The history of Smyth County and surrounding region encompasses many themes essential to the telling of America’s story. These include early settlement and westward expansion, the Revolutionary period, early industrialization, the Civil War and more.
European Migration along the “Great Road,” also known as the Wilderness Road or the Great Wagon Road, roughly follows Route 11 through Smyth County. It led from the eastern seaboard to the Cumberland Gap. Thousands of European settlers followed this road during America’s westward expansion. An official historical marker on Route 11 in Chilhowie marks America’s westernmost point as of 1750. According to history, James Patton on a surveying trip into the area prior to 1850 came across the area known today as Chilhowie and thought it would be the perfect location for a future town. He then built a small fort that would eventually become what is known as “The Town House,” a site of the early settlement in the region.
Smyth County was home to several Patriots who signed the Fincastle Resolutions in 1775, one of the earliest written forms of grievances from the colonies before the Declaration of Independence in 1776. These signers include William Campbell, Arthur Campbell and William Russell. William Campbell, along with his slave and man servant John Broddy (the only known slave in the Patriot army to be present at the battle), went on as a commander of the “Over Mountain Men” at the Battle of Kings Mountain, a major victory for the Patriots. According to local legend, Philip Greever of what is now known as Chilhowie, fired the first shot of the battle. The Virginia contingent of the Overmountain Men are often said to be from neighboring Washington County, VA. In 1780, at the time of the march, the area that is now Smyth County was within the geographic boundaries of Washington County to the west and Wythe County to the east. Therefore, many of the notable Overmountain Men are natives of what is now Smyth County.
The Town of Saltville encapsulates the rise of industrialization in America, from the early commercial salt production of the 18th Century, to the massive Saltworks owned by the states of the Confederacy (leading to two major Civil War battles), to the turn of the century development of Saltville as a classic company town owned by Mathieson Alkali Works (later Olin Mathieson and the Olin). The Mathieson Company began production in 1895 and grew to have a complex of plants that spread across 300 acres. It employed 1300 people, had its own steam plant, and owned 14 miles of railroad, before closing for good in the 1970s.
Key Dates in Smyth County’s Early History
c. 1748 – Colonel James Patton and crew survey the area (several on this expedition, including Buchanan and Campbell, settled in what would become Smyth County.
1780 – Smyth County men join the mustering of the Overmountain Men, traveling over 300 miles to the Battle of Kings Mountain.
1782 – Revolutionary War veteran Arthur Campbell begins the first commercial salt production at Saltville, Virginia.
1832 – Smyth County is formed from portions of Washington and Wythe Counties.
Plan Your Visit
Smyth County is home to several history museums and attractions, together they make for an excellent day trip or overnight destination.
The Museum of the Middle Appalachians
The Octagon House Foundation
Settlers Museum of Southwest Virginia
Smyth County Museum and Historical Society
While there are currently no events listed specifically for Smyth County, search the VA250 Statewide Calendar of Events for a comprehensive listing of programs across the state.