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History of Marion, Smyth, Virginia





HISTORY:  HISTORY OF THE TOWN OF MARION

      In the early 1600's the land in southwest Virginia originally belonged to the Native American Indians. When the first white explorers reached the area, they found many recently abandoned settlements but few Native Americans. The Indians were forced west as huge tracts of their land were appropriated as homesteads for immigrant European families or to reward Revolutionary War soldiers for their service.

      In 1745 James Patton received a land grant that contained much of what is currently Smyth County. In the following years, his representatives began surveying, providing the first written records of the land that later became Smyth County, and Marion. Early frontiersmen, like Daniel Boone and Dr. Thomas Walker, were exploring Southwest Virginia about this time, making use of the famous Wilderness Road, which started as a buffalo trail. Today Highway 11, which passes through the middle of Marion, follows the path of the Wilderness Road.

      By 1750 the first white settlements had appeared into Smyth County. Some of the early settlers were James Patton, John Buchanan, and Charles Campbell. The relatives and descendants of these men have played major roles in the settlement and history around the Marion area.

      The French and Indian War was fought in 1754-1763. The early settlers in Smyth County and other regions along the frontier were subject to attack by Indian raiding parties from the north. As the war wound down the area became safer, and the number of settlements in Smyth County increased.

      The first church in Smyth County, Royal Oak Presbyterian Church, was built in 1776 at Royal Oak, at the site of present-day Marion.

      Smyth County was formed from Washington and Wythe counties by the act of the General Assembly of Virginia on February 23, 1832. Washington County ceded two-thirds of the land for the new county, and Wythe County, one-third. In the 435 square miles granted to the new county, there were no towns or hamlets where the county seat or the center of the local government could be established. The inhabitants of the new county lived primarily on farms in the three valleys formed by the forks of the Holston River. The three forks of the Holston River (the Middle Fork Holston River flows through Marion) bear the name of Stephen Holston, or Holstein, one of the county's first settlers. Aspenvale, at Seven Mile Ford, Town House, at Chilhowie, the Preston Salt Works, at Saltville, and Royal Oak, at Marion, were historic centers of importance in the area, but they were not populous places in 1832.

      When the new County of Smyth became a geographical and political reality in 1832, it was imperative that a county seat be located and a courthouse built as quickly as possible. Five commissioners were appointed to search for a centrally located site for the new Seat of Justice. After studying several possible locations, the commissioners selected the site for the new town (Marion) on William and John Hume's 280 acre tract of land, west of the Royal Oak Survey and Staley's Creek, and south of the Main Road. According to the title bond signed by William Hume, May 24, 1832, the original Town of Marion consisted of 27 acres of land, more or less. This tract began on the east side of Staley's Creek (in the present downtown Marion) and extended westward just beyond the future site of Marion College, now the Job Corps. On each side of the 70-foot wide Main Street, 42 lots, (10 poles or 165 feet deep by 4 poles or 66 feet wide), were laid off. The North and South Boundaries were one block off of Main Street, which is now Court Street, and Town Street. The Public Square, where the courthouse and jail would be built, was located in the center of the town, on the north side of Main Street (their present location). Marion was recognized as a town by an 1835 Act of the Legislature, and was officially incorporated by the General Assembly on March 15, 1849. The name was chosen to honor the popular South Carolina hero of the American Revolutionary War, General Francis Marion. General Marion was so successful with his way of emerging after dark, attacking quickly and then disappearing back into the swamps that one British commander, exasperated by Marion's tactics, is said to have called him a "damned old fox", from there he became known as the "Swamp Fox".

      In 1856 the railroad was built. The railroad along with the turnpike, served the needs of Marion's citizens and allowed for the industrial growth that was to follow. The town was described as having, possibly five hundred population, no manufacturing plants, two churches, Presbyterian and Methodist, a half dozen general merchandise stores, wheelwright shops, cabinet shops, blacksmith shops, shoe shops, saddle and harness shops, two tailor shops, two taverns, two schools, one for boys and one for girls, two grist mills, and one barber shop.

      This area was of strategic military importance during the Civil War because of the presence of the salt works at Saltville, Abijah Thomas's iron furnace in Smyth County, and the lead mines at nearby Austinville. Two major battles were fought for control of Saltville, and a third major battle was fought in Marion.

      The Civil War battle of Marion was fought on December 17 & 18, 1864, when less than 1,000 Confederates under the command of Gen. John C. Breckinridge held off General George Stoneman and his 4,000 plus Northern troops at the east end of town for two days. The hardest fighting of the battle occurred by the covered bridge, near the Allen house. (The Allen house is located across the Middle Fork Holston River from the Royal Oak Branch of the Bank of Marion near the east town limits) Under cover of darkness with ammunition and supplies exhausted, the Confederates left the battlefield, crossing the mountains toward Rye Valley, the only route that was not blocked by Federal troops. After the battle, a detail of Union troops was ordered to burn the bridge. The blaze was put out by Susan Allen, young daughter of the Allen family. The detail returned for a second try but Susan, once again, put the fire out. The Union troops continued into Marion in an attempt to destroy lines of communication and facilities useful to the Confederacy. Afraid the Courthouse would be burned, Clerk of the Court, William C. Sexton attempted to save the county's records by moving them to a safer location. The plan was thwarted when he encountered Union troops on Staley Creek road who set his wagon on fire. Because Marion was along the route, and near targets of strategic significance it paid a terrible price.

      The African American population has never been large in Marion but have contributed greatly to the development of the Town. Two well known, both born in slavery, were Emma "Mammy" Goode who assisted the stork at the birth of many Marion citizens, and the other is "Uncle Henry" Smith who was highly respected and a source of historical information. Many others were respected businessmen and educators. Another prominent educator, Evelyn Lawrence, local historian, presented "Reflections on Marion's African American History" that speaks of suffering and sorrow, life and death, grace and hope, mercy and justice, at the initial program in honor of Marion's 150th birthday celebration in 1999.

      Marion is the last resting place of a nationally famous author, Sherwood Anderson. Anderson died of peritonitis at age 64 on March 8, 1941 while on a good-will mission trip to South America in the Panama Canal Zone. He is buried at Marion's Round Hill Cemetery where his sail-shaped tombstone bears the words "Life not death is the great adventure". Sherwood Anderson, originally from Camden, Ohio held various jobs and moved all over the country before coming to Southwest Virginia. Anderson came to this area in search of cool weather. The year was 1925, and at that time, Anderson was a nationally famous author, best known for his critically-acclaimed short story collection "Winesberg, Ohio", published in 1919. In 1926 he built a stone-and-log home named "Ripshin" on the outskirts of Troutdale, and continued to live there, part-time, for the last 15 years of his life. Anderson became a public figure in Marion after he bought Smyth County's weekly newspapers in 1927. He published the Smyth County News and Marion Democrat but soon turned over the editorial job to his son, Robert Lane Anderson. Anderson and his wife, Eleanor Copenhaver, made their in-town residence at "Rosemont", a house that once stood behind the present-day site of the Marion Volunteer Fire Department on Main Street. Sherwood Anderson is generally regarded as the leader in the American 20th Century short-story form, publishing such books as "Beyond Desire" (1932), and "Death in the Woods and Other Stories" (1933). His writing cabin still stands, buried deep in the woods, within walking distance of "Ripshin".
      (more information about Sherwood Anderson can be found here )

      A local businessman, William H. "Bill" Jones of Marion, during the period 1959 to 1962, created what is now the nationally successful soft drink "Mountain Dew" at Marion's Tip Bottling Company, now site of Hungate Business Services at 517 North Main Street. Jones experimented with flavors, routinely offering Marion residents samples of what he bubbled together. He eventually sold the soft drink "Mountain Dew" to Pepsico in 1964. Marion now boast itself as the "Home of Mountain Dew" on signs and brochures. Bill Jones brought international fame to Marion by inventing the drink Mountain Dew.

      Another local entrepreneur, Edward Wyatt, developed coal mining equipment which held the open-face mining record for several years during the 1980"s.

      Marion was the home of two Lieutenant Governors of Virginia, Lewis Preston Collins, II, and B. F. Buchanan. The Collins house located at 109 W. Strother Street is now the home of "Smyth County Historical and Museum Society, Inc". W. Pat Jennings, Sr. was another distinguished Marion resident who dedicated his life serving the public. He was Smyth County Sheriff from 1948 thru 1953. He was then elected to Congress, U. S. House of Representatives serving from 1955 thru 1967. He then was appointed Clerk of House serving there from 1968 thru 1975. Three town residents have been elected to the Virginia House of Delegates in recent years; Willard L. "Bill" Lemmon 1968 thru 1981, Grover C. "GC" Jennings 1982 thru 1993, and John H. Tate, Jr. 1996 thru 2001.

      The Town of Marion is located at exits nos. 44, 45 & 47 on Interstate 81, and sits at an elevation of about 2,200 feet above mean sea level (2,178.460 feet at USGS marker along Main Street at the old National Bank Building), has grown from 27 acres in 1849 to its current size of 3.4 square miles or 2,176 acres, and a population of 6,349. The Town has served as the County Seat and the hub of commerce for Smyth County since its establishment and has provided the extensive farming community of Smyth County with a focal point for its commerce and trade. Marion is an official Virginia Main Street Community, and continues to serve as an important industrial, retail and tourist center in Southwest Virginia, and has received National recognition for its unique Hot and Cold water storage tanks that are prominently displayed along Interstate 81 which traverses the Town. The Town in addition to serving as the gateway to Hungry Mother State Park, with its annual Arts and Crafts Festival, the Jefferson National Forest, the headquarters of the Mount Rogers National Recreation Area, and the Appalachian Trail, is the home to historic Lincoln Theatre, one of the last three remaining Mayan revival theaters in America. Marion moves into the 21st Century with continued vigor and optimism. 1998-2002 TOWN OF MARION

Owner/Sourcehttp://www.marionva.org/history
Date23 Apr 2008
Linked toMarion, Smyth, Virginia, United States; Lizzie Susan Elizabeth Gross (Histories and Articles)

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