Situated in the westernmost corner of Virginia, Lee County is perhaps the most remote area of the commonwealth. Residents are fond of stating that the county is closer to four other state capitals than it is to Virginia's capital, Richmond. A spirit of self-reliance and independence has roots in the earliest pioneers who traveled the Wilderness Road through the county westward to Cumberland Gap. Explored by Dr. Thomas Walker in 1750, for decades the Cumberland Gap funneled settlers such as Daniel Boone and his family into the Kentucky frontier. In 1768, Martin's Station, the first settlement in what is now Lee County, was founded near Rose Hill as an outpost to aid settlers on their way westward.
Formed from Russell County in 1792, Lee County was named after General Henry “Light Horse Harry” Lee, a Revolutionary War veteran, governor of Virginia, and father of General Robert E. Lee. Primarily consisting of the Powell River Valley and bounded by Cumberland Mountain to the north and Powell Mountain to the south, Lee County is the most agricultural of the counties in this corner of Southwest Virginia, a region most noted for its coal production. Although coal continues to be extracted from the northeastern section of the county, tobacco barns, pastures, and forests dominate the rolling valleys in the rest of the county.
Because of the strategic military importance of the Cumberland Gap during the Civil War, Lee County experienced some military engagements, notably the Battle of Jonesville in 1864, but the county escaped the devastation felt elsewhere in the state. The Louisville and Nashville Railroad, built through Lee County in 1889–1891, connected Cumberland Gap to Big Stone Gap and provided the transportation of agricultural products, timber, and coal to distant markets. Today the county's economy still depends on the exploitation of these natural resources.
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