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Southwest Virginia at its greatest geographical definition

Southwest Virginia, often abbreviated as SWVA, is a mountainous region of Virginiamarker in the westernmost part of the commonwealth. Southwest Virginia has been defined alternatively as all Virginia counties on the Appalachian Plateaumarker, all Virginia counties west of the Eastern Continental Dividemarker, or at its greatest expanse, as far east as Blacksburgmarker and Roanokemarker. Another geographic categorization of the region places it as those counties within the Tennessee River watershed. Regardless of how borders are drawn, southwest Virginia differs from the rest of the commonwealth in that its culture is more closely associated to Appalachia than to the other regions of Virginia. Historically, the region has been and remains rural, but in the 20th Century, coal mining became an important part of its economy up until the second half of the century.

Counties that have been included in the definition of southwest Virginia include: Alleghany Countymarker, Bedford Countymarker, Bland Countymarker, Botetourt Countymarker, Buchanan Countymarker, Carroll Countymarker, Craig Countymarker, Dickenson Countymarker, Floyd Countymarker, Franklin Countymarker, Giles Countymarker, Grayson Countymarker, Henry Countymarker, Lee Countymarker, Montgomery Countymarker, Patrick Countymarker, Pulaski Countymarker, Roanoke Countymarker, Rockbridge Countymarker, Russell Countymarker, Scott Countymarker, Smyth Countymarker, Tazewell Countymarker, Washington Countymarker, Wise Countymarker, and Wythe Countymarker.

Unlike other states in the U.S., Virginia draws a sharp distinction between cities and counties. Under state law, all municipalities incorporated as cities are independent of any county. With that in mind, cities that have been included in the definition of Southwest Virginia are Abingdonmarker, Bedfordmarker, Bristolmarker, Buena Vistamarker, Covingtonmarker, Galaxmarker, Lexingtonmarker, Martinsvillemarker, Nortonmarker, Radfordmarker, Roanokemarker, and Salemmarker.


The southwestern region of Virginia was among the last parts of the state to be settled by Europeans, in a flow of migrations that consisted mainly of the English, Germans, and the Scots-Irish. A major route of migration to the region was the Great Wagon Road through the Great Appalachian Valley. At present-day Roanoke there was an important fork in the wagon road, with one branch passing through the Blue Ridge and into the Piedmont region, the other branch, called the Wilderness Road continuing southwest to Tennessee and Kentucky. Much of the area was formally protected by a series of forts constructed around the time of Lord Dunmore's Warmarker, some of which later became the seats of future counties. Many of the present day counties were formed from larger counties which were broken up as the populations in the region continued to grow. Southwestern Virginia is also the result of parts of Virginia which broke off or revolted, such as Kentuckymarker and West Virginiamarker. During the American Revolution, residents from southwest Virginia were among those who participated in the Battle of King's Mountainmarker. In the Civil War, southwest Virginia was deeply divided between sentiment for the Union and the Confederacy and was subject to guerilla warfare. The only major battle to occur in the area was the Battle of Saltville, while many skirmishes occurred through much of the region. In 1864, Union General George Stoneman, led a devastating raid into southwest Virginia, destroying the saltworks in Saltvillemarker and burning all that he thought useful to the Confederates.


The Virginia highlands in Southwest Virginia
The Appalachian Mountainsmarker have the most direct impact upon the geography of southwest Virginia and are often credited for isolating its residents from the rest of the commonwealth. Southwest Virginia falls into the ridge and valley and the Blue Ridge Mountains portions of the Appalachian mountains. Within the mountains, coal fields have been one of the sources of the significant economic booms in the region. The major river of the region is the New River, credited as the oldest river in North America. Flooding has been epidemic to the more mountainous areas with major floods occurring usually once every other decade with great loss of life and property. Such disasters have encouraged local precautions to prevent future problems, such as the Grundy Flood Control and Redevelopment Project, in Grundy, Virginiamarker, a multi-million dollar effort to protect the town from future flooding.


Political representation

Like the rest of the commonwealth, southwest Virginia is represented by the Senators Mark Warner and Jim Webb in the United States Senate. In the House of Representatives, by the narrowest and almost to the largest definition of southwest Virginia, representation falls largely under Representative Rick Boucher of the 9th Congressional District. Boucher has been a long term representative of the region in Congress, spending more than twenty-four years in office as a Democrat. His predecessor was William C. Wampler, a Republican, who had served a nearly equally long term of over eighteen years prior to his political defeat by Boucher. Republican Robert Goodlatte of Roanoke represents the 6th Congressional District which also covers Lynchburgmarker and much of the Shenandoah Valleymarker. Since most of southwest Virginia has experienced little to no population growth in recent decades, the 9th district has begun to encroach into areas previously in the 5th and 6th districts. Given the relatively rapid growth in the northern parts of the 5th and 6th districts, significant redrawing of the districts is likely if Goode or Goodlatte leave Congress or Democrats gain control of redistricting.


Southwest Virginia is home to several institutions of higher education, the largest of which is at Blacksburgmarker. The Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State Universitymarker, better known as Virginia Tech, is the largest research university in the state as well as the largest employer in Montgomery Countymarker.

List of Colleges and Universities

Appalachian Regional Commission

Map showing 2001-2003 ARC economic designations for counties and cities in "Appalachian" Virginia.

The Appalachian Regional Commission was formed in 1965 to aide economic development in the Appalachian region, which was lagging far behind the rest of the nation on most economic indicators. The Appalachian region currently defined by the Commission includes 420 counties in 13 states, including the westernmost counties and cities in Virginia. The Commission gives each county one of five possible economic designations— distressed, at-risk, transitional, competitive, or attainment— with "distressed" counties being the most economically endangered and "attainment" counties being the most economically prosperous. These designations are based primarily on three indicators— three-year average unemployment rate, market income per capita, and poverty rate. For data collection purposes, independent cities within the designated region are grouped with an adjacent county.

In 2003, Appalachian Virginia— which included most of Southwestern Virginia— had a three-year average unemployment rate of 5.7%, compared with 3.8% statewide and 5.5% nationwide. In 2002, Appalachian Virginia had a per capita market income of $16,901, compared with $29,279 statewide and $26,420 nationwide. In 2000, Appalachian Virginia had a poverty rate of 15.7%, compared to 9.6% statewide and 12.4% nationwide.Only one Virginia county— Dickenson— was designated "Distressed," while eight— Buchanan, Carroll (includes Galax), Craig, Grayson, Lee, Montgomery (includes Radford), Smyth, and Wise (includes Norton)— were designated "at-risk." Botetourt County was the only county given the "attainment" designation, and Bath was the only county designated "competitive." Most Appalachian Virginia counties were designated "transitional," meaning they lagged behind the national average on one of the three key indicators. Montgomery County had Appalachian Virginia's highest poverty rating, with 24.5% of its residents living below the poverty line. Botetourt had Appalachian Virginia's highest per capita income ($27,835) and lowest unemployment rate (2.7%).

See also


  1. Article on Representative Rich Boucher's website on Grundy flood control
  2. Appalachian Regional Commission Online Resource Center. Retrieved: 15 May 2009.

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