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Piedmont

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The Piedmont, Virginia's “Foot of the Mountain,” begins at the crest of the Blue Ridge Mountains, descends eastward into rolling countryside, and stops at a broken line of mountains roughly delineating western Southside. The central and western counties of the Piedmont included in this volume feature mountain ridges alternating with red-clay hills, loamy bottomlands, and fields that once produced tobacco. Crisscrossed by the James and Roanoke rivers and their tributaries, the region is blessed with abundant water. Long the home of Woodland Indians, the area was changed in the eighteenth century with the arrival of Europeans. By the early 1700s, Native Americans were being pushed out as Europeans settled here. Scots-Irish and Rhineland Germans came from Pennsylvania through the Valley of Virginia, and settlers of English origin, more and more with enslaved Africans, came from eastern Virginia, as did some Huguenots from France. They took advantage of the abundance of timber to build log cabins and outbuildings, a fair number of which were still visible until the later part of the twentieth century. Farming was the primary pursuit, with tobacco as the main cash crop. Log tobacco barns once dotted the landscape but their numbers are dwindling.

Gradually, settlers replaced log buildings with frame and then brick houses. A few late Georgian houses have survived, but they are outnumbered by Federal houses and the relatively numerous Greek Revival buildings dating from the agricultural prosperity of the antebellum period. The mid-nineteenth century introduced picturesque styles drawn from pattern books, but, except for those of the wealthy, most houses were rectangular with just a few modish details. From the last quarter of the nineteenth century, new styles acquired a degree of regional popularity, classicism regained ground, and the rising tide of Colonial Revivalism was invigorated by the restoration of Colonial Williamsburg in the 1930s. In this conservative region, Colonial Revival found a long-lasting home, dominating most building in the twentieth century. During the Great Depression, the Public Works Administration (PWA) funded construction of schools and public buildings as well as Fairy Stone State Park (PT9) in Patrick County and the beautiful Blue Ridge Parkway that runs along the crest of the mountains.

In the first half of the nineteenth century, the James River and Kanawha Canal improved navigation on the Roanoke River (called the Staunton River in the Piedmont) and strengthened the region's economic development. The Staunton River sparked another kind of economic boom in 1966 in parts of Bedford and Franklin counties after the Appalachian Power Company completed a pumped storage and hydroelectric development. This created Smith Mountain Lake, which, with its five hundred miles of shore, provided recreational opportunities and, from the late twentieth century, a favored location for houses, often clustered around glittering green golf courses. Vacationers, retirees, and new home owners are coming to this once-rural area.

Along with these newly flourishing communities, the region is dotted with former plantation communities, crossroad and railroad towns, cities and suburbs, malls and sprawl. Since the 1950s, the cores of the region's older communities have had rough economic years, yet have retained a distinctive character. A renewed sense of community life and an appreciation of history are giving rise to efforts to retain a visual and economically viable center for each locality.

Writing Credits

Author: 
Anne Carter Lee

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