EZ Home Search Guide to Living in Rutherford County, NC

Photos of Rutherford County, NC and Lake Lure

EZ Home Search Guide to Living in Rutherford County, NC 

If you like the quiet pace of small-town mountain living, then Rutherford County, North Carolina, could be the right place for you to call home. Located in the foothills of western North Carolina, Rutherford County is surrounded by breathtaking views of the Appalachian Mountains. This is a place where you can sit down, relax, and enjoy the fresh air. Its ample scenery has served as the backdrop for at least three major motion pictures.

People come for the scenic views around Lake Lure and Chimney Rock, but they stay for the people and the atmosphere. The region is also a center for arts, culture, and history. There are ample opportunities to enjoy mountain recreation, like rock climbing and mountain biking. Residents aren't far from local metropolitan areas like Asheville, Charlotte, Greenville, and Spartanburg in South Carolina.

Come learn about living in Rutherford County and see if it could be the next place you call home.

About Rutherford County 

You'll find Rutherford County in the Blue Ridge Mountain foothills located halfway between Atlanta, Georgia, and Raleigh, North Carolina. The county is surrounded by McDowell, Burke, Cleveland, Polk, Henderson, and Buncombe County in North Carolina and Cherokee and Spartanburg Counties in South Carolina. 

The Smoky Mountains lie to the west, while the Blue Ridge Mountains are to the north, offering shelter from extreme winter weather conditions and cool mountain breezes in the summer. 

The result is pleasant year-round weather conditions, although residents do enjoy four distinct seasons. Luckily for residents, Rutherford County is well-equipped to handle each season. Spend the summers by the lake, wander the mountain trails in the fall and the spring, and enjoy magical Christmas lights and downtown carriage rides in the winter. 

The cost of living is affordable, too. According to Sperling's Best Places Cost of Living indices, Rutherford County has an overall 80.2 score. The US average is set at 100. Health care was the most expensive category, while housing was the most affordable index. 

Rutherford County History

Rutherford County was formed early in North Carolina's history. It was taken from the western part of Tryon County and named after a general in the American Revolutionary War. Later, parts of Rutherford were taken to form Buncombe and Polk Counties.

In the pioneering days, Rutherford County acted as a natural gateway into the Blue Ridge Mountain. It was a colonial frontier long before the American Revolutionary War. European immigrants came down the Great Wagon Road from Pennsylvania and Virginia to settle in this region. They found themselves squashed between the Cherokee nation and the British forces trying to control the land.

Rutherford has remained primarily rural and agricultural throughout its history. In the post-civil War era, textile production became essential to the economy. After the 1900s, visitors to the area recognized the beauty of the natural resources. The Hickory Nuts Resort became an attraction that brought tourists into the area for a century. People also came for the geological wonders at Chimney Rock State Park and the other regions in the Blue Ridge Mountains. 

Rutherford County Cities and Areas

Rutherford County spans 563 square miles and has eight municipalities. 

Rutherfordton is the county seat and was voted North Carolina Small Town of the Year by the North Carolina Rural Center. The town was established in 1787 and is the home of the man who minted America's first $1 gold coin. It is one of the oldest towns in western North Carolina.

Lake Lure is a growing tourist destination with a 1,500-acre lake, 27 miles of shoreline, and public beach access. The lake and its town are an epicenter for outdoor activities, such as hiking, mountain biking, rock climbing, and water recreation. 

Forest City is one of the larger areas, and its historic downtown is a center for retail and dining. The hometown holiday celebration lights up Main Street with over one million Christmas lights and has been a tradition since 1930. Around 7,500 people live in or around Forest City.

Spindale is another one of the larger towns found in Rutherford County. It has a historic Main Street with boutique shops and restaurants. The big buildings here have stood for generations. Spindale was once a hub for textile manufacturing, but today it is a small town with attractions like the Foundation Performing Arts & Conference Center and Rails to Trails.

The small town of Bostic is like a step back in time. It has one of the oldest family-owned and operated retail businesses in North Carolina. 

Ellenboro is known for its gorgeous landscapes, small-town community, and quaint, quiet charm.

Other towns and areas you will find include Ruth and Chimney Rock. Chimney Rock is one of western North Carolina's smallest small towns and is a jumping-off point for Chimney Rock State Park. 

Rutherford County Job Market

Rutherford County's largest employers are governmental, with the Rutherford County Board of Education and the County of Rutherford employing the highest number of people. In non-governmental work, the top employers are Isothermal Community College, Walmart, Rutherford Regional Health System, American Greetings Corporation, and Sumter Buildings. 

Rutherford also has a strong manufacturing sector. Several automotive suppliers help support the automotive manufacturing industry, which has manufacturing plants in the surrounding counties. These include Meritor, Timken, and CMI Enterprises. You'll also find manufacturing with Alliance Precision Plastics, AZP, and Trelleborg.

In August 2021, Rutherford County had a 6.0% unemployment rate. The state unemployment rate was 4.4% 

Rutherford County Real Estate Market

Whether you want a charming mountain home or a lakefront view, Rutherford County has what you're looking for. Residential properties include quaint farmhouses, colonial-style historic homes, and traditional housing options.

County data from September 2021 showed that the number of new listings was up 9.5% year-over-year. Median sales prices increased 7.1%, bringing the median sales price to $255,000. The average days on the market until the sale was 25, a 75% decrease. The total inventory of homes for sale was still down 24%, even with the rise in new listings. The month's supply of inventory stood at 1.5 months.

Looking historically at median sales price data, Rutherford County's sales prices remain relatively stable from 2015 through the beginning of 2020. Around May 2020, median sales prices began to rise and exceeded $200,000 for the first time. 

In terms of your property taxes, Rutherford County charged $0.597 of $100 of assessed value in 2021. That rate has been the same since 2019 when it decreased from $0.607. The different municipalities and fire districts also charged property taxes, and their rates vary. As an example, residents of Rutherfordton pay $0.54 per $100 of assessed value. Lake Lure, one of the best places for North Carolina lakefront living, charges a $0.23 tax rate. 

Based on changing economic and supply conditions, real estate markets fluctuate from month to month and year over year. Search the EZ Home Search database to see the most recent data on the Rutherford County real estate market. Our information updates every 15 minutes. 

Rutherford County Demographics

The 2020 US Census found 64,444 people living in Rutherford County, and the population declined by over 3,000 residents from the 2010 census. 

Rutherford County is primarily a rural population, with 61% of residents living in a rural area. The median age of a Rutherford County resident was 45. The demographic with the highest number of residents was the 0 to 19 group, followed by the over-65 age group. County residents primarily identified as white alone (87%) in the census. Approximately 10% identified as black or African-American.

The median household income from 2015 to 2019 was $42,608. About 84% of residents 25 and older had a high school diploma, and around 14% had obtained a bachelor's degree or higher.

Rutherford County Education 

Rutherford County Schools provides public education for youth in grades PK-12. A primarily rural school district, the school system has one preschool center, ten elementary schools, three middle schools, four high schools, and one alternative school. Residents also have charter schools that have a rigorous classical curriculum for college preparation. These include Thomas Jefferson Classical Academy, Lake Lure Classical Academy, and Trinity School. 

Five private schools operated in Rutherford County during 2021-2002. All of the private schools were religiously affiliated.

For higher education, Isothermal Community College operated a campus in the county. It is a comprehensive two-year public institution dedicated to providing opportunities to students in Rutherford and Polk counties as part of the North Carolina community college system. Isothermal has certificate, diploma, and degree programs to assist students with their work-related or university transfer goals.

Rutherford County Health Care

Residents are serviced by the Rutherford Regional Healthcare System, which has a network of physicians and programs to support the community with their health care needs. The RRHS has a joint venture with Duke LifePoint to strengthen the resources and health care services offered. The hospital has a 143-bed acute care facility for inpatient and outpatient care. 

A low-cost provider is the Rutherford County Health Department, which offers low-cost programs for Rutherford County citizens. Services include general well-care visits, immunizations, and children's health care services. 

Rutherford County Things To Do

Rutherford County is abundant with arts and culture, outdoor recreation, and historical attractions.

The surrounding areas in the county have been the movie sets for popular films like Dirty Dancing, The Last of the Mohicans, and The Hunger Games.

Enjoy outdoor recreation at Chimney Rock State Park, Lake Lure, and other outdoor settings. Opportunities abound for trout fishing, picnicking, kayaking, boating, hiking, and camping. The Thermal Belt Trail is a 13.5-mile pathway for walking, biking, or hiking through several of Rutherford County's communities.

Several paddling trails are available in the county. The Broad River Paddle Trail, First Broad River Paddle Trail, and Green River are not your only options for boating. Strikeout with a canoe or kayak on Lake Lure, Lake Adger, or Lake James. You need a permit to paddle on Lake Lure, which can be found from the town of Lake Lure or the Lake Lure Marina.

Cycling is another popular pastime in Rutherford County. The light road traffic makes the area a great place for road cycling. The annual Tour de Pumpkin Cycling Tour is a highlight during the fall season. Other organizations host group cycling rides throughout the year. Road cycling maps are available to show eight different routes developed through Rutherford County. In terms of mountain biking, there is a small but growing opportunity found at Buffalo Creek Park in Lake Lure.

Rutherford County is also home to eight golf courses, such as the Forest City Municipal Golf Course, Bald Mountain, Apple Valley, and the Lake Lure Municipal Golf Course.

Arts and cultural events occur at Forest City's Pavilion on the Park Square, a multimillion-dollar project with a 2,000 seat amphitheater, covered stage, splash pads, plaza, and concession.

Throughout the year, Rutherford County hosts different small-town festivals. For example, the Bostic Lincoln Spring Festival occurs annually in April to celebrate the area's heritage and links to President Abraham Lincoln. The festival includes arts, crafts, a vintage car show, and other exhibits.

The Dirty Dancing Festival in Lake Lure plays homage to the classic film. The family-friendly weekend is all about dance and includes a famous Lake Lift competition. 

Rutherford County Local Attractions

The Foundation Performing Arts Center at Isothermal Community College hosts local music, theater, and comedy acts throughout the year.

The Bennett Classics Auto Museum in Forest City has around 70 vintage and collectible automobiles spanning the ages.

Families will enjoy the KidSenses Interactive Museum with its engaging exhibits and encourage hands-on activity.

Find your speed at Zipzilla, a 1,000ft zipline engineered for speed at the Canopy Ridge Farm in Lake Lure. The farm also has UTV tours if you'd prefer to stay on the ground.

For historical attractions, try the historic walking tour of Main Street in Rutherfordton. It includes a stop at the Bechtler House, home of Christopher Bechtler, minter of the first $1 gold coin. Today it is the headquarters of the North Carolina Gold Trail. The area is one of the largest remaining clusters of antebellum homes in the Southeast region.

Art lovers will enjoy the county's Art Mural Tour. The various towns have a series of murals reflecting the area's history and the love of the arts.

Harris Motor Speedway is a dirt race track that provides events for bicycles, lawnmowers, Limited Sportsman, Stock 8, Pure Stock, Front-Wheel Drive, and other kinds of racing. 

The July 4th Freedom Fest is a small-town festival with a traditional patriotic parade, local dignitaries, and family-friendly events throughout the day. Try your hand at a watermelon eating contest, cornhole competition, and the famous Race For The Gold soapbox derby. 

Rutherford County Dining

You may think there's not a lot of options in a small town when it comes to places to eat. You can taste Mexican, Greek, American, Thai, and more flavors in Rutherford County. The greatest concentration of restaurants will be in Forest City and Spindale. Forest City is home to many downtown Mom-and-Pop style eateries. Locals know Spindale as Restaurant Row due to the high number of dining venues in the downtown area. Here's a sampling of what you can find to eat in Rutherford County.

  • Randall's Ellenboro Restaurant has down-home southern cooking served family-style for three meals a day.
  • The Fountain At Smith's Drugs has been in business for 60 years. Try the homemade pimento cheese signature sandwich and the old-fashioned soda fountain.
  • Copper Penny has two locations and serves dishes like the quesadilla burger and boom boom shrimp tacos. 
  • Zagat listed Bold Rock Cafe as one of the must-try burgers across the country. It also has a great view over the Broad River.
  • Forest City Fish Camp is a local favorite serving fried seafood.
  • Larkin's On The Lake in Lake Lure is the only dining establishment with outdoor seating on the lake.
  • Point of View has a view of the Lake Lure Dam and the mountains.

Rutherford County Shopping 

You can find a diverse range of shopping options in Rutherford County. Residents have everything from specialty retailers to iconic general stores with a variety of items. Stop at the downtowns in Spindale and Forest City to browse the locally-owned boutique shops. In Rutherfordton, explore the art galleries and Visual Arts Center to find locally made arts and crafts. Drive around to find antique stores, like the Victorian Lake Antique Mall.

One hidden thrill is Washburn's General Store in Bostic, the oldest consecutive family-owned and operated retail business in the state. You have everything from modern necessities to old-fashioned penny candy. 

Living in Rutherford County

There's a reason several hit movies have used Rutherford County as their backdrop. Residents in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains bask in the beautiful mountain scenery. Rutherford County is where you have iconic mountain views and opportunities for lakefront living. The beautiful scenery is complemented by access to various dining, retail, and entertainment options to round out your mountain lifestyle. Residents benefit from a low cost of living and reasonable housing.

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