Established in 1822 and named for the Allegheny Mountains that dominate its western edge, Alleghany County is a land of great contrasts. From the late nineteenth century, industry has been a mainstay of its economy, but these industries are situated in a mountain landscape of sublime beauty. Physically, the predominantly rural county is rich in timber and minerals and features rugged scenery marked by steep grades, mountain springs, and rapidly flowing waterways. What little arable farmland exists is confined to valley bottoms that by the mid-eighteenth century were settled by Europeans. The county's oldest buildings tend to survive on these early farms. In the early nineteenth century, dependence on navigable water routes gave the county, with its multiple rivers, an important shipping advantage and led to the rapid exploitation of its natural resources.
Industrial development began in 1827, when John Jordan and John Irvine built and operated the first of their several Alleghany County iron furnaces, the Lucy Selina. Other iron furnaces and forges followed, leading to the development of mining and industrial villages with evocative names like Rich Patch, Iron Gate, Jordan Mines, Low Moor, and Longdale Furnace. Paper-making has played a primary role in the county's economy. Although the county abounded with industry, the cool summer climate, natural spring waters, and picturesque landscape proved irresistible to vacationers interested in outdoor recreation, and the same holds true today. While large iron-oriented industries no longer operate in the county, transportation remains an important focus of the economy. Freight warehouses, truck service centers, and large-scale distributing operations—mostly located along the I-64 corridor—have become some of the most economically important buildings in the recent past.
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