Wythe history comes adventure

06/21/2014  | 

Historically Interesting

Founded in 1790, Wythe County was named for the first signer of the Declaration of Independence for Virginia – George Wythe. Early settlement can be credited to the access to water (the New River and many creeks) and the abundance of natural resources, including lead. One hundred acres was selected as the county seat in 1792 and Evansham, now Wytheville, became the central town.

The history of the area patterns the history of the nation with many interesting events, legends, and characters along the way. Begin with a visit to the Wytheville Heritage Center at 115 West Spiller Street to the Haller-Gibboney Rock House and Thomas J. Boyd Museums. Medicine, the Civil War, and polio’s unique impact are a few of the topics covered. The Great Lakes to Florida Highway Museum depicts the mid-20th century era with its unique look at transportation. The self-guided Wytheville’s Historic Walking Tour showcases local history from pre-Civil War times until today. The region’s only African American Heritage Museum is located within the Wytheville Training School Cultural Center and has an emphasis on education through photographs and exhibits. Five locations on the Virginia Civil War Trails mark the route of Toland’s Raid and offer a beautiful scenic drive between locations.

Also located in the historic district, the Edith Bolling Wilson Birthplace Museum tells the influential and controversial story of this First Lady’s life from her childhood in Wytheville to her years in the nation’s capital.

Overlooking the New River, the Historic Shot Tower was built more than 150 years ago to make ammunition for the firearms of the early settlers. Lead from the nearby Austinville Mines was melted in a kettle atop the 75-foot tower and poured through a sieve, falling through the tower and an additional 75-foot shaft beneath the tower into a kettle of water. A nearby monument honors native son Stephen F. Austin who would later be known as the “Father of Texas”.

When’s the last time you visited a southern mansion? Steeped in history and legend, Major Graham Mansion and The Mansion at Fort Chiswell are located minutes from I-77 and 81 and are open seasonally for special events and tours.

In neighboring Bland County, Wolf Creek Indian Village & Museum has meticulously reconstructed wigwams to match the layout of an excavation dating to 1215 A.D. Guides demonstrate living skills through the use of handmade replicas of tools and containers, hides, and various crafts.

Adventures Galore
You would expect an area that includes the second oldest river in the world to have an abundance of outdoor recreational opportunities...and you’d be right. There are plenty of waters to fish in from creeks and ponds, to lakes and rivers and hundreds of acres of forest for traditional hunting or viewing the beautiful scenery, plants, trees, and native animal life. For those who enjoy camping, there are a variety of locations from primitive sites to those with all the conveniences.
The area includes local, state, and national parks that offer recreational experiences for all ages and abilities. Scenic drives are abundant and several back roads drives are noted on the Wythe County map. Many are ideal for the bicyclist or motorcycle rider as well as for those in automobiles. Please be sure to note the speed limits on these roads. These drives can be refreshing alternatives to the interstate experience and a chance to leisurely enjoy some scenery.

Winding through mountains steeped in history, the Big Walker Mountain National Forest Scenic Byway passes through 16 miles of land with year around beauty. Easy accessibility from Interstate 77 makes this an ideal detour on a traveler’s journey. From the glistening frozen tree-tops in winter to the blanket of spring and summer flowers to the breathtaking fall foliage, visitors will find spectacular seasonal views. There is a wealth of camping, hiking, hunting, and picnicking opportunities in the Jefferson National Forest. From Civil War battles to historical figures, stop at the roadside markers and learn more. Numerous hiking trails provide fresh air and interesting plants, flowers, and foliage. The Virginia Birding Trail includes numerous sites on this byway. From easy to moderate to challenging, there are hiking trails for all ages to enjoy. Ranging from under one to five miles, these include Monster Rock Trail, Polecat Trail, Seven Sisters Trail, and Tract Fork Trail.

With miles and miles of activities to choose from, the New River Trail State Park and Historic Shot Tower is a “must-see” on any visit. This 57-mile long trail follows an abandoned railroad bed along the historic New River. Activities include hiking, bicycling, horseback riding, canoeing, tubing, kayaking, fishing, picnicking, and camping.

Recreation doesn’t have to be just outdoors. The Wytheville Community Center has a variety of areas with something for everyone including: a 400 square foot cardio and weight center, an aquatics center with a six lane 25 yard pool, water park play area with slide, therapy pool and hot tub, an indoor climbing wall, youth/teen center, two full court basketball gyms, aerobic studio, 1/8 mile walking track, and adult/senior lounge.

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