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H.L. Bonham Regional Development & Tourism Center
In the mid-1700s, a land grant by King George II prompted surveyors to explore the area now known as Smyth County, Virginia. Frontiersmen Dr. Thomas Walker, Samuel Stalnaker and, later, Daniel Boone passed along the Wilderness Road corridor here in Southwestern Virginia. Settlers of Irish, Scottish and German descent, largely from Pennsylvania, migrated here in search of land.
Smyth County‘s Wilderness Road path is surrounded by some of the oldest and most majestic mountains and natural areas in the world. Present day travelers of the Wilderness Road migration trail have myriad diverse resources at their fingertips: Natural, heritage and cultural. The area is a gateway to the Mt. Rogers National Recreation Area and Whitetop Mountain, Virginia's two highest peaks, as well as to the Clinch Mountain Wildlife Management Area, one of The Nature Conservancy's last great places on earth. This protected bioreserve is a hotspot of ecological and biological diversity. Largely unspoiled, the area's precious natural surroundings represent thousands of years of geological formation and ecosystem evolution. It is not hard to imagine yourself a frontier explorer like Dr. Thomas Walker or Daniel Boone as you discover the nature of Smyth County.
Taverns were once located roughly 17 miles apart on the Wilderness Road, about the same as a modern-day Appalachian Trail through hiker's daily trek. Some ruins of one tavern, the Town House, still remain here in present day Chilhowie, formerly called the Town House community. These ruins can be viewed from adjacent Beattie Cemetery along Hwy. 107. Another former tavern located on the Wilderness Road, Cullop's Stone House Tavern in the Atkins community, remains intact, but is privately owned and can only be viewed roadside.
Early settler's musical influence remains alive today in the mountains of Southwestern Virginia. Smyth County hosts many local community venues for staged and impromptu mountain music performances. This musical style carries on the melodic influences of the Scots-Irish who settled here. Festivals celebrate the area's heritage and pass it along through the generations.
Many luthiers (instrument makers) call Smyth County and its surrounding area home. The art and craft of music making and wood working remain two of the many cultural talents and skills. Handmade quilts remind Wilderness Road travelers of a time when creativity and practicality married to spawn a hand-me-down that would be treasured for generations. Smyth County's heritage is also evident from the historical architecture that dots the countryside and anchors its historic downtown districts of the Towns of Chilhowie, Marion and Saltville. Each town offers a unique and complementary character and flavor for heritage travelers to enjoy.
Those who seek roads less traveled and prefer the unbeaten path can explore one back road still actually named the Wilderness Road in Smyth County. Stop by the H.L. Bonham Regional Development and Tourism Center at I-81 exit 35 for directions and to begin any of the many Wilderness Road journeys in Smyth County, VA.