The Town of Chilhowie was incorporated by order of the Smyth County Court in 1913 with a population of 570 persons. However, Chilhowie was a thriving community long before there was any town. It was first settled during an expedition in 1748, when Colonel James Patton chose the site for a town that he envisioned to become the metropolis of a future great country. Colonel Patton built a log house, on a hill overlooking the river, as the beginning of his town and called it the Town House. This original house, the first English built house on soil drained by Mississippi streams, was later weather boarded and enlarged and its chimneys still remain near the center of the town. A Virginia Department of Historic Resources sign on Lee Highway states this was the furthest point west in 1750. The community was first called the Town House community after the house that Colonel Patton built.
Local citizens such as William Campbell, commander at the Battle of Kings Mountain during the Revolutionary War, played prominent roles in the founding of our country and Phillip Greever who is said to have fired the first shot at that decisive battle. Elizabeth Russell, Campbell’s wife, was Patrick Henry’s sister and played a prominent role in the area’s early Methodist Church movement, lived and traveled in the area.
The community later became known as Greever’s Switch, due to the railroad siding located near the Town House. During the late 1850’s, Mr. George Palmer suggested that the village growing up around Greever’s Switch be named Chilhowie. He was the proprietor of a Sulphur Springs Resort, north of the Town House, known as Chilhowie Springs. Chilhowie is an Indian phrase which means “Valley of Many Deer,” and had been used by the Indians to refer to a portion of the Middle Fork of the Holston Valley in what is now Smyth County. The name was adopted soon after Mr. Palmer suggested it.
Chilhowie’s early development was characterized by a variety of enterprises. The first store in Chilhowie was built in 1870 by Minter Jackson, who later founded the Bank of Marion, a regional banking stalwart. He also owned the first industry, which was a pottery plant. In 1890, Adams Brother’s and Payne of Lynchburg built and operated a brick factory. The firm, located formerly along the railroad, was extensive and profitable for many years.
The Virginia and Tennessee Railroad came through the area in 1856. Construction began in 1852. It connected Lynchburg with Bristol, with a branch line to Saltville, and was an engineering marvel of its times traversing countless mountains, rivers and streams. It brought considerable economic development to the area. But during the Civil War it became a target for numerous Federal raids because of its strategic importance, and because of lead and salt deposits in nearby Southwest Virginia areas. In December, 1864 the area experienced turmoil, destruction and distress with a Federal raid from Tennessee into Southwest Virginia from Union General George Stoneman’s forces. For much of the latter part of the War the area was defended by Confederate General John Breckinridge, former Vice President, Kentucky Senator and runner up to Abraham Lincoln in the 1860 election.
Farming has traditionally been one of the most prominent livelihoods of the area. In particular, Chilhowie orchards produced apples and other fruits for many decades and employed scores of people. The area was known as the apple producing center of Southwest Virginia with thousands of acres in operation. The origin of the Community Apple Festival came from this reputation, and that event has been celebrated every year since 1953 in September. The last commercially operating orchard closed in the early 2000s. The Vance Company, dealers in general hardware, building and farm supplies, and fertilizers, which they also produced, was one of the first corporations locally owned. The stockholders were composed largely of local farmers.
During the 1940s and through the 1990s Chilhowie and the area became a major textile manufacturing and dyeing center, and to a lesser degree furniture manufacturing center, in Southwest Virginia and the Southeast part of the Country. At its peak over a thousand persons were employed in these endeavors. Many name brand products under the trademark “Lands End”, “Buster Brown”, and “Americans of Martinsville” and others were manufactured here.
In the 1970’s and early 1980’s, the Town in cooperation with the Tennessee Valley Authority and the United States Government, undertook a significant relocation effort after residents of a largely Black area on both sides of the Middle Fork of the Holston were flooded out. This occurred after two one-hundred-year floods in April and November of 1977 that devastated the area. This approximately 50 acre area on both sides of the Middle Fork is now a multi-use recreation area and park, with only the historic Black First Baptist Church remaining.
Over the decades the Town has increased its reach from the Corporate Limits into Smyth and Washington Counties in providing fundamental and essential human services such as Water, Sewer, Police, and Fire / Emergency Medical Service through a variety of projects and efforts. The Town currently serves approximately 3,000 to 8,000 persons in and around the Town of Chilhowie with these services. In 1989 the Town of Chilhowie, in cooperation with Smyth County, annexed an area on the north, east, south and west of Town into the corporate limits and grew from .9 square miles to 2.5 square miles. At the time it was the largest Boundary Adjustment in the history of the Commonwealth of Virginia.
Today the Town of Chilhowie, with an inside the corporate limits population of approximately 2,000, is a significant residential, commercial and industrial center located in the crossroads of Southwest Virginia, the Commonwealth and the mid-Atlantic / Southeast region of the nation. It is strategically located just north of one of the state’s largest recreation areas in the Mt. Rogers National Recreation Area, which contains the state’s highest and second highest mountains, Mt. Rogers and White Top, respectively. The Town is proud of its past and looks forward with renewed optimism to the future.
Town of Chilhowie325 East Lee HighwayPO Box 5012Chilhowie, VA 24319