Situated in the gentle hills of central Piedmont, Campbell County was formed in 1781 from part of Bedford County and, at the suggestion of Patrick Henry, named for William Campbell, a Revolutionary War hero who had died suddenly the same year. General Campbell, Scots-Irish like most of the county's early settlers, was also the husband of Elizabeth Henry, sister of Patrick Henry. The association with Patrick Henry deepened in 1792 when he moved to Long Island in Campbell County. He later moved just over the county line to Red Hill (CT17) in Charlotte County, where he spent his last years.
Campbell County is bounded by the Staunton River (as the Roanoke River is called in this area) on the south and by the independent City of Lynchburg and the James River on the north. In the nineteenth century, its two rivers served as water routes that helped make the county a major exporter of agricultural products, especially tobacco, the main source of its dynamic antebellum prosperity. This labor-intensive crop was largely worked by slaves, who in 1840 made up roughly half of the county's population of 21,030. The county's rivers opened up two markets: the James led east to Richmond and the Staunton led to Albemarle Sound in North Carolina. As president of the Roanoke Navigation Company, Samuel Pannill of Green Hill (CP9) on the Staunton River built a series of sluices and wing dams that made the Staunton/Roanoke River navigable as far upstream as Salem in Roanoke County and as far downstream as Weldon, North Carolina. A major factor in encouraging commercial navigation on the Staunton River was the distribution of products to and from Pannill's large plantation Green Hill.
River transport declined in the mid-nineteenth century with the advent of the railroad. As rail lines expanded in the early twentieth century, they created new communities, most notably the once-flourishing manufacturing town of Altavista. At the same time, the county's burgeoning population was no longer primarily supported by agriculture but was fed by the incursion of Lynchburg's bedroom communities across the county's northern portion. Farming and forestry remain important to Campbell's economy even though manufacturing—electronic equipment, glass, fabrics, products for the aerospace industry—and commerce support most of the county's families. Furniture manufacturing and textile production once loomed large but are fading away.
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