In the geographic center of Virginia, between the Blue Ridge Mountains, the James and Tye Rivers, lie the rolling hills of Nelson County and the quiet communities that make up this beautiful county. With only one traffic light, tourist can easily travel the 471 square miles of forest, streams, and scenic bylaws in the county.
The land that is now Nelson County has a rich history of Indian, English and African-American settlers. Tribes such as the Sioux, Iroquois, Monacan and Saponi tribes settled along the James River. The Blue Ridge Parkway route was used 300 years ago by Iroquian-speaking Cherokees as a trade route and war path. Presently, descendants of the Monacan and Cherokee Tribes live in Amherst and Nelson County.
Early in the 18th century, English settlers, American Indians and African-Americans moved from the Tidewater region of Virginia up the James River to the Goochland Frontier, which is present day Amherst, Nelson and Albemarle counties. At the same time, Scottish, Irish and German immigrants from Pennsylvania moved south across the Blue Ridge Mountains and settling in Rockfish Valley. Looking for cheaper land and freedom to worship, many settled in present day Nelson County. French Huguenots also settled in Lovingston and Shipman.
In 1807, Nelson County was separated from Amherst County. It was named for Thomas Nelson Jr., the third Governor of Virginia and one of the signers of the Declaration of Independence. In the heyday of the river economy, during the 19th century, Nelson County flourished with its apple crop, logging mills, chestnut wood and nuts. The turn of the century was the economic high point for Nelson County, after which the economy fell drastically. The widespread use of the automobile and the building of roads decimated the river business.
The Great Depression hit Nelson County early. The population dropped from 17,000 to 11,000 as young people left for the cities. Schuyler native, Earl Hamner, Jr. began writing his memoirs of growing up in Nelson County during the 1930s and later became the basis for the 1960s TV show, “The Waltons.”
Nelson County was devastated in August 1969 when Hurricane Camille, a category five hurricane, hit the area. In parts of the county, thirty inches of rain fell in a six-hour period, a phenomenon likely to occur once every millennium. During the storm 134 people died, and 300 building, 130 bridges and culverts and more than half the roads were destroyed.
Nelson County began to rebuild and was helped economically by the development of Wintergreen Resort, rebirth of the apple industry, and growth of several vineyards. Today, the county thrives on agri-businesses that include: wineries, breweries, a cidery, orchards and farms that grow a variety of fruits and vegetables. The popularity of outdoor recreation brings many visitors to the county to enjoy the hiking trails, skiing and snowboarding, fishing and canoeing, and bicycling on the scenic back roads of the county.
Resource: Most of the text is from the Nelson County Heritage Book 1807-2000