Tucked between US Highway 70 and the Catawba River on the edge of Marion is one of the oldest surviving homes in this area of the Blue Ridge Mountains. The historic Carson House was built by Col. John H. Carson beginning in 1793 and has played an important role in the history of McDowell County for more than two hundred years.
Today, the Carson House museum welcomes visitors on guided tours to learn more about the Carson family and to explore the museum’s collection of period furnishings, quilts, china, artwork, tools and Civil War artifacts.
Family patriarch John Carson was born in Ireland and crossed the Atlantic Ocean shortly before the American Revolutionary War, where he fought in the North Carolina militia. After the war, he settled at the junction of the Catawba River and Buck Creek and became a local political figure, eventually elected to the Fayetteville Convention that ratified the U.S. Constitution in 1789. He married twice, had 12 children in total and lived to the age of 89 before his passing in 1841. The Carson plantation encompassed 6,500 acres in its most prosperous years.
In 1843, local officials met in the dining room of the Carson House to officially incorporate McDowell County. The house served as the county seat until a courthouse was constructed on 50 acres of Carson land that would become the town of Marion.
The house itself is a beautiful three-story structure with a two-story veranda. Visitors who take the tour can see an original platter that belonged to John Carson’s second wife, Mary Moffett McDowell Carson, and a walking stick that was a gift from Andrew Jackson — one of several famous guests of the house, along with Davey Crockett and Sam Houston.
A room on the second floor is dedicated to the stories of the enslaved people who lived on the estate and includes original quilts made by some of the enslaved women. Many of the other period items in the house were donated by local families. An adjacent barn displays a collection of historic farm implements and tools, and the library and genealogy room offer more information on the family and estate.
Tip: Many members of the Carson and McDowell families are buried at Round Hill Cemetery, which is accessible by a spur trail on the Joseph McDowell Historical Catawba Greenway nearby.
The historic Carson House welcomes visitors from April 1 to December 1 each year. The museum is open Wednesday-Saturday from 10 a.m.-4 p.m. (last tour at 3 p.m.) and on Sunday from 2-5 p.m. (last tour at 4 p.m.). Guided tours begin on the hour and last 45 minutes to an hour. Admission is $7 per adult, and children under 12 are admitted for free.
And don’t miss the picturesque Jubilee Arbor! Constructed at the Carson House in 2015, this beautiful pavilion is available to rent for picnics, reunions, weddings and events of all kinds.