Dickenson County is characterized by steep mountains cut with deep narrow valleys formed by the Pound, Cranesnest, Russell Fork, and McClure rivers. The last county to be created in Virginia, Dickenson was formed in 1880 from parts of Russell, Wise, and Buchanan counties. It was named for William J. Dickenson, a delegate to the Virginia General Assembly from Russell County, who played a major role in the formation of the new county. During the second half of the eighteenth century, pioneers and hunters attracted by the area's game ventured into the area. In 1816 the area's first permanent settlement was established near the confluence of the Russell Fork River and Lick Creek. The second permanent settlement began in 1829 on Holly Creek, where Clintwood, the county seat, is located.
Although one of Virginia's most sparsely populated counties, Dickenson saw an increase in population and general prosperity after 1915 when the Carolina, Clinchfield and Ohio Railway, later renamed the Clinchfield Railroad, snaked its way through the middle of the county, taking out coal and lumber and bringing in supplies and commodities. Small company towns, like Clinchco and McClure, soon emerged in remote hollows, some with only the railroad as a lifeline. Clinchco was created in 1917 by the Clinchfield Coal Corporation to provide housing for its miners and their families. McClure shares a similar history. Built in 1919 by the W. M. Ritter Lumber Company for its employees, the town contained a planing mill and drying kiln, one hundred and twenty residences, a store, and a community building.
The county's natural resources were boldly promoted by the masthead of the county's newspaper, the Dickenson County Moon,which boasted that Dickenson was “The Richest Undeveloped County in Coal, Mineral, and Hard Wood in the South.” Coal and lumber remained king throughout the first half of the twentieth century, but the county's economic base became more diversified in the century's second half. Instead of the industrial magnates of the past, tourists and nature lovers became attracted to the county's resources. Dickenson's mountainous terrain provides ample recreational opportunities for fishing and water sports at the John W. Flannagan Reservoir. For hiking and camping enthusiasts, there is Breaks Interstate Park, located on the border of Virginia and Kentucky and jointly operated by the two commonwealths.
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