Located along the southern edge of Virginia where it borders North Carolina and Tennessee, Grayson County is a land of impressive natural resources. Virginia's highest peak, Mount Rogers, is one of several mountains within the county. To the east of Mount Rogers the New River, fed by numerous creeks, winds through rich farmlands to its ultimate junction with the Ohio River. Settlement and agricultural development began in the mid-eighteenth century, and by 1793 the area was populous enough for the General Assembly to establish the county, taken from part of Wythe County. It was named for William Grayson, an aide-de-camp to General George Washington during the Revolutionary War and one of Virginia's first two U.S. senators. The county seat initially was established at Greenville, later known as Oldtown, where a courthouse and clerk's office (GY7) still stand.
As in other mountainous areas, timber and mineral resources attracted extractive industries in the late nineteenth century, leading to the creation of such towns as White Top and Troutdale, and extensive systems of narrow-gauge railroad spurs that linked the steep mountains to the main rail lines. Other industries developed along the New River and its tributaries, employing gravity- and current-driven water to power textile, saw, and grist mills, as well as factories. The company town of Fries, for example, was created in 1901 around a cotton mill (closed in 1989), with about three hundred company houses. Although the tracks of a railroad spur from Pulaski to Fries have been pulled up, the rail bed and bridges now support the New River Trail State Park.
Once the mountains were mostly denuded of their timber, the federal government purchased large areas of mountain land that now comprise the Mount Rogers National Recreation Area. Housing and provisioning the numerous hunters, fishermen, hikers, and campers that flock to Grayson County for the scenery and wildlife of the public lands have become important seasonal additions to the local economy, which otherwise suffers from limited access to high-speed transportation routes.
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