Wise County Virginia



    The following information was taken from the scrapbook of Julia Bolling of Pound, Virginia in which she preserved articles and photos of the 1956 Wise County Centennial.


    WISE COUNTY will have a birthday in 1956. She will be one hundred years old. Of course we must celebrate in her honor. The best way to begin is to know more about her. Therefore, on Thursday, February 16th, you are urged to have a short program in your classroom or auditorium and learn all you can about Wise County. Some suggestions for your program follows:

I.    A map of Wise County for each school and enough outline maps for each pupil will be sent to your principal. Find out where you live and write it on the map. Find out what other counties border on your county. Locate the most important incorporated towns. Find out from your parents or friends about the rivers, mountains, railroads and highways and put some of them on your map. Teachers in the primary grades may use the maps if they wish but if they do not it will be perfectly all right. However, have some observance of the county’s birthday.

II.    A list of questions and answers may be helpful. A list follows which may be used as you wish to do so.

1.    When and from what was Wise County formed?

        It was formed from parts of Lee, Scott and Russell counties and an act of the state legislature made it a county February 16, 1856. The organization of the county government was completed July 28th, 1856. Later Dickenson County was formed from a part of Wise County.

2.    Where did the county get its name?

        It was first named Roan County and changed to Wise County in honor of Henry A. Wise then governor of Virginia.

3.    Where is Wise County? What kind of climate do we have?

        Wise County is located in Southwest Virginia. It lies in the Appalachian Plateau, an area of sharp ridges and narrow valleys. Elevations run from 1,400 feet above sea level on the Clinch River near St. Paul to points as high as Black Mountain (3,842 feet) near Appalachia and High Knob (4,162 feet) near Norton.                 Temperatures average about 36 degrees in January and about 73 degrees in July. The average rainfall is about fifty inches per year.

4.    How large is Wise County in area and population?

        The area is 420 square miles. It is about 45 miles by highway from the Russell  County line near St. Paul to the Lee County line near Big Stone Gap. It is about 25 miles by highway from the Dickenson County line near Pound to the Scott County line near Dungannon. The population according to the 1950 census was         56, 336. It has one of the largest populations of any county in the state.

5.    What four distinct river systems drain the county?

        The county is drained by the Pound, Guest, Clinch and Powell River systems.

6.    What are the most important resources?

        The four most important resources are: (1) Coal, deposited in many layers over almost the entire county. (2) the soil, though not yet developed for extensive farming, will produce much food and excellent forests. (3) the forests (4) the scenery.

7.    What transportation systems do we have?

        Wise County is particularly fortunate in having one of the best transportation  systems in the Old Dominion. Six railroads serve the county. The Norfolk and  Western, Chesapeake and Ohio, Louisville and Nashville, Interstate, Southern  and Clinchfield railroads pass through her boundaries in such a manner as to insure the import and export of all kinds of goods.

        U. S. Highway Number 23, and alternate U. S. Highway number 58, and state highways numbers 72, 64, 78, I60, 69, and 83 provide splendid access to all parts of the county for all people. There are 321 miles of secondary roads and 170 miles of all weather roads. The county is well served to bus lines which                 connect with the Greyhound and Trailway bus lines to all parts of the country.

8.    From what kinds of work do the people earn a living?

        Approximately 5,000 men work regularly in coal mines. Timbering has been an important industry for over fifty years. Although there are no large manufacturing plants, manufactures are varied and include dairy products, soft drinks, commercial printing, ladies apparel, concrete and cinder blocks, and             beehive coke. The county ranks thirteenth in the state and approximately thirtieth in the nation in the production of fine apples. The 1950 census shows that there were 1,179 farms.

9.    What are magisterial districts and how many are there?

        When the county was first organized we had five magisterial districts but the Walker District was lost to Dickenson County. The four districts now are as follows: Gladeville (Wise and Norton); Lipps (Coeburn, St. Paul, Bondtown); Richmond (Appalachia, Big Stone Gap, and East Stone Gap); Robertson (Pound             and Flat Gap). Each magisterial district raises its own money for the construction of school building and for a few other purposes. Each district is entitled to representation on the County Board of Supervisors. This Board is considered to be the governing body of the county. The name, Magisterial District, was derived       from the word magistrate which meant a Justice of the Peace. The county was divided in this way so the Justices or Magistrates could hold court only in the districts in which they were elected.

10.    Who were the first explorers of the county?

        The land which now comprises Wise County was once an Indian hunting ground. Indians gave it up because of wars that always raged when any tribe tried to settleupon it. Old Indian trails traversed what now is Pound, down Guest River, across High Knob, over Black Mountain, down Callahan Creek, through Stone Mountain, into Lee County and from Stone Gap through East Stone Gap and into Scott County.

        About 1750, Captain Christopher Gist, a scout for George Washington was supposed to be the first white man to explore this area. Tradition has it that Guest Station, now Coeburn, was named after him as was Guest River.

        In 1749, Dr. Thomas Walker and a company of fellow travelers who were  employed by the Royal Land Company, Albermarle, Virginia, to hunt for good places for settlers crossed the Blue Ridge Mountains, came down Holston River,passed through the present site of Kingsport, crossed Clinch Mountain and            Clinch River and came over the mountains into what is now Powell Valley in Lee County. Ambrose Powell cut his name on a tree and later settlers named the river and valley for him.

11.    Where were the first settlements made?

        It is believed that the first settlement was made near the present site of Coeburn in 1770 and was called Guest’s Station. In 1786, Harry L. Smith was granted a large tract of land near Little Stone Gap (near Norton) and the following year his agent, Prince, attempted a settlement where Norton now stands. This settlement  was first called Prince’s Flat. A few years later, Benjamin Bolling came from North Carolina and settled where Esserville now stands. He sold his huge tract of land on Guest River for a rifle and two hound dogs and went back to North Carolina. Later he returned to the present site of Flat Gap and lived to a ripe old       age. About 1792, Richard Wells brought his large family from the Lowlands of North Carolina and settled in upper Powell’s Valley. About 1814, many of the early settlers came from North Carolina and settled on or near the present sites of  Appalachia, Big Stone Gap and East Stone Gap. Some of the names of the early         settlers were: Blanton, Horton, Tomkins, Tipton, Harris, Kelly, Creeck, Sturgill, Kilbourne, Jones, Willis, Gilley, Elkins, Skeens, Wampler, Wolfe.

12.    What are the names of the largest incorporated towns in the county and how did they acquire their names?

        Appalachia, named after the mountains of the Appalachian Highlands, was  granted a charter in March 1906. Therefore this time will celebrate her fiftieth  anniversary this year. When the South Atlantic and Ohio Railroad came to Appalachia (present site of the Southern Yards) they called this area or terminal             “Intermont” meaning between the mountains. It is rumored that Virginia Intermont College got its name from this idea. The L & N R R established a box car set up on stones and called their terminal Appalachia. It might be said that Appalachia was a wilderness up until the R. R. came there in 1880.

        Big Stone Gap is located in a gap of rugged Stone Mountain from which it got its name. It was first called Three Forks because the three branches of Powell River meet just south of the town. It was next called Imboden in honor of General D.  D. Imboden, an early promoter of the town. On February 23, 1888 a charter was secured for Mineral City, and the charter was amended February 28, 1890 and the town was called Big Stone Gap.

        Coeburn is one of the oldest towns in the county. As previously stated it was named Guest’s Station in honor of Christopher Gist who was sent out in 1751 to explore the Ohio Valley. Tradition has it that he build a cabin there and named Toms Creek after his son, Tom. However, Mr. L. F. Addington in the “Story of          Wise County” points out that it is very doubtful that Christopher Gist ever reached this area and that the name Guest Station probably came from a family of Guess’ who lived on Clinch River not far away.

        Norton was probably so named in honor of Eckstein Norton, president of the Louisville and Nashville Railroad. As previously stated, it was first called Prince’s Flat. It was incorporated February 15, 1894. Norton is now a city but some functions of government are still shared with the county.

        Pound is one of the oldest towns but the last to be incorporated. How Pound got its name is a controversial question. One account states that people came for many miles away to mill where the corn was pounded in a mortar by a pestle. Another account relates that horses and other animals were impounded or  corralled there. It was incorporated April 7, 1950.

        St. Paul got its name from the twin cities of St. Paul-Minneapolis, Minnesota. Towns were laid out on both sides of Clinch River by two rival speculators. One side was called St. Paul and the other Minneapolis. Minneapolis failed to grow and was sold at a loss by its promoters. At one time the shipping point was St. Paul for both the Clinchfield and Norfolk and Western Railroads but the post  office was Estonoa (an Indian name) because there was another St. Paul in Carroll County. This was very confusing so our Wise County St. Paul bought the Carroll County St. Paul name for $100. It was incorporated April 12, 1911.

        Wise was first known as the Big Glades (meaning an open grassy space in the woods). The Post Office was changed to Wise County House in 1858. because of a Wise Courthouse, West Virginia, it was changed to Wise, May 16, 1893. It was incorporated as the town of Gladeville, December 1874. The name in the charter was changed to the Town of Wise, March 14, 1924.

Birth of the County

    The scattered inhabitants were so cut off from the older inhabitants in Russell, Scott and Lee Counties that it was difficult to lay levies, collect taxes and otherwise administer justice and government. A citizen’s courthouse was some forty miles away. The mother counties did not protest the formation of a new county. A petition was presented to the Senate and House of Delegates by David Jessee, Jr. and 120 interested citizens. Therefore, on February 16, 1856, an act of the legislature was passed forming the new County of Wise.
    Space does not permit further details of the formation of your county. For all the story, be sure to read “The Story of Wise County” by L. F. Addington, Wise, Virginia. The book will be off the press February 18.
    The Wise County Centennial Committee is planning an elaborate celebration during 1956. A county wide pageant will be staged by the John B. Rogers Company sometime next summer. The eighth grade pupils of the county will study “The Story of Wise County” during the last three months of school. It has been suggested that we have a county-wide band festival. Some of the schools plan to present a pageant at commencement time which would portray some of the history of the county.

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