Initially known as Prince's Flats after William Prince, who is believed to have built the first house in the area in 1785, Norton remained a small settlement until the Louisville and Nashville Railroad and the Norfolk and Western Railroad arrived in 1891. Three years later Prince's Flats became an incorporated town and was renamed Norton in honor of Eckstein Norton, president of the Louisville and Nashville Railroad from 1886 to 1891, who was instrumental in persuading Northern capitalists to invest in towns along his railroad, including those in western Virginia. During the 1890s Norton became the hub for the shipping of coal from the mines in northern and western Wise County to markets east and west. By 1908 the town had a population of about 3,000 people and boasted electric streetlights and a foundry and a brick manufacturer. Norton became an independent city in 1954, the year its population reached 5,000 residents. Although the town's economy is not as dependent upon the coal industry as it once was, it is still greatly affected by the economic ups and downs of the industry and its related interests.
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