Our County History
In the 1740's, 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 1600's an eastern Siouan tribe inhabited the region. Indian relics, arrowheads and artifacts found throughout the County remind us of the original settlers.
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. Another nationally known native son was 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.
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 nineteenth 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.
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!