Franklin County

Franklin County

Franklin County

  • Franklin County, VA


In the 1740s, pioneers traveling by river and road from Eastern Virginia and Maryland, and Scotch-Irish and German families coming down the Carolina Road (originally known as the Great Indian Warrior Path) settled in what would become Franklin County, then the western-most county in Virginia. The County was formed in 1786 from parts of Bedford and Henry Counties by an act of the General Assembly. It was named for Benjamin Franklin, the governor of Pennsylvania, where many settlers originated.

The County lies in the western piedmont, a diverse terrain ranging from flatlands on the east to rugged peaks of the Blue Ridge Mountains on the west. The area was home to native Americans as early as 10,000 B.C. In the 1600s an eastern Siouan tribe inhabited the region. Indian relics, arrowheads, and artifacts found throughout the County remind us of the original settlers.

Notable People
Booker T. Washington, a black educator. Born a slave on a plantation near Hales Ford, Booker T. Washington founded the Tuskegee Institute in 1881. His birthplace is a national monument.

Since the County’s early beginnings, its citizens have served as gallant soldiers in every war the U.S. has known. Notable Confederate General Jubal A. Early was born in the Red Valley community. He went to West Point for his education, represented Franklin County in the General Assembly, and served as Commonwealth’s Attorney for many years.

Agriculture has figured prominently in Franklin County’s 200-year history and was the occupation of most county residents until recent times. Tobacco was a leading crop in early Franklin County. Locally mined iron and copper were transported over the Carolina Road as far south as Georgia. The furnace of the Washington Ironworks, the County’s oldest landmark, stands as a monument where munitions for the Revolutionary Army were manufactured. A growing animal husbandry industry established Franklin County as one of Virginia’s leading dairy producers.

The late 19th century saw increasing industrialization. With the entry of the Norfolk and Western railroad in 1892, the “Punkin Vine” route through the County provided new access for industry. Tobacco factories as well as diversified wood and textile-based industries became significant components of the County’s economy.

Land Between the Lakes & The Blue Ridge Mountains
The development of 2,880-acre Philpott Lake in 1953 and 20,600-acre Smith Mountain Lake in 1966 gave rise to Franklin County’s current designation as the “Land Between the Lakes and The Blue Ridge Mountains.” It is an apt description for a remarkable place – a land of compelling natural beauty, economic stability, recreational abundance, and rich heritage!

Historical Sites
“Washington Iron Furnace” – Iron was made at this site by 1773 in a “bloomery” under the direction of John Donelson, father-in-law of President Andrew Jackson. A furnace was erected on the site and was sold in 1779 to Jeremiah Early and James Callaway, who patriotically changed its name from “The Bloomery” to Washington Iron Works. The furnace entered into blast July 1, 1797. Three Saunders brothers bought the industry ca. 1820, and Peter Saunders Jr. became the ironmaster. The furnace flourished; by 1836 it employed as many as a hundred workers. In 1851, a flash flood struck the furnace while in blast, exploding the interior and ending its operation until the Civil War during which time it was again in use. The surviving furnace structure is a thirty-foot-high tapered granite pylon with its hearth and bellows opening at its base.

1769 Old Chapel Church in Penhook is one of only four pre-Revolutionary War frame Anglican churches in Virginia. Built in 1769, it is the oldest documented frame structure in Southwest Virginia. The one-story, 249 year old church has been preserved and completely restored to its 18th Century appearance. The white 24 by 32 foot building with five windows and plank floors features traditional English Box architecture with exposed post and beam construction. The front door still opens with vintage-style keys, and the chancel door exits near the communion table, which is typical of 17th and 18th century Anglican churches. Inside the church, which sits 80 people, is a pulpit and desk, a cross dating back to the 1200s, one-piece “post and beam” wood work in the corners of the building, and modern conveniences like a kitchen and heating & air. On the grounds of the church is a rustic outdoor toilet, outdoor picnic area, and a cemetery dating back to 1753 with some Civil War soldiers buried there and some unmarked graves. The historic church is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and Virginia Landmark Register and is now used for special events such as weddings, reunions, and church meetings and services.

Booker T. Washington National Monument – Booker T. Washington NM commemorates the birthplace of America’s most prominent African American educator and orator of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. The property evokes an 1850s middle class tobacco farm, representative of Booker T. Washington’s enslaved childhood at the Burroughs farm. He was born in 1856 to the Burroughses’ cook, Jane and lived on the farm throughout the Civil War. Dr. Washington went on to found the Tuskegee Institute in 1881.

Booker T. Washington National Monument
Blue Ridge Institute and Museum
Franklin County History Museum and Society
Jubal A. Early Homeplace

Local Events

While there are currently no events listed specifically for Franklin County, search the VA250 Statewide Calendar of Events for a comprehensive listing of programs across the state.

VA250 Commission


Kevin Tosh

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