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Before the arrival of the Europeans, the land where Asheville now exists lay within the boundaries of the Cherokee Nation. In 1540, Spanish explorer Hernando de Soto came to the area, bringing the first European visitors in addition to European diseases which seriously depleted the native population. The area was used as an open hunting ground until the middle of the 19th century. The history of Asheville, as a town, begins in 1784. In that year, Colonel Samuel Davidson and his family settled in the Swannanoa Valley, redeeming a soldier's land grant from the state of North Carolina. Soon after building a log cabin at the bank of Christian Creek, Davidson was lured into the woods by a band of Cherokee hunters and killed. Davidson's wife, child and female slave fled on foot overnight to Davidson's Fort (named after Davidson's father General John Davidson) 16 miles away. In response to the killing, Davidson's twin brother Major William Davidson and brother-in-law Colonel Daniel Smith formed an expedition to retrieve Samuel Davidson's body and avenge his murder. Months after the expedition, Major Davidson and other members of his extended family returned to the area and settled at the mouth of Bee Tree Creek. The United States Census of 1790 counted 1,000 residents of the area, excluding the Cherokee Native Americans. Buncombe County was officially formed in 1792. The county seat, named “Morristown” in 1793, was established on a plateau where two old Indian trails crossed. In 1797, Morristown was incorporated and renamed “Asheville” after North Carolina Governor Samuel Ashe. Asheville, with a population of approximately 2,500 by 1861, remained relatively untouched by the Civil War, but contributed a number of companies to the Confederate States Army, and a substantially smaller number of soldiers to the Union. In late April 1865 troops under the overall command of Union Gen. Stoneman captured Asheville. After a negotiated departure, the troops nevertheless subsequently returned and plundered and burned a number of Confederate supporters' homes in Asheville. The years following the war were a time of economic and social hardship in Buncombe County, as throughout most of the defeated South. In October 2, 1880, the Western North Carolina Railroad completed its line from Salisbury to Asheville, the first rail line to reach the city. Almost immediately it was sold and resold to the Richmond and Danville Railroad Company, becoming part of the Southern Railway in 1894. With the completion of the first railway, Asheville experienced a slow but steady growth as industrial plants increased in number and size, and new residents built homes. Textile mills were established and plants were set up for the manufacture of wood and mica products, foodstuffs, and other commodities. The 21-mile distance between Hendersonville and Asheville of the former Asheville and Spartanburg Railroad was completed in 1886. By that point, the line was operated as part of the Richmond and Danville Railroad until 1894 and controlled by the Southern Railway afterward. Asheville had the first electric street railway lines in the state of North Carolina, the first of which opened in 1889. These would be replaced by buses in 1934. Today Ashville has the reputation of a progressive town with strong affiliation with the arts.
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