One of the largest counties in Virginia, Augusta was created in 1738 to encompass much of the backcountry of Virginia, extending to the colony's original boundaries at the Mississippi River. The name came from Princess Augusta, mother of future King George III. Scots-Irish settlers began to move into the 118,491-acre Beverley land grant given in 1736 to William Beverley from Governor William Gooch. This became known as the Irish Tract. German and English immigrants soon followed. Turnpike towns emerged along the Great Wagon Road (now U.S. 11), which became the Valley Turnpike in the 1830s. Farmers similarly prospered, building brick houses and substantial barns by the mid-nineteenth century. In 1854 the Virginia Central Railroad reached Staunton, facilitating trade between the county and Richmond. Staunton, the county seat, remained an important transportation and commercial center. Although Augusta County suffered considerable damage during the Civil War, farms rebounded quickly with wheat production, and the new railroads brought increased travel and trade as well as an opportunity to exploit the mineral resources of the mountains. Today, Augusta County remains one of the leading agricultural counties in the state. Several colleges and institutions established in the nineteenth century have made the county one of the centers of education in the Valley. In the late twentieth century, Staunton emerged as a locus of theater and the arts.
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