Chatham County is part of the Durham-Chapel Hill, NC Metropolitan Statistical Area, which is also included in the Raleigh-Durham-Chapel Hill Combined Statistical Area, which has a population of 1,998,808 as of U.S. Census 2012 Population Estimates.
Some of the first European settlers of what would become the county were English Quakers, who settled along the Haw and Eno rivers. The county was formed in 1771 from Orange County. It was named in 1758 for William Pitt, 1st Earl of Chatham, who served as British Prime Minister from 1766 to 1768 and opposed harsh colonial policies. In 1907, parts of Chatham County and Moore County were combined to form Lee County.
The award-winning PBS documentary, Family Name, notes Chatham County as the place where men of the Alston family fathered children with African-American slaves, leading to Alston descendants who were African American, as well as European-American branches of the family.
George Moses Horton, Historic Poet Laureate of Chatham County, (1797?-1883) lived most of his life in Chatham County and is among the few slaves to have published material while still a slave.
Moncure once served as the westernmost inland port in the state, as steamships could travel between it and the coast.
On March 25, 2010, the Chatham County Courthouse, built in 1881, caught fire while undergoing renovations. It has now been rebuilt. For more information, see Pittsboro, North Carolina.
Spanning the southern border of Chatham County, the Deep River Coal Field contains the only known potentially economic bituminous coal deposits in the state. Coal was mined here artisanally in colonial times, and commercially beginning from the early 1850s.
The communities of Carbonton and Cumnock (formerly called Egypt in Lee County) developed with the coal mining industry. Much of the coal mined in the field during the Civil War was used for Confederate operations.
The Coal Glen Mine Disaster of the 1920s, frequent flooding by the Deep River, the depth of the coal seam, and faulting of the seam sealed the fate of the mines. Production ceased in 1953.
Agriculture and industry
The county was long dependent on agriculture as the basis of the economy. The area's relatively unfertile natural soil conditions (composed mostly of the hard red clay soil common to the Piedmont), did not support the cultivation of commodity cash crops such as tobacco; this was never important in the county's economy. The production of livestock has always been more important to the county, especially the breeding of cattle and poultry. The county once had a thriving dairy industry, but in recent years most farms have been sold and developed. The county is one of the state leaders in the poultry industry. Forage crops such as hay are also grown in large quantities in the county. Carolina Farm Stewardship Association has been housed in Chatham County along with many organic agriculture farmers.
Industrial growth in the county has been focused around the Siler City and Moncure areas of the county, with Moncure dominating. Companies in that area include, Progress Energy, Boise Cascade, Honeywell, and Arauco. Brick manufacturing, which makes use of the local red clay soil, has been an important economic factor in the Moncure area, with several brick plants operating there and in Brickhaven.
3M operates a greenstone mine south of Pittsboro along US 15-501. Greenstone is processed to manufacture roofing-shingle granules. In 2007, residents opposed to industrialization successfully blocked a similar quarry from being developed in the western part of the county.
The scenic rural environment has attracted many artists (Chatham Artists Guild), and arts-related tourism is a growing economic influence.
Chatham County has a deep tradition in southern music. Tommy Thompson, of the Red Clay Ramblers, and Tommy Edwards have entertained for decades with traditional, old time and bluegrass. Artists in many styles of music issue from this deep storehouse of talent, from rock and roll to big band. Of late, Shakori Hills Grassroots Festival of Music and Dance hosts various styles of music. A four-day outdoor festival is held twice each year, in April and October. Artists who have performed at Shakori Hills include Patty Loveless, Ralph Stanley, Hugh Masekela, Donna the Buffalo, Carolina Chocolate Drops, Avett Brothers and Jim Lauderdale. Shakori Hills is also the location of the Hoppin John Fiddlers Convention and Mountain Aid benefit concert.