History & Heritage

Political & Social

Dickenson County was formed in 1880 from Russell, Wise and Buchanan Counties. The district was named for William J. Dickenson, a delegate to the General Assembly, who played a major role in establishing the new county. This formation came as a result of demands from the inhabitants that they be represented by a county government closer to the people. In 1880, Delegate Dickenson sponsored the bill in the House of Delegates to establish Dickenson County as the one hundredth county in Virginia. Dickenson County has since become known as “Virginia’s Baby.”

The rough mountainous terrain has greatly influenced the development of the Dickenson County area. Early settlers located along stream beds where the best farm land was to be found. The streams also served as a much needed water supply to the pioneers. The first settlements in Dickenson County were Sandlick, Haysi, Holly Creek (Clintwood), and Nora. All of these communities were developed along the streams in the area.

Economic Foundations

Southwest Virginia began to be settled almost 200 years ago when farmers migrated across the Appalachian Valley from the Atlantic Coast. The record of the early settlers who came to the area shows most to have been of Scotch-Irish descent. Records indicate that most early settlers prospered in the natural abundance of grassland and water. These settlers soon made agriculture the backbone of the region.

Agriculture remained an important part of Dickenson County into the twentieth century. Until the mid 1930’s, over half the land in the county (approximately 122,907 acres of land) continued to be actively farmed. However, very few of the commodities produced were sold outside the county due to the rugged terrain and the lack of adequate transportation. As a result, farms were primarily devoted to the self-sufficient type of farming activities. Natural resources, such as lumber, were rarely sold out of the area and coal was mined only on a small scale for local use.
In 1915, the Carolina, Clinchfield and Ohio Railway opened a rail line into the county. For the first time, people had access to the markets in the east.

With the completion of the railroad, the lumber and coal companies, which had purchased mineral rights during the late 1800’s, moved in and began to develop their rich holdings.

Between 1910 and 1920, Dickenson County’s population increased 47.2 percent as people moved in to work for the new coal mining and lumber companies. During this time, the mining towns of Trammel, Clinchco and Splashdam were created along the railroad. The communities of McClure and Fremont were created as extensive timber operations began close by.

The county continued to grow until the 1950’s at which time the mining companies began to incorporate automation into the mining process. Also, by 1946 most of the lumber companies had exhausted the natural timber supply and ceased operations. The result was a loss of jobs in these two industries. Some people were forced to leave Dickenson County.

The county’s coal industry continued to decline during the 1960’s, resulting in another loss of population. During the 1970’s, coal production increased along with Dickenson County’s population. The level of production today is very similar to production in the 1970’s.

During the past twenty years, the development of new mining technology and heavy earth moving equipment has made it possible to remove mountains from shallow seams of coal. This process is known as strip or surface mining. The newly developed mining methods have proven to be an efficient means of coal extraction. With the incorporation of these modern techniques, mining companies have increased coal production using fewer employees. The result has been high unemployment ratings for Dickenson County and its residents.

Dickenson County is now making great strides to enhance the public safety, education, communication and the potential for economic development for our area. DCWIN is the county’s own wireless internet company. The development and successful implementation of DCWIN opens many doors for development and boosts the County’s prominence as a location for technology-based jobs. Distance learning opportunities for education will be enhanced. With the availability of a high-speed wireless network and a workforce, this service now supports the County’s desire to be competitive in the global market.

DCWIN is the “wave” of the future for Dickenson County and will serve as a catalyst to improve infrastructure and enhance economic development throughout the entire coalfield region. As the transition from a natural resource economy to a technology based economy continues, Dickenson County look to the future of joining the technology corridor within the Commonwealth of Virginia.