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Family History Institute of Southwest Virginia Conference

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Wythe County History· Wytheville· Rural Retreat

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Our mission is
"preserving history for future generations."

We invite you to visit us often.

When visiting Wytheville, VA
be sure to visit our office at 165 S. 11th Street.

Email: wythecogha@gmail.com

P.O. Box 1601
Wytheville, VA 24382

Wythe County History

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Wythe County was organized by an Act of the Virginia Assembly on December 1, 1789, and was named for George Wythe, a noted lawyer of Eastern Virginia, one of the signers of the Declaration of Independence and the designer of the Virginia Seal.

The first county court session was held at the home of James McGavock at Fort Chiswell on May 25 the following year, where the Montgomery County Court had been meeting for several years. On that date the court accepted the offer of Christopher Simmerman who donated ninety acres for the town, and the offer of John Davis who contributed the remaining ten acres with a large spring.

When Wythe County was formed the area included part of what is now the eastern part of Smyth County, the western part of what is now Pulaski County, all of Grayson and Carroll counties, and most of what is now Bland County. By 1861 the county limits had been permanently established.


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On June 22, 1790, the court was held at the home of Christopher Simmerman and the justices chose several of the leading citizens to direct the survey in laying off the one hundred acres for a town and a place for his "permanent court house." The town survey was completed by November 24, and Robert Adams was paid for his work. Each lot was one-half acre in size. At this time the town had no specific name, other than Wythe Court House, a name often used in the early days.

On October 19, 1792, the General Assembly passed an act establishing the town as Evansham, probably pronounced Evans-ham as it was named for Jesse Evans, a prominent local citizen at the time.

On March 6, 1839, following the great town fire, the name was changed to Wytheville at a time when the town had 500 inhabitants.

Rural Retreat

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The name Rural Retreat first appeared in Wythe County on a marriage return sent to the court by Lewis Sid Marshall, Minister of the Gospel, on April 28, 1827. This predates by six years the establishment of the Rural Retreat Post Office in 1833 when the same Lewis S. Marshall was named as the first postmaster. At this time, no town existed where the present Town of Rural Retreat is located. Following the custom of the day, the mail was delivered to the home of the postmaster who had the right to name the office. Marshall lived on the Great Road near the residence of Martha Brown DeBord, now deceased. When the railroad came to the western end of Wythe County in the mid-1850s, the depot at present Rural Retreat was named Mt. Airy, for the little town located on the Great Road (now US 11), established in 1811 by Valentine Staley. The town was sometimes referred to as Staleytown.

As the railroad town grew, the post office, named Rural Retreat, was moved to the Mt. Airy Depot, causing great confusion. In the aftermath of the destruction of the depot by the Federal troops, the name Rural Retreat was given to the new depot and the town in 1866, to coincide with the name of the post office. Stores, banks, hotels, churches, mills, shops, newspapers and telephones reached the town in due time and Rural Retreat was incorporated on July 24, 1911, and received a new charter in 1954.

In present Wythe County, genealogists and historians are able to find family and genealogical records, published, in three major locations. These are the Wythe County Circuit Court Clerk's Office at the Courthouse on South Sixth Street, the F. B. Kegley Library at the Wytheville Community College Library, and The Wythe County Genealogical and Historical Association at 165 S. 11th Street.