Fort San Juan

Fort San Juan was established during the Juan Pardo expedition in 1567.

“Unearthing Our Forgotten Past: Fort San Juan” is now on display at the Mountain Heritage Center gallery in Hunter Library at Western Carolina University.

The exhibit was developed as part of the celebration of the 450th anniversary of the Juan Pardo expeditions. Several years ago, archaeologists identified a site near Morganton as the location of Joara, one of the largest Native American towns in what is today Western North Carolina.

Joara was occupied from approximately 1400-1600 A.D. Two Spanish expeditions led respectively by Hernando de Soto and Juan Pardo visited the town in the 1500s. The Pardo expedition was part of a larger effort to establish a string of forts from the coast of present-day South Carolina all the way to Mexico. In 2013, archaeologists confirmed that Joara was also the site of Fort San Juan, established by Pardo in 1567, nearly 20 years before the English settlement at Roanoke on the coast of North Carolina and 40 years before the settlement at Jamestown.

Through various artifacts uncovered by the archaeology, the exhibit showcases the Spanish occupation of Fort San Juan and the lives of the native people who lived in the Joara area.

The exhibit is on loan from the Exploring Joara Foundation Inc. Exploring Joara engages the public in archaeology in the Carolinas, and emphasizes the discovery of the Native American town of Joara and Fort San Juan. The exhibit will be on display at the Mountain Heritage Center’s gallery until December.

The gallery is open 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday.

For more information about this exhibit and the Mountain Heritage Center, call 227-7129 or visit