Abingdon began in the 1760s as a small community of log houses and taverns known as Wolf Hills. When the settlers constructed Black's Fort in 1776, the community became known by that name, and in 1777, the first Washington County court met here. In 1778 it became the county seat and was renamed Abingdon, a name associated with the Washington family. George Washington's Wakefield birthplace in Westmoreland County stood on the Abbingdon [sic] Tract, and in 1778, Martha Washington's son, John Parke Custis, and his family moved to Abingdon plantation, now an archaeological site at Ronald Reagan National Airport in Washington, D.C.
Located on Wilderness Road, then a spur of the Great Wagon Road through the Valley of Virginia from Pennsylvania, it is estimated that between 1780 and 1790 more than 100,000 emigrants passed through Abingdon on their way to the southwestern territories. By the mid-nineteenth century, Abingdon was an important railroad town and a shipping center for coal and timber when a spur line was extended to Damascus in the late nineteenth century. An important Confederate supply base, Abingdon endured a major fire in 1864 as a result of a Union raid, but recovered quickly after the war. Throughout much of the nineteenth century, Abingdon was an educational center with several institutions located here, including Martha Washington College (see WS9). The town is a resort venue and a regional cultural and arts center with the Barter Theatre (WS10) and Heartwood (2011, Spectrum Design; I-81, exit 14). The latter houses galleries and performance spaces in a group of modern buildings that draw on and abstract from traditional farm structures, with gambrel roofs and a glass silo.
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