Located at the northernmost point of Virginia, Frederick County was chartered in 1738 by the Colonial Assembly of Virginia and named in honor of Frederick Louis, Prince of Wales, son of King George II. A large county, measuring 435 square miles, Frederick County's topography varies from rugged mountains slopes in the west to rich limestone farmland with its edging of rough shale countryside on the east. Winchester, the county seat, now an independent city, is situated in the center of the eastern portion of the county.
In spring 1732, Jost Hite (Hans Jost Heydt), a German from Strassburg who immigrated to New York then went to Pennsylvania, established the first permanent European settlement in Frederick County. Around the time of Hite and his small party's arrival, a group of Quakers, also from Pennsylvania, settled in the northern part of the county with their leader Alexander Ross, a native of Ireland. Frederick County is also associated with George Washington, who came to the area in 1748 at age sixteen as a member of Lord Fairfax's survey party. Washington represented Frederick County in the House of Burgesses in 1758 and 1761. In the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, many settlers moved into the area and established farms, with wheat as the central product. By 1809, the county had more than fifty gristmills, attesting to the importance of grain in its economy. Much of Frederick County had been settled by the mid-nineteenth century. The towns of Stephenson, Gore, Stephens City, and Middletown grew along the county's major transportation routes.
During the Civil War the northern Shenandoah Valley supplied the Confederate troops with food, livestock, and horses, but the war brought destruction and economic hardship to Frederick County. Its strategic location made it a desirable stronghold for both sides and several important battles took place here, including the First Battle of Kernstown, the Second and Third Battles of Winchester, and the Battle at Cedar Creek. After the war Frederick County saw rapid population growth. In agriculture, apples replaced wheat as the primary cash crop and facilities were constructed for their production and processing. Although Frederick County is still a state leader in apple and peach production, it has attracted other types of industries, including stone quarries; manufacturing facilities for rubber, plastic, and medical products; and industries related to construction and engineering.
The architectural heritage of Frederick County is highly diverse. The earliest buildings were of log and of fairly crude construction. As people became more settled, they built more solid dwellings, often reflecting elements of their ethnic heritage. Acculturation, however, came fairly quickly to the area. Since the end of World War II, Frederick County's population has more than tripled and has changed from an agriculture-based society to one based on manufacturing and services. New construction is now mostly suburban in nature. From the 1990s, the rapid movement of people from the Washington, D.C., area to the west has created a large demand for residential land use. Many are finding it more profitable to sell their land for development than to continue farming. Although much of the farmland surrounding Winchester has succumbed to rapid development, most of the county remains agrarian in nature.
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