Mount Mitchell is part of the Black Mountains, which formed billions of years ago. Millions of years of wind, water and other natural forces have whittled the mountain down to its current state. Although many parts of the mountain have eroded, the igneous and metamorphic rocks that make up Mount Mitchell are resistant to erosion, allowing the mountain to maintain its height of 6,684 feet.
Dr. Mitchell first climbed the mountain in 1835 to measure its elevation. Before Mitchell undertook his journey, it was believed that the neighboring Grandfather Mountain was the highest point in the Black Mountain range. Mitchell used barometric pressure readings and mathematical formulas to determine that Mount Mitchell was the highest point, measuring 6,476 feet. Mitchell visited the Black Mountains again in 1838 and 1844 to take more measurements. He calculated that the height of the mountain's peak was actually 6,672 feet, which is only a 12-foot difference from modern calculations.
The portion of the mountain known as Mount Mitchell was given its name in 1858 after Dr. Elisha Mitchell returned to the peak to verify his previous measurements. A former student of Mitchell's had accused the doctor of measuring the wrong peak during his initial visit. Dr. Mitchell died after falling from a cliff, and officials posthumously named the mountain in his honor.