History of Giles County, Virginia

GILES COUNTY was was formed on 1st May 1806 by an act of the General Assembly of Virginia that was passed on 16 January 1806. It was named for William Branch Giles, United States Senator from Virginia at that time. It was formed from the counties of Montgomery, Monroe (now in West Virginia), and Tazewell. On 2 January 1808 the General Assembly passed an act adding a part of Wythe County to Giles, effective 1 March 1808. During that same session, by an act passed on 7 January 1808, the town of Pearisburg was established.

The next change to the boundaries of Giles County came in 1824 when it contributed to the formation of Logan County (now West Virginia). Another boundary change came in 1830 when a part of Monroe County was added to Giles, in 1841 a small strip was added to Giles from Mercer County (now West Virginia). Then in 1851 a part of Giles was taken for the formation of Craig County and in 1858 another strip from Giles was added to Craig. In 1861 a large portion of Giles was taken for the formation of Bland County and it was not until March 1900 that Giles County gained its permanent boundary with Bland.

In addition to the counties above, the original area that was Giles County now embraces the whole or parts of the West Virginia counties of Summers, Raleigh, Wyoming, Fayette, Boone and even a tiny part of Kanawha.

Settlers in the New River, Bluestone, Guyandotte and Coal river settlements, like all settlers in the burgeoning frontier areas, were pressing westward faster than their government and clergy could follow them. New counties sprung up like mushrooms in the night, but never quite close enough, soon enough. Pearisburg was closer than Christiansburg, but only just; for at the time of its formation Giles County covered a hundred miles of the New River valley with a mean width of 30 miles for an estimated area of 3,000 square miles. Today, the county seat is still Pearisburg, but Giles County now encompasses only 356 square miles.

There may be but 356 square miles, but those miles are choice. The rugged terrain has provided some protection from “progress”. While the wild, rugged, empty wilderness that was once Giles will never be again, there remain areas of great beauty, relatively untouched. Those who remain are mostly mountain people, a term impossible to define. If you’re among them, you know it; and if you aren’t, you wouldn’t understand–so goes the explanation. Others put it this way: Mountains don’t belong to mountain people; the people belong to the mountains.

Some of us whose ancestors left the mountains and valleys of the Great Kanawha, carry with us still those mountains of Virginia. We shelter now in the Rockies, the San Juans, the Sierra Nevada, the Olympics and Cascades. We feel vaguely uneasy on “wide-open plains”. We return to the fastnesses of mountains searching for connections, meaning, and history. And we stay to listen to the music of the names: Little Stony Creek, Spruce Run, Angel’s Rest, Salt Pond Mountain, Tip Top, Walker Mountain, Dismal Peak, Burke’s Garden. Giles County. Virginia. – Jackie Masters

Fort Branch

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