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Buena Vista, Virginia


Indian legend has it that the beauty of the Shenandoah Valley so awed the heavens that each star cast the brightest jewel from its own crown into the valley's limpid waters, there to sparkle and shine ever after in a gesture of celestial benediction.

Thus arose the valley's name: Shenandoah - Clear-Eyed Daughter of the Stars. The Valley was first viewed by English settlers in 1716 by then Virginia Governor Spottswood and a company of explorers, the Knights of the Golden Horseshoe, when they viewed it from the peaks of the Blue Ridge Mountains.

Scotch-Irish and German immigrants coming from Pennsylvania began to settle the valley in the 1730's and established themselves along a well worn Indian path, known as the Great Wagon Road, that traversed the center of the valley. This road is still traveled today and is called The Valley Pike - U.S. Rt. 11. Indians from Georgia to Canada used this well watered path as a migratory route and hunting grounds. Resident tribes in the valley were probably sparsely settled in small villages and raised a few crops in addition to their traditional hunting, trapping and fishing.

Benjamin Borden received a royal grant, that included what is now Rockbridge County, with the stipulation that he would settle a hundred families there. He, therefore, made portions of this land available to settlers for the establishment of farms. The name of the county was derived from the "Rocky Bridge", an early reference to The Natural Bridge of Virginia, located in the southern portion of the county and one of the natural wonders of the world. The name of the county is unique as it has never been duplicated, to our knowledge, by any other county in the United States.

The shape of the county is in the form of an irregular rectangle stretching 32 miles down the Great Valley of Virginia. The Blue Ridge Mountains bound it on the east, and the Allegheny Mountains form its boundary on the west. Most of the county, as it appeared to early settlers, was comprised largely by meadows and savannas surrounded by beautifully rolling hills bordered by the two large mountain ranges. Soon farmsteads formed along the bottom lands and in the foothills began producing surplus grains and beef. Mills that processed wheat, barley, rye, and corn served as community business centers. Hunting and trapping supplemented farm production, and bounties for wolves and other predators helped produce cash.

With the arrival of the sawmill and the development of better methods of making brock came a half century of significant growth and development. Many of the buildings in and around the present City of Lexington date back to the early 19th century when men like John Jordan, ironmaster and engineer, built many substantial homes, bridges, mills, roadways, and iron furnaces throughout the county.

The coming of canals to the county spelled the end of bateau travel, By 1850, the James River and Kanawha Canal were completed through Balcony Falls. Starting from Glasgow, in the southern part of the county, the canal arrived at Lexington in 1852 and caused the creation of more facilities, such as warehouses, to take advantage of the convenience

The Civil War had a profound effect on the county. Union General Hunter burned Virginia Military Institute and pillaged Washington College yet spared most of Rockbridge County from the devastation that was experienced by some of our neighbors to the north.

Among the great men who have been born in Rockbridge County over the years are Cyrus McCormick (inventor of the reaper which revolutionized farming), Sam Houston (Senator of two states, trailblazer,governor & president of Texas ), "Big Foot" Wallace (well known frontiersman) and James A. Gibbs. Among those who have lived here are Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson.

Buena Vista originated from the unexpected construction of two railroads in 1880. Surrounding a junction, the resulting village of Green Forest, inhabited by approximately 100 persons, occupied the area now covered by Beech Avenue, Canal Street, Brook Street, Allegheny Avenue and Twenty Ninth Street. the laid off for the town amounted to about 900 acres. The streets, which were 75' wide, generally conformed to the cardinal points of the compass. The twenty six north-south avenues were given the names of trees while the east-west streets were numbered. The business quarter was established next to the river along the railroad tracks, while the residential section was established toward the Blue Ridge and spread somewhat onto some of its lower foothills. Under the management of A.T. Barclay, the Buena Vista Company was created in 1889 to promote the development of the iron resources of the vicinity, to utilize the water power of the North River (now known as the Maury River), and to create an industrial and manufacturing center. Within a year, Buena Vista was established as a town with a population of approximately 400 and all the promise of good things to come.

The construction of the Norfolk and Western Railroad helped trigger a great land boom in 1889 over the entire Valley. access to the industrial cities of the North would be easier and quicker. People eager to take advantage of the opportunities relocated to the town and by February 15, 1892 it had a population of 5,240 persons. The city of Buena Vista quickly became the center for this "boom" activity in the county. It was incorporated as a first class city in 1891 and thus became politically independent of Rockbridge County.

The attraction to Buena Vista was iron ore which was located in the foothills, The Buena Vista Company decided to build a furnace to convert pig iron to steel and opened an old mine which had been use for many years before by John Jordan. Though the furnace was operated for many years , the supply of local ore only lasted a short time and the furnace had to be fed by ores transported over a long distance. Subsequently, a fertilizer factory was built along with a glass plant, woolen mills, firebrick plant and a foundry. The Buena Vista Paper Mills manufactured from eight to ten tons of books, news and wrapping paper per day. The Buena Vista Cassimere Mills, producer of cassimere and woolen cloths, was capable of 650 yards per day of 3 quarter goods. The Marr Egg Crate Company manufactured its owner's patented invention designed for the safe transportation of eggs. The Wise Wagon Works, which was capable of producing 1,000 wagons per year, and the Wilbourne Saddle and Harness Factory, were also located in Buena Vista. The panic of 1893 signaled the end of the land boom. and like many other boom towns of the period, Buena Vista a result. By that time it had over 5,000 residents and 19 industries employing 1,000 workers. Buena Vista's hearty people survived the crash better than most other towns that experienced the same disappointments. and has always managed to bounce back so that progress is steady toward the establishment of a viable economy. It has also been the victim over the years of mother nature's hand in the form of occasional flooding that has occurred mostly in the downtown business district. The Army Corps. of Engineers, however, is close to completing a floodwall project that will make such occurrences a thing of the past.

A hotel built by the Buena Vista Company in 1890 burned down and another was constructed shortly thereafter. While it never attracted many visitors, the hotel was eventually converted into the Southern Seminary Junior College for Women. This institution for higher learning, which served young ladies from all over the country for many years, became the Southern Virginia College for Women in the 1990s and recently was rejuvenated by the establishment of Southern Virginia College, a four year, co-educational institution for higher learning that will probably serve as the catalyst for another boom period for Buena Vista's economy.

Buena Vista is situated on the western slopes of the Blue Ridge Mountains in eastern Rockbridge County. It lies midway between Interstate 81 and the Blue Ridge Parkway which is favorite tourist route that offers spectacular views.

Buena Vista is served by Rt. 501 and Rt. 60 and indirectly by Rt. 11 and Interstates 81 and 64 which converge at Lexington which is located six miles to the west via Rt. 60. Access to the markets of the Midwest, south and north is direct from Buena Vista as is rail traffic.

The City is partially surrounded by the Jefferson and George Washington National Forests. Thus, there are numerous outdoor activities available such as hunting, fishing, and hiking. Also, one can go canoeing on the James and Maury Rivers or see the several picturesque waterfalls at nearby Staton's Falls, Panther Falls and Crabtree Falls.

A generally moderate climate is enjoyed by our city which experiences an average rainfall of 36 inches and as average temperature of 57 degrees F.

Topographically, Buena Vista is diverse. Most of the central city area is relatively flat with sloping down to the Maury River. The terrain around the Southern Virginia College is a bit steeper, and the northern and southern end of town are more hilly. There is a band of relatively sparse development on the eastern portion of the city where it proceeds up the mountains. Beyond that, the land rises steeply into the Blue Ridge. We suggest that you visit Glenn Maury Park which overlooks Buena Vista and offers impressive views of the city as well as a great place to picnic.

Buena Vista is an industrial city on the rise and home of Southern Virginia College. We believe it is a place of opportunity.To see what we have been talking about, we invite you to look through our Photo Gallery.

And now, Buena Vista is part of the greatest technology to come out of the last quarter of the twentieth century, the Internet. Be sure to "click around" the rest of The Community site so you can see what products, services and locations our beautiful area has to offer. Maybe we'll see you downtown!

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