In May of 1893, a group of Waldenses, from the Cottian Alps of Northern Italy, settled on land located near the Catawba River in eastern Burke County in North Carolina, between the towns of Morganton and Hickory. The center of this community became the town of Valdese.
The Waldenses were pre-Reformation Christians with a religious ancestry that dates back to at least the 12th century. For centuries these Waldenses were persecuted by armies from both the governments of Italy and France and the official church. This tiny religious sect was forced to take refuge in the Valleys of the Cottian Alps of Northern Italy and remained secluded in the rugged mountains until they received their religious freedom by the Edict of 1848.
With this new peace their number grew rapidly until their Alpine farms could no longer support them. They looked elsewhere and began establishing colonies in other parts of Europe, South America, and the United States. They migrated to New York City, Chicago, Missouri, Texas and Utah, as well as Valdese. The Valdese colony became the largest Waldensian colony in the world located outside of Italy.
In the beginning, the Valdese settlers tried to make their living off the land as they had in Italy, but the poor soil would not produce. They turned instead to manufacturing, and with the same spirit of survival and determination of their ancestors, began to prosper. Today, Valdese has a solid manufacturing economy because of their efforts.
The Town of Valdese incorporated in 1920 and elected its first mayor, John Long, who was also the groom in the first Waldensian wedding in Valdese.
The story of the Waldenses is vividly told in the outdoor drama, "From This Day Forward" presented by Old Colony Players each summer in the Old Colony Amphitheater in Valdese.
Learn more about the history of Valdese and the Waldenses by visiting our local tourist attractions: the Waldensian Heritage Museum & Gift Shop, Waldensian Heritage Winery, P&W Railroad Museum, Village Park Mural, Rock School Art Galleries I &II and the Trail of Faith.
Valdese celebrated its Centennial in 1993 and the Centennial Park and Fountain was opened on Main Street to commemorate the event.
At the 2001 Waldensian Festival, a clock tower was dedicated to commemorate the new millennium.