History of Franklin County

Pioneers moving southward from Pennsylvania and westward from Virginia's Tidewater area began settling the Franklin County region around 1750.

Predominant among these early settlers were people of German, French, Scotch-Irish, and English stock.

In 1785, after nearly a decade of debate, the General Assembly passed a bill authorizing creation of a new county, which would be named after Benjamin Franklin.

Already established and prosperous when the county was formed, Rocky Mount--located near the geographic center and named after an abrupt, rocky slope of land in the vicinity--became the county seat.

On February 17, 1873, as a result of growth and change, the village of Rocky Mount became an incorporated town with established boundaries.

Although rural and sparsely populated, Franklin County played a role in the major historical events that shaped America.

During the Revolutionary War, munitions for the American cause were manufactured from locally mined iron ore by Colonel John Donelson at his iron works on Furnace Creek. Later renamed the Washington Iron Works, the furnace--the oldest county landmark--still stands in Rocky Mount.

Franklin County also produced one of the nation's most respected leaders of his time.

The eminent black educator, Booker T. Washington, was born April 5, 1856, on Burrough's Plantation, approximately 16 miles northeast of Rocky Mount. As an enslaved person, he spent his childhood in a one-room cabin.

In 1881, after emancipation and a successful quest to educate himself, Washington established a new black school in Tuskegee, Alabama. Now nationally known, Tuskegee Institute gave Booker T. Washington a chance to achieve his goal of educating his people and providing them with opportunities never known before.

Booker T. Washington's birthplace is preserved today as the Booker T. Washington National Monument on Rt. 122 in Franklin County.

Throughout the 19th century, the economy of Franklin County was supported by agriculture and the mining and production of iron. However, with the turn of the century, changes began to take place in Franklin County as the railroad and new and improved roads helped to speed the development of the county.

The result was growth and industrialization.

Although agriculture, including tobacco, remains an important element in Franklin County's economy, timber is now the county's most important natural resource. Locally manufactured products include furniture, building supplies, manufactured housing, and business products.

The county was also known for bootleg liquor production, which led to it gaining the reputation of being the Moonshine Capital of the World.

In the 1960s, a new project, the creation of Smith Mountain Lake, ushered in a new era of dramatic change to the county.

The lake has attracted thousands of new residents to the county, and today the county is a new melting pot for the values and traditions of life-long residents and new settlers.

Roanoke Valley Spotlight

Learn how Franklin County became known as The Moonshine Capital of the World.