History of Richmond County
Present-day Richmond County was first settled by Native Americans living along the Pee Dee River. Richmond was part of Anson County, which was formed in 1750 from Bladen County. The General Assembly formed Richmond County from Anson in October 1779. The citizens cited the hardship in crossing the Pee Dee River to go to the courthouse in Anson County, as their reason for wanting a separate county with the dividing line of the Pee Dee River.
Richmond County was named for Charles Lennox, the third Duke of Richmond, who criticized the policy of the British toward the American colonies. The county seat was known as Richmond Courthouse. Scotland County was formed from Richmond in 1899.
The first court in the new county was held in December 1779 at the old Presbyterian Meeting House in the Zion Community. About 1783, after raising money from taxes to pay for buying land and laying out a town, a new courthouse was built in what is today downtown Rockingham. In 1784 the name of the town was changed to Rockingham in honor of Charles Watson-Wentworth, second Marquis of Rockingham, and supporter of American independence.
Dockery Meeting House (which was the forerunner of Cartledge Creek Baptist Church) was chartered in 1774, Mt. Pleasant Methodist in 1780, First Methodist Church of Rockingham in 1786, Concord Methodist Church in 1787, and Zion Methodist Church in 1829. There was a Presbyterian Meeting House in Rockingham around 1788.
The County grew slowly as many families moved down from Maryland, Virginia, and up from South Carolina. The Dockery Brick house, built in 1830, and the Leak-Wall House, built in 1854, are both still standing. The County began to grow more as the economy diversified from agriculture to cotton mills. The Richmond Mill was chartered in 1833 and was the seventh cotton mill chartered in North Carolina. It operated until 1865 when it was burned by Sherman's troops. It was rebuilt in 1869 and renamed Great Falls Mill. It burned again in 1972, and the ruins are still standing. Other cotton mills sprang up in the county.
The first railroad line through Richmond County was begun in 1861, but stopped for the Civil War and then resumed in 1869. In 1872 a woolen mill was built, and the town around it was named Hamlet. The owner of the mill deeded land to the railroad. The first train to reach Hamlet was the Raleigh and Augusta Air Line on August 10, 1877. The Hamlet Railroad Depot was built in 1900 and is still standing today housing a railroad museum. The town of Hamlet grew and became a railroad center. The Hamlet Opera House was built around 1912 and was almost identical to the Bijou Theatre in Wilmington. The area became known for its culture. Today the building is on the National Register of Historic Places, and a group is attempting to restore the building.
The town of Ellerbe began as people came to the area for the mineral springs. A church, school, and post office were established and all went by the name of Ellerbe Springs, which was later shortened to Ellerbe. The hotel was built in 1906 and is still standing today -- Ellerbe Springs Bed and Breakfast.
Richmond Technical Institute was built in 1965, and today is a community college that offers degrees in various technical and vocational occupations, as well as academic classes that can be transferred to a four-year college.
The NC Motor Speedway was built at the intersection of Highway #1 and #177 and the first NASCAR race was held on October 31, 1965. The track and the Rockingham Dragway have evolved into one of the major tourist attractions of Richmond County.