultry farms, became locations for industrial-scale poultry processing plants. These jobs attracted many new immigrants to the state from Central America, leading to an increase in Latino population in this area. During the 1990s, Guatemalan-born workers in Morganton worked to organize a union at the Case Farms poultry plant but were ultimately unsuccessful. Labor and factory work have changed in the "Nuevo" South, where many Latino immigrants work in low paid industrial jobs. They are competing with globalization in some industries. At the state level, North Carolina is working to encourage immigrant communities and their contributions.

Synthron plant explosion

On January 31, 2006, an explosion occurred at Synthron Inc., a paint additive chemical manufacturer's plant in Morganton. Workers at Synthron reported hearing a loud hiss minutes before the explosion. Most were able to escape the building before the blast, but even some who were outside were thrown as far as 20 feet (6.1 m). The explosion was heard and felt as far away as 50 miles (80 km).

On the day of the explosion, operations appeared normal until after the steam was turned off and the polymer initiating solution was pumped into the reactor. The operator in charge noted that initially the reaction did not proceed as vigorously as expected, but later the solvent evaporated and the condensed solvent flow returning to the reactor appeared within normal range. A few minutes later, the operator heard a loud hissing and saw vapor venting from the reactor manway. The irritating vapor forced him out of the building. Three other employees also left the building because of the vapors. The operator reentered the building wearing a respirator and started emergency cooling water flow to the reactor. The building exploded less than 30 seconds after he exited the second time. The US Chemical Safety Board (CSB) stated that the solvent vapor leaked from the overheated and over-pressurised process reactor, forming a flammable vapour cloud inside the building that ignited.

A total of 14 people were injured in the blast, of whom one man later died. In addition, at least 300 fish died due to chemicals leaking into a creek behind the Synthron plant which leads into the Catawba River.

National Register of Historic Places

Properties recognized for their historic significance date primarily to the late 19th and early 20th centuries, the period of more dense development. They include public facilities, such as the state school for the deaf, numerous private homes and former business facilities, as well as several historic districts. They reflect the development of the area by yeoman farmers, and later cotton planters who had plantations, as well as the development of cotton and textile mills, followed by other industries.

They include the Avery Avenue Historic District, Avery Avenue School, Alphonse Calhoun Avery House, Bellevue, Broughton Hospital Historic District, Burke County Courthouse, Creekside, U. S. B. Dale's Market, Dunavant Cotton Manufacturing Company, Gaither House, Garrou-Morganton Full-Fashioned Hosiery Mills, Gaston Chapel, Hunting Creek Railroad Bridge, Jonesboro Historic District, John Alexander Lackey House, Magnolia Place, Morganton Downtown Historic District, Mountain View, North Carolina School for the Deaf Historic District, North Carolina School for the Deaf: Main Building, North Green Street-Bouchelle Street Historic District, Quaker Meadows, Quaker Meadows Cemetery, Dr. Joseph Bennett Riddle House, South King Street Historic District, Swan Ponds, Tate House, Franklin Pierce Tate House, West Union Street Historic District, Western North Carolina Insane Asylum, and White Street-Valdese Avenue Historic District are listed on the National Register of Historic Places.


Morganton is located in central Burke County in the Catawba River valley in the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains. Interstate 40 passes through the southern part of the city, leading east 19 miles (31 km) to Hickory and west 54 miles (87 km) to Asheville. U.S. Route 70 passes east–west through the center of the city paralleling I-40, and U.S. Route 64 passes north–south, leading northeast 15 miles (24 km) to Lenoir and southwest 32 miles (51 km) to Rutherfordton.

According to the United States Census Bureau, Morganton has a total area of 19.2 square miles (49.6 km2), all of it land.


Historical population
Census Pop.
1850 558
1870 554
1880 861 55.4%
1890 1,557 80.8%
1900 1,938 24.5%
1910 2,712 39.9%
1920 2,867 5.7%
1930 6,001 109.3%
1940 7,670 27.8%
1950 8,311 8.4%
1960 9,186 10.5%
1970 13,625 48.3%
1980 13,763 1.0%
1990 15,085 9.6%
2000 17,310 14.7%
2010 16,918 −2.3%
2019 (est.) 16,577 −2.0%
U.S. Decennial Census

2020 census

Morganton racial composition
Race Number Percentage
White (non-Hispanic) 10,489 60.03%
Black or African American (non-Hispanic) 1,665 9.53%
Native American 48 0.27%
Asian 383 2.19%
Pacific Islander 28 0.16%
Other/Mixed 753 4.31%
Hispanic or Latino 4,108 23.51%

As of the 2020 United States census, there were 17,474 people, 6,181 households, and 3,907 families residing in the city.

2010 census

As of the census of 2010, there were 16,918 people, 7,618 households, and 4,117 families residing in the city. The population density was 953.0 people per square mile (368.0/km2). There were 7,313 housing units at an average density of 402.6 per square mile (155.5/km2). The racial composition of the city was: 75.67% White, 12.76% Black or African American, 11.16% Hispanic or Latino American, 1.99% Asian American, 0.55% Native American, 0.81% Native Hawaiian or Other Pacific Islander, 6.64% some other race, and 1.58% two or more races.

There were 7,618 households, out of which 22.6% had children under the age of 18 living with them, 43.1% were married couples living together, 12.9% had a female householder with no husband present, and 39.7% were non-families. 34.5% of all households were made up of individuals, and 14.4% had someone living alone who was 65 years of age or older. The average household size was 2.31 and the average family size was 2.92.

In the city, the population was spread out, with 21.1% under the age of 18, 8.5% from 18 to 24, 29.3% from 25 to 44, 22.5% from 45 to 64, and 18.2% who were 65 years of age or older. The median age was 39 years. For every 100 females, there were 95.2 males. For every 100 females age 18 and over, there were 92.0 males.

The median income for a household in the city was $29,836, and the median income for a family was $42,687. Males had a median income of $29,118 versus $24,723 for females. The per capita income for the city was $20,906. About 9.7% of families and 13.6% of the population were below the poverty line, including 17.0% of those under age 18 and 11.9% of those age 65 or over.


15 miles outside of Morganton is Lake James, which is surrounded by the Blue Ridge Mountains. There are also multiple ski areas located approximately an hour from Morganton.

Golf courses

  • Quaker Meadows Golf Course
  • Mimosa Hills Golf and Country Club
  • Silver Creek Plantation


  • Mimosa 7, a movie theater operated by Marquee Cinemas
  • City of Morganton Municipal Auditorium (CoMMA), a public auditorium that hosts plays, musicals, graduations, and other cultural and public events.


  • Catawba Meadows Park is very close to downtown Morganton and has several baseball diamonds, beach volleyball courts, and other facilities.
  • Martha's Park in downtown Morganton features a splash pad, playground, and picnic area.

Representation in culture

Morganton is the setting of Master of the World (1904), one of French science fiction writer Jules Verne's last novels. The book describes Morganton as Verne saw it in the late 19th century. The town is the place where people see a great machine that can travel in four different ways (air, above water, below water, and land). They first spot the machine over a mountain referred to as "the Great Eyrie" and described as flat-topped. Most local residents believe this stands for Table Rock.


The state of North Carolina is a major employer in Morganton. State-operated facilities located in Morganton include Broughton Hospital (a psychiatric hospital), the North Carolina School for the Deaf, and the second campus of the North Carolina School of Science and Mathematics. Other employers include furniture manufacturing facilities and businesses catering to the many tourists who travel through the area on Interstate 40 to nearby attractions in the Blue Ridge Mountains.


Colleges and universities

  • Western Piedmont Community College
  • Foothills Higher Education Center, occupied by Western Piedmont Community College's Division of Continuing Education and serves as a satellite campus for certain courses of study offered by Appalachian State University, Lees-McRae College, Montreat College and Western Carolina University.

Public schools

  • Freedom High School
  • Robert L. Patton High School
  • Table Rock Middle School
  • Liberty Middle School
  • Walter R. Johnson Middle School
  • Glen Alpine Elementary School
  • Mull Elementary School
  • Hillcrest Elementary School
  • Chesterfield Elementary School
  • W. A. Young Elementary School
  • Burke Alternative School
  • College Street Academy
  • Salem Elementary School
  • Forest Hill Elementary School
  • Oak Hill Elementary School
  • Burke Middle College
  • Mountain View Elementary School
  • East Burke High School
  • Draughn High School

Private schools

  • Morganton Day School
  • Silver Creek Adventist School

Charter schools

  • New Dimensions Charter School

Specialized STEM schools

  • North Carolina School of Science and Mathematics

Special education

  • North Carolina School for the Deaf
  • North Liberty Middle School

Other institutions

  • J. Iverson Riddle Developmental Center

Notable people

  • Isaac E. Avery, most remembered for the blood-stained note he wrote to his father before dying at Gettysburg during the American Civil War
  • William Waightstill Avery, North Carolina politician and lawyer; brother of Isaac E. Avery
  • Etta Baker, guitarist and singer of the Piedmont Blues
  • Johnny Bristol, musician and Motown producer
  • Tod Robinson Caldwell, governor of North Carolina from 1871 to 1874
  • Joe Cheves, professional golfer and member of the North Carolina Sports Hall of Fame
  • Warren Daniel, North Carolina State Senator
  • Kony Ealy, NFL defensive end
  • Robert C. Ervin, North Carolina Superior Court judge
  • Sam Ervin, U.S. senator from 1954 to 1974, notable during the Joseph McCarthy hearings and Watergate hearings
  • Kerri Gardin, WNBA player
  • Alfreda Gerald, vocalist and recording artist
  • Leon Johnson, former NFL running back for the New York Jets, Chicago Bears, and San Diego Chargers
  • Bill Leslie, TV anchor WRAL News, New Age recording artist
  • Chad Lawson, classical and jazz pianist
  • Billy Joe Patton, amateur golfer and member of the North Carolina Sports Hall of Fame
  • Woody Rich, former MLB player for the Boston Red Sox and Boston Braves
  • Tommy Giles Rogers Jr., lead singer and keyboardist for the metal band Between the Buried and Me
  • Paige Summers, model
  • Isaac M. Taylor, physician and academic; father of musician James Taylor
  • Gladys Avery Tillett, political organizer, active in UNESCO and Equal Rights Amendment activism

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