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Highland County is a county located in the Commonwealth of Virginiamarker. As of the 2000 census, the population was 2,536. Its county seat is Montereymarker . Known as "Virginia's Little Switzerland", Highland County is the least populous county in Virginia. Highland lays claim to being one of the least populated counties and one of the highest average elevations east of the Mississippi River.


Settlement of this portion of the Colony of Virginia by Europeans began around 1745. Located west of the Tidewater and Piedmont regions to the east in Virginia and also west of the Shenandoah Valleymarker, this area is beyond (known in old Virginia as the "Transmountaine") the Blue Ridge Mountains. Rather than cross such a formidable physical barrier, most early settlers came southerly up the Valley across the Potomac River from Marylandmarker and Pennsylvaniamarker.Many followed the Great Wagon Trail, also known as the Valley Pike (U.S. Route 11 in modern times). As German immigrants began to push over the mountains to the northern area of the present county, those of Scotch-Irish descent settled in the southern part.

Even after Virginia and the other 12 colonies won their independence from Great Britainmarker after the American Revolutionary War, the area remained sparsely populated. In the 1840s, the historic Staunton-Parkersburg Turnpike was built through the area. Engineered by Claudius Crozet through the mountainous terrain, it was a toll road partially funded by the Virginia Board of Public Works. The turnpike formed an important link between the upper Shenandoah Valleymarker with the Ohio River.

Highland County was formed in 1847 from Bath Countymarker and Pendleton Countymarker. It was named for its lofty elevation.

Control of the Staunton-Parkersburg Turnpike became crucial during the American Civil War (1861-1865). By all accounts, documented in many letters home from young troops, a miserable winter in 1861 was spent by Union and Confederate troops holding opposing high elevation positions along the road. The Battle of McDowellmarker, the first Confederate victory of Stonewall Jackson's Shenandoah Valleymarker campaign, took place at McDowell on May 8, 1862.

In the 20th century, the Turnpike was re-designated as U.S. Route 250. In the 21st century, it remains Highland County's major east-west roadway, and crossing into West Virginia, becomes a National Scenic Byway.


A foggy summer morning.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the county has a total area of 416 square miles (1,077 km²), of which, 416 square miles (1,077 km²) of it is land and 0 square miles (0 km²) of it (0.00%) is water.


The county is divided into three supervisor districts: Blue Grass, Monterey, and Stonewall.

Adjacent counties

National protected area


As of the census of 2000, there were 2,536 people, 1,131 households, and 764 families residing in the county. The population density was 6 people per square mile (2/km²). There were 1,822 housing units at an average density of 4 per square mile (2/km²). The racial makeup of the county was 99.25% White, 0.08% Black or African American, 0.12% Native American, 0.12% Asian, 0.08% from other races, and 0.35% from two or more races. 0.51% of the population were Hispanic or Latino of any race.

There were 1,131 households out of which 24.00% had children under the age of 18 living with them, 56.90% were married couples living together, 7.10% had a female householder with no husband present, and 32.40% were non-families. 29.10% of all households were made up of individuals and 15.60% had someone living alone who was 65 years of age or older. The average household size was 2.24 and the average family size was 2.74.

In the county, the population was spread out with 19.90% under the age of 18, 4.10% from 18 to 24, 24.50% from 25 to 44, 31.20% from 45 to 64, and 20.40% who were 65 years of age or older. The median age was 46 years. For every 100 females there were 97.80 males. For every 100 females age 18 and over, there were 96.50 males.

The median income for a household in the county was $29,732, and the median income for a family was $37,530. Males had a median income of $25,904 versus $19,250 for females. The per capita income for the county was $15,976. About 9.30% of families and 12.60% of the population were below the poverty line, including 13.20% of those under age 18 and 15.80% of those age 65 or over.


It is called "Virginia's Little Switzerland," in reference to the steep mountains and valleys.

The Highland County Museum & Heritage Center is located at McDowell, Virginia. It is operated by the Highland Historic Society. Exhibits feature the history of Highland County and the history of the Battle of McDowellmarker during the American Civil War. The battle opened the way for Confederate Major General Stonewall Jackson's famous Valley Campaignmarker and helped determine the boundary line for the new state of West Virginiamarker in 1862.

The Highland County Maple Festival has been held annually in March since 1958 to promote the county's maple syrup industry. Additionally, other outdoor sports such as fishing, hiking, caving, and cycling are enjoyed in the county. Every August the Mountain Mama Road Bike Challenge brings cyclists from all over the country to challenge themselves on the steep roads of Highland County. The last weekend of August/first weekend of September, the Highland County Fair is held on the fairgrounds located behind Highland High School. The Highland County fair is the longest continuously running fair in Virginia.



Unincorporated communities



There are no Interstate highways near Highland County. East-west Interstate 64 and north-south Interstate 81 run though adjacent Augusta County.

There are three Primary State Highways in the county. (A primary road provides service which is relatively continuous and of relatively high traffic volume, long average trip length, high operating speed and high mobility importance). They are maintained by the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT).

These primary state highways are:
  • U.S. Route 250, which is the main east-west artery. U.S. 250 provides a direct connection to I-81 to the east at Staunton and to I-79 in West Virginia.
  • U.S. Route 220, which runs north-south through the county and provides a direct connection to I-64 south of Bath County.
State Route 84, which serves the southwestern portion of the county, running from West Virginia to its intersection with U.S. 220 three miles (5 km) south of Monterey.

Highland County has more than of secondary roads. As provided by the Byrd Road Act of 1932, these are also maintained by the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT).



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