In 1673, Abraham Wood, a prominent trader of Fort Henry, now Petersburg, Virginia, sought to open up the back country for more extensive Indian trade and in May of that year he sent out a scouting expedition of two Englishmen, James Needham and Gabriel Arthur. In a nine-day journey west and south they crossed the Blue Ridge and sighted the Great Smoky Mountains. On June 18, Arthur went south along the Trading Path which crossed the Shallow Ford and which later became the Great Wagon Road. Arthur reported his party had reached Yattken Town at Yattken River (the first mention of Yadkin). The meaning of the work Yadkin, derived from Yattken, or Yattkin, a Siouan Indian word, is unknown. In Siouan terminology it may mean "big tree" or "place of big trees."
The Indians in this area for the most part were peaceful farmers. They planted corn, beans, pumpkins, potatoes, and some other vegetables. Fruits, game, and fish were plentiful. In addition to small game, wild pigeons and turkeys abounded. Some of the fish-falls constructed by the Indians may still be found on the Yadkin River. The estimated Indian population in the state of North Carolina in the year 1600 was: Cherokees, 6,000; Cheraw, 1,200; Keyauwee, 500; and Catawba, including Sugeree and Waxhaw, 5,000. The Catawbas, at one time, claimed the area drained by the Catawba River, from its headwaters into South Carolina and from the Broad River to the Yadkin River.
The first white settlers in what is now Yadkin County were Morgan Bryan, an Indian trader and George Forbush. Morgan Bryan was a member of the New Garden Quaker Community in Chester County, Pennsylvania in 1719. In October, 1730, he purchased 100,000 acres of land from Governor Gooch of Virginia on Opequon Creek for Quaker settlement. In 1748, he moved his large family to North Carolina, making his home on the south bank of Deep Creek, 4-5 miles above Shallow Ford on the Yadkin.
Named for the river that marks its northern and eastern boundaries, Yadkin County was formed in 1850 from parts of adjacent Surry County. The current population stands at 36,348 and continues to grow. Yadkinville, the County Seat, was formed in 1857 and has a current population of around 2,800.
Originally a farming community, flue cured tobacco was the major cash crop grown in Yadkin County. As tobacco use declines, production of other crops continues to increase. Vineyards are now producing grapes to be used in winemaking. The first winery opened in 2000, and currently Yadkin County is home to 14 producing wineries, the largest concentration in the state of North Carolina. The Yadkin Valley Wine Region was the first and remains the largest federally designated wine producing region, or appellation, in North Carolina. Wines such as Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Viognier, and Chambourcin are winning medals in competitions throughout the nation.
While it began as an agricultural center and remains primarily rural in character, today the county combines a farming economy with growing industrial development. Industrial growth was slow in coming to Yadkin due to the decision in 1871, 1885, and again in 1908 to not allow the railroad into the County. Highway infrastructure later allowed growth to take place, and now Yadkin County has a healthy mix of manufacturing operations. Unifi, Inc., is the county's largest firm, with over 1000 manufacturing employees, followed by Lydall with over 700 employees. Unifi also manufacturers Repreve ®, a 100% recycled fabric, and recently announced a 85,000 square foot additional to their manufacturing facility. Plastics, metalworking, automotive components, food productions, and textiles add to the manufacturing base. The Phillips-Van Heusen Apparel Group operates a huge "state of the art" distribution facility in Yadkin County to create further diversity for employees. North Carolina Tobacco International recently began operations in Yadkin County, manufacturing specialty tobacco products. Two major four-lane highways, I-77 and US 421, make Yadkin County easily accessible for industry, residents and visitors.
Continuing county improvements include two new middle schools, and a new 140 acre reservoir on Deep Creek providing a future water source and recreational opportunities was completed in 2010. The Yadkin Center of Surry Community College is currently constructing their second building which will also house county agricultural offices. The Yadkin Cultural Arts Center opened in downtown Yadkinville in 2010 with monthly shows and exhibits along with the Third Branch Café. This investment in education, industry, tourism and the arts will provide for orderly growth and growing employee opportunities in the coming years.