The area surrounding the Catawba River is rich in history. Artifacts including pottery shards, flint chips and arrowheads, as well as burial sites near the river, indicate the presence of Native Americans long before European settlement.
The Catawba Indians had an estimated population of 5,000 in 1600, but their number declined steadily due to disease and warfare with Iroquoian tribes. By 1760, the tribe was reduced to 60 fighting men. And in 1762, the Catawba left the area and moved south.
In the mid-18th century, Fort Dobbs was built to protect area settlers during the French and Indian War. Daniel Boone helped to defend this fort against the Cherokees. During the Revolutionary War, Lord Cornwallis set up a camp in the area and a skirmish was fought at Cowans Ford, an area now covered by Lake Norman.
Lake Norman was created from 1959 to 1964 when Duke Power Company built the Cowans Ford Dam across the Catawba River to generate electrical energy. The creation of the lake led to further industrialization of Mecklenburg County, helping establish Charlotte as a major trade center.
The park was formed in September, 1962, when Duke Power Company donated 1,328 acres of land on the northeastern shore of Lake Norman for a state park.