Monroe, with a population of 30,392 is the county seat of Union County, home to the largest equestrian population in the entire state. Historic Monroe offers shops and Victorian-style homes on quaint Main Streets as well as spas and salons. There are plenty of places to “pick your own produce” or fish for trophy bass. Greenways and trails throughout the county offer hiking and horseback riding. Newer development on Monroe’s highway 74 corridor is where you’ll find restaurant and economy hotel chains, shopping malls and car dealerships.
In 1843, the first Board of County Commissioners, appointed by the General Assembly selected an area in the center of the county to be called Monroe, as the county seat. Monroe was incorporated in 1843. Monroe was named for James Monroe, the country’s fifth president.
Monroe is also the hometown of Jesse Helms, the late U.S. Senator from North Carolina who served five terms (1973 - 2003) in the Senate. Helms was a prominent (and often controversial) national leader of the Religious Right wing of the Republican Party, and played a key role in helping Ronald Reagan become President of the United States. Helms's father was the Police Chief of Monroe for many years. The Jesse Helms Center is in neighboring Wingate, NC.
Monroe also became a focal point during the Civil Rights Movement when, in 1958, local NAACP Chapter President Robert F. Williams defended two young African-American boys who kissed a white girl in an incident known as the Kissing Case. In 1961, Williams was accused of kidnapping a white couple who had taken shelter in his house during a moment of high racial tensions. Williams went into exile and lived in Cuba and China before returning to the United States as an advisor to the United States government. Williams is one of Monroe's most famous residents, and he was a leading figure in the Civil Rights Movement.