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Franklin County

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The Blue Ridge Mountains edge the western border of Franklin County, the Piedmont forms its heartland, and the northeastern edge is rimmed with expensive lake developments. From the legacy of its Scots-Irish bootleggers in the mountains to its wealthy new settlers in Smith Mountain Lake houses, the well-watered county is filled with quirky contrasts and has more than its fair share of late-twentieth-century sprawl. The county is also the birthplace of two extraordinary, but very different men, the hard-living Confederate general Jubal Early, raised on his father's plantation near Burnt Chimney, and the polished educator Booker T. Washington, born a slave not many miles away. Today, Washington's Birthplace and Childhood Home is a national monument (FN15) and the Jubal A. Early Boyhood Home (FN14) has been restored by a private foundation.

Franklin County was formed in 1786 from Bedford and Henry counties. Agriculture was important, as was an eighteenth-century iron industry first centered on Rocky Mount. With the coming of the railroads in the late nineteenth century, the county's economic base expanded to include wood and textile industries, although agriculture, especially tobacco and dairying, continued to play an important role. Today, while the manufacturing base has eroded and the tobacco market declined (deteriorating log tobacco barns bear witness), the county has grown in vacation and retirement housing, and bedroom communities for Roanoke have spread into the countryside. The county has a few brick or frame Federal houses, but more typical are smaller residences that sometimes have unusual or geographically specific features, as in the Blue Ridge Institute and Museum's German House (FN19). Larger Greek Revival and Italianate houses reflect the Piedmont's era of mid-nineteenth-century agricultural prosperity. The increased business brought by railroads led to growth in Rocky Mount and the construction into the early twentieth century of one-story frame factory housing. Today, a strong modular home industry provides the area with affordable housing that is gradually improving in design.

Writing Credits

Author: 
Anne Carter Lee

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