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Hardy County

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Hardy County, constituted in 1786, was named for Samuel Hardy of eastern Virginia. According to Henry Howe, writing in 1845, little is known about Hardy, “a young man of promising talents, who died suddenly,” except that he served in the Continental Congress from 1783 to 1785.

Geologically and architecturally, Hardy County is a dichotomy. To the west, the South Branch of the Potomac River drains the upper stretches of an incredibly rich agricultural area, the South Branch Valley. The valley was within Lord Fairfax's Northern Neck Proprietary, but because it lay on the other side of the high front range of the Allegheny Mountains from inhabited parts of the Old Dominion, Germans from Pennsylvania were among the earliest settlers. They arrived via the Trough, the narrow channel the river forged between forested mountain walls near the county's northern boundary.

There are few, if any, remnants of the valley's first-settlement houses, but later generations graced the fertile lands with some of the state's most impressive antebellum manors, ranging in style from early Federal through Greek Revival to Italianate. Writing in 1856 in Adventures in the Wilds of the United States, Englishman Charles Lanman noted that in the “Garden of Virginia,” as he and others termed this area, many of the farmers were “wealthy, and none of them poor.” Corn was the principal crop, and Lanman reported that “some of the fields have yielded a good crop annually for upwards of thirty years. Hence the reputation of the valley for its cattle, which are raised in great numbers.” David Hunter Strother, writing for Harper's New Monthly Magazine, echoed those comments sixteen years later in an article titled “The Mountains.” He noted that “corn finds its way to market in the form of fat cattle, and stock-raising is the chief occupation and source of wealth through the whole region.” Strother also observed the architecture that grew from the land:

The spurs and plateaus jutting out from the bases of the mountains are occupied by handsome brick residences, surrounded by substantial outbuildings, while near the centre (of the valley) … we see the spires and glittering tin roofs of Moorefield. Everything that meets the eye betokens wealth and prosperity. The roomy and substantial homesteads stand in inclosures adorned with shade trees, fruit, and flowers.… The very gate posts have an air of corpulency, being thrice the girth of those planted in thinner districts.

While the South Branch Valley and Moorefield were early centers of agricultural prosperity and architectural opulence, such was not the case in the high Alleghenies to the east. Charles Lanman's description of the bountiful South Branch Valley contrasts vividly with his depiction of the hillside cabin of “the hermit woman of the Alleghanies,” which, he claimed, “baffled description.” Nevertheless, he gave it a try, explaining that it was

without a window, but light in abundance comes in from the gaping roof and sides of the black and mouldering log habitation; the chimney, too, which is of mud and sticks, is in a dilapidated condition. Her bedstead is made of small pine sticks, with the bark still on, her couch consisting of hemlock boughs covered with straw, upon which are two or three wretchedly worn bedquilts.… An old stool answers the purpose of a chair, and a board nailed to the side of the cabin is her only table.

Much of the county's mountainous eastern half is now encompassed in the George Washington National Forest. Settlement is still relatively sparse, although in recent years the winning combination of scenic beauty and relative isolation have attracted city dwellers to establish vacation retreats. Often of log construction, these second homes follow building traditions established in the first years of settlement and continued in such enclaves as the WPA-era cabins at Lost River State Park ( HD15).

By 1840 Hardy County's population of 7,622 included 1,131 slaves and 391 free blacks. The high proportion of slaves, unusual for a western Virginia county, was a telling indication of the valley's prevailing plantation economy. The 2000 population, 12,669, is the highest ever recorded, but indicates only modest growth over many decades.

Hardy County entries are divided into western and eastern sections ( HD1HD13and HD14HD16), beginning at the northern end of the South Branch Valley. U.S. 220 traverses the heart of the valley, for the most part closely paralleling the river and providing easy access or visibility for entries HD1HD13. West Virginia 259 traverses the eastern section of Hardy County much as U.S. 220 crosses the western portion, paralleling the Lost River, so named because it “disappears” under Sandy Ridge near the hamlet of Lost River. It reappears two miles northeast, near Wardensville, as the Cacapon River. Both roads run generally northeast to southwest, their direction dictated by the topography of the ridge-and-valley landscape.

Writing Credits

S. Allen Chambers Jr.

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