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Southwest Virginia, often abbreviated as SWVA, is a mountainous region of Virginia in the westernmost part of the commonwealth. Southwest Virginia has been defined alternatively as all Virginia counties on the Appalachian Plateau, all Virginia counties west of the Eastern Continental Divide, or at its greatest expanse, as far east as Blacksburg and Roanoke. 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 with Appalachia than 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 County, Bedford County, Bland County, Botetourt County, Buchanan County, Carroll County, Craig County, Dickenson County, Floyd County, Franklin County, Giles County, Grayson County, Henry County, Lee County, Montgomery County, Patrick County, Pulaski County, Roanoke County, Rockbridge County, Russell County, Scott County, Smyth County, Tazewell County, Washington County, Wise County, and Wythe County.
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 Bedford, Bristol, Buena Vista, Covington, Galax, Lexington, Martinsville, Norton, Radford, Roanoke, and Salem.
Southwest 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 War, 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. Southwest Virginia is also the result of parts of Virginia which broke off or revolted, such as Kentucky and West Virginia. During the American Revolution, residents from southwest Virginia were among those who participated in the Battle of King's Mountain. 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 Saltville and burning all that he thought useful to the Confederates.
The Appalachian Mountains 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, Virginia, a multi-million dollar effort to protect the town from future flooding.
- Buena Vista
- Norton (smallest city)
- Roanoke (largest city)
Like the rest of the commonwealth, Southwest Virginia is represented by the Senators Mark Warner and Tim Kaine 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 Morgan Griffith of the 9th Congressional District. In 2010, Griffith defeated long-time representative Rick Boucher. Boucher had previously 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 Lynchburg and much of the Shenandoah Valley. 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.
Southwest Virginia is home to several institutions of higher education, the largest of which is the Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University (better known as Virginia Tech), in Blacksburg. Virginia Tech is the largest research university in the state as well as the largest employer in Montgomery County.
List of Colleges and Universities
- Appalachian College of Pharmacy
- Appalachian School of Law
- Bluefield College
- Emory and Henry College
- Ferrum College
- Hollins University
- Jefferson College of Health Sciences
- Mountain Empire Community College
- New River Community College
- Radford University
- Roanoke College
- Southwest Virginia Community College
- Southern Virginia University
- University of Virginia's College at Wise
- Virginia College of Osteopathic Medicine
- Virginia Highlands Community College
- Virginia Intermont College
- Virginia-Maryland Regional College of Veterinary Medicine
- Virginia Military Institute
- Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University
- Washington and Lee University
- Wytheville Community College
Appalachian Regional Commission
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%).
- Southern West Virginia
- Tennessee Valley
- List of Appalachian Regional Commission counties#Virginia