Spruce Pine is located in Mitchell County, which is bounded on the north by Tennessee and on the south by the Pisgah National Forest. Mitchell was created in 1861 from portions of Burke, Caldwell, McDowell, Watauga, and Yancey counties, and is the second-smallest county in the state by total area and the fourteenth-smallest county by population. Though Bakersville is the county seat, Spruce Pine is the biggest town, with a population of over 2,100.
Spruce Pine sits on the North Toe River and in the center of the Spruce Pine Mining District, a 25-mile strip running through Yancey, Mitchell, and Avery counties that was created 380 million years ago when Africa and North America collided. The area is rich in gems and minerals and has been long renowned for its mica, kaolin, feldspar, and quartz. The quartz that is mined from this district is some of the purest in the world, which makes it particularly useful in the manufacture of computer chips. In fact, most of the world’s computer chips are created from Spruce Pine quartz to this day.
The town of Spruce Pine was established in 1907 when the Clinchfield Railroad arrived from Erwin, Tennessee, and quickly became the cultural and commercial hub of the Toe River Valley, not just Mitchell County. Many of the brick buildings that define the look of the two main strips that run through town were erected in the first decades of the century and continue to influence Spruce Pine’s unique aesthetic. Though the town continues to refer to itself as “The Mineral City of the World,” the decline of the railroad and increasing automation within the industry has led to decrease in the number of mining jobs in the town, resulting in some difficult times for the mountain community.
Recently, however, Spruce Pine has looked to embrace its history as a mining community while also branching out to new opportunities and has become a major destination for tourists. Visitors to Spruce Pine aren’t just history buffs or amateur gem miners. They are also attracted to events like the NC Mineral & Gem Festival; Fire on the Mountain (a blacksmithing celebration); Troutacular; Spruce Pine BBQ & Bluegrass; S.P.A.C.E (the Spruce Pine Alien Conference & Expo); and more. The growing tourism industry has also brought in new restaurants, shops, and residents, including artisans and artists lured in by the pristine mountain air. The town is also home to several public art projects.
Situated midway between Asheville and Boone, Spruce Pine is also just a few miles from tons of outdoor activities and several other unique mountain communities like Little Switzerland and Penland. Penland is home to the Penland School of Crafts, a center for craft education that attracts artisans from around the nation. Spruce Pine is also just a short drive to the Roan Mountain Rhododendron Gardens, which sits on the Tennessee-North Carolina border. It’s also just north of the Blue Ridge Parkway, which offers some of the most majestic views of the area’s mountains and the valleys.
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