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The History of Dickenson County

Dickenson County was formed by the Virginia General Assembly in 1880 from parts of Russell, Wise, and Buchanan Counties and was named for William J. Dickenson, a Russell County legislator who presented a bill for its creation to the House of Delegates on January 12, 1880. The bill was also sponsored by Jas. Colley, a Legislator from Buchanan County. The bill passed the House on February 12, 1880 and was sent to the Senate. Some members of the Senate wanted to name the new county "Stonewall" in honor of General Stonewall Jackson, however, this was rejected. The bill was approved by Governor Frederick W. M. Holliday on March 3, 1880 and Dickenson County was official. Dickenson County was the last county to be formed in modern Virginia, therefore; it has come to be known as "Virginia's Baby." It covers 325 square miles or 313,397 acres in the southwestern corner of Virginia in the Cumberland Plateau of the Appalachian Mountains. It is characterized by steep hills, high plateaus, and deep mountains crossed by numerous streams.

The county seat was first located near the mouth of Caney Fork of the McClure River. It was named Ervinton in honor of Micajah Ervin, one of the early settlers of the area. The county seat was moved to Holly Creek (now Clintwood, named for the Honorable Henry Clinton Wood, State Senator from Scott County) after a bitter struggle. The first county election was held on the fourth Thursday in May, 1880. The County was divided into three voting districts: Ervinton, Holly Creek, and Sand Lick. The following county officers were elected at this time: William A. Ayers, Commonwealth's Attorney; Columbus Phipps, Clerk; William F. Grizzle, Treasurer; William P. "Bruce" Colley, Sheriff; William Vanover, Commissioner of the Revenue; The following men were elected supervisors: John E. Rose, Ervinton District; Drewry Puckett, Holly Creek District; and William Sutherland, Sand Lick District. On July 22, 1880, the first Dickenson County Court was convened with H. M. Jones as Judge. The recently elected county officials were sworn into office and Weddington Vanover was appointed the new county's first deputy. The Board of Supervisors held their first meeting on July 26, 1880 and elected William Sutherland as the first chairman of the Dickenson County Board of Supervisors.

The second term of the County court convened on August 9, 1880. Elijah T. Sutherland was appointed as deputy sheriff and jailor. The following men were selected to serve on a special grand jury: J. L. Sifers, Isaac Viers, Newton Sutherland, Isaac Kilgore, Samuel E. Rose, Charles Turner, and William Large. The following men were appointed to serve on the road commission to lay off the County into road districts: Ervinton -- Simpson Dyer, Joseph Kelly, and David Smith; Holly Creek -- John P. Chase, Osborne Howell, and Amos Willis; and Sand Lick -- James Colley, Noah Counts, and Almarine Owens. Jesse Wampler was appointed County Surveyor and James P. Kilgore was appointed Superintendent of the poor.

The first Circuit Court was held on May 30, 1881. Judge John A. Kelly presided over the court. The following men served as petit jurors: David Tiller, James Rasnick, Noah Deel, Isaac Viers, A. D. Alley, James W. Smith, Alexander Robertson, E. A. Smith, and Enoch Moore.

Dickenson County's economy has long been dependent upon natural resource extraction, first, game and fur; second, timber; and third, coal. The first explorers who came to Dickenson County found a hunter's paradise with relatively untouched wilderness and plentiful game including: bears, deer, wild turkeys, raccoons, wolves, buffaloes, and elk. Hunters would make camp and hunt and prepare skins for many months before returning to their homes, therefore, they became known as the Long Hunters.

The timber industry began around 1867 by a man named Wash Brittin/Briton and the Pennsylvania Company. The first contract for sale of timber was made by A. D. Alley to Horsley & Tate in 1885. The first deed for poplar trees was made by Almarine Owens to Stephen Bitely in 1887. Over the next few years, most of the marketable timber was sold into the hands of outside companies. Timber was cut and placed in Crane's Nest, Pound and Russell's Fork Rivers and floated to Big Sandy and then on to Catlettsburg, KY for market. The W. M. Ritter Lumber Company bought most of the valuable timber in the county and was a major employer. Native timber species included: white oak, chestnut oak, black oak, beech, hickory, chestnut, maple, gum, poplar, basswood, and black walnut. In 1909, the Yellow Poplar Lumber Company built a concrete Splashdam for the purpose of moving logs through the Breaks area. At one time, this structure was the world's largest concrete splashdam. The structure currently supports a highway bridge.

The first contract recorded for minerals in Dickenson County occurred in 1886 when Richard Hibbitts sold a tract of coal land at fifty cents an acre to G. V. Litchfield. Over the next few years, most of the County's mineral rights passed into the hands of outside companies. The mining industry began in earnest around 1910 with Clinchfield Coal Company as the holder of the majority of coal resources. Clinchco was the largest coal mining town wholly located in Dickenson County. The first railroad through the county was the Carolina, Clinchfield, & Ohio Railway, which began construction in 1912 and was completed in 1915. This railway ran from Elkhorn City, KY. to Haysi, Virginia. After the completion of the railroad, coal and lumber companies stepped up their operations in the county. Please check out these coalmining links for additional information on this industry.

Dickenson County has continued to modernize throughout the 20th century. Electrical power and phone service is available throughout the county. Most areas have access to cable television or residents have satellite dishes for television reception. Coal mining has caused much pollution and degradation of water resources. Many areas of the county, that once had plentiful water, now find their water gone. The County government has responded by providing public water to many areas in the county although many areas remain to be served. Industrial development outside the area of mining has been slow. Access to markets has been a major hindrance to development. The last twenty years have seen a dramatic change in the mining industry. Coal mining is still strong, however, the increased mechanization of the industry has resulted in fewer job opportunities for residents. Dickenson County has led the Commonwealth with its high unemployment rate for the last few years. At times, the unemployment rate has topped 20 percent.

Despite all of these changes, Dickenson County remains an area of supreme natural beauty and retains much of the traditional culture of the Appalachian Mountains. The Breaks Interstate Park was created in 1954 by joint action of the Virginia and Kentucky legislatures and encompasses 4500 acres of natural beauty including the largest canyon east of the Mississippi River at nearly five miles long and 1600 feet deep. Many local festivals are held throughout the year to celebrate the area's heritage.

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