Created by an act of the Virginia legislature in 1777–1778, Rockbridge was one of several new counties carved out of what had been the southern part of Augusta and the northern part of Botetourt counties. The county was named for the great Natural Bridge, a feature much visited by early explorers and, later, by tourists. Lexington was designated the county seat in 1778. Settled primarily in the second half of the eighteenth century by Scots-Irish Presbyterians, it is an area of rolling hills bounded by the Blue Ridge Mountains on the east and the Allegheny Mountains on the west. The Maury River (known as the North River until the early twentieth century) provided an important transportation route in the mid-nineteenth century when canals connected it to the James River and the eastern sections of Virginia. Railroads were not extensively developed in the area until after the Civil War.
Rockbridge is primarily an agricultural county, but education is also one of its main industries. Lexington, the center of government for the county, is also home to two major institutions—Washington and Lee University (RB16) and Virginia Military Institute (RB18). Interstates 81 and 64 intersect at Lexington, which has also increased the town's centrality to commerce and tourism within the county.
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