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During the colonial era, Southside was considered the area where entrepreneurs settled, as opposed to some of the more established families in the Tidewater counties, although many early Southside settlers were younger sons of established Tidewater families.
Today, however, some people use a more limited definition of the region: those counties lying east of the Blue Ridge, west of the fall line, and south of the James River. That is to say, the southern end of Virginia's Piedmont region. While this definition describes an area long considered to be the heart of Southside, it also accounts for changes that have occurred in recent decades as the Richmond suburbs have eaten up large portions of Chesterfield and even Powhatan Counties.
While Southside has long been reputed for its isolated, rural, and culturally conservative character, in recent years the aforementioned counties have become increasingly linked to the Richmond metro area. Counties often considered part of this region include Patrick, Henry, Bedford, Pittsylvania, Halifax, Charlotte, Mecklenburg, Campbell, Lunenburg, Brunswick, Nottoway, Amelia, Prince Edward, Appomattox, Buckingham, Cumberland, Powhatan, Dinwiddie, and Greensville counties. The cities of Danville, Emporia, Lynchburg, and Martinsville, which under Virginia law are not located within any counties, are also considered to be in this region.
Southside's climate is unique from much of Virginia's. Summers are typically hot, with highs generally in the upper 80s to low 90s; quite often 5-7 degrees hotter than in Richmond. Winters are generally mild, and nighttime lows often drop below freezing; frequently 5-7 degrees cooler than Richmond or Norfolk. Much of this has to do with the lack of the temperature-moderating effect of the Atlantic Ocean.
Snow and frozen precipitation usually falls every year in Southside (usually less than a foot), with the western and northern fringes of the area getting several inches more snow than the rest.
Southside, along with much of Upper South, was long well known for its tobacco crop. The nutrient-rich soil, along with frequent spring rains, provided ideal growing conditions for tobacco as well as soybeans and some cold-hardy cotton plants.
Beginning in the 1940s, various textile mills opened up in the Southside area, most notably the enormous Dan River Mills in Danville. The textile industry found it an ideal place due to inexpensive labor (costs of living in much of Southside is low), while the Southside workforce found textile work to be much more lucrative than the low incomes that frequently come with farming. Along with tobacco manufacturing, textile mills aided the economy of the Southside region to become more prosperous. Beginning in the 1970s, however, many of the textile mills closed up and outsourced work to countries such as Mexico, China and India, where the labor costs were significantly lower. Furthermore, the waning demand for tobacco products hurt Southside somewhat.
The Bassett Furniture company is in the town of Bassett. The Army bases Fort Lee and Fort Pickett employ many people, although fewer than during World War II. Some residents commute to the Philip Morris factory in south Richmond.
The 1990s brought some new manufacturing jobs to the area, often for industrial-grade metals and ceramics. Numerous prisons were established in the area, and employed local people in relatively high-paying security jobs.
Television stations are receivable from all parts of Southside, with the eastern parts receiving Richmond TV stations and the western parts receiving Roanoke/Lynchburg TV stations. In addition, some viewers on the northern or southern edges of the region receive Charlottesville and Raleigh/Durham TV stations, respectively.
While most people receive large-market radio stations from the same places as their TV stations, Southside has a large variety of local radio. Country stations tend to dominate Southside radio, though local classic rock, adult contemporary, Top 40, and public radio formats exist.
All of Southside can receive Virginia's largest newspaper, the Richmond Times-Dispatch. In addition, all the towns listed below (and others) have local newspapers, and they are generally weekly publications. The Prizery is a new fine arts cultural center located in a former tobacco warehouse in South Boston.
Colleges in the Southside region include:
- Sweet Briar College
- Liberty University
- Randolph College
- Lynchburg College
- Longwood University
- Hampden-Sydney College
- Averett University
- St. Paul's College
- Southside Virginia Community College
Cities and Towns associated with Southside
- Chase City
- South Boston
- South Hill