Nelson County was formed in 1807 from Amherst County, and named in honor of Thomas Nelson, Jr., third governor of Virginia. Lovingston is the county seat. Originally the home of the Monocan tribe of Native Americans, a settlement along the James River was established by English colonists in the early 1700s. Another stream of settlers, of Scotch-Irish and German descent, came into the western sections of the county from the Shenandoah Valley. By the end of the 1800s, Nelson’s agricultural products included tobacco, apples and chestnut trees; the produce and lumber were carried to market by canal and railroad.
During the 1930s Earl Hamner, Jr. began writing of his experiences growing up in Nelson County during the Depression. Those writings eventually provided the substance for the The Waltons TV series. In 1969, Hurricane Camille caused a flood, devastating Nelson County. Since Camille, Nelson County has slowly recovered its land, its infrastructure and the will to grow and prosper again. Events that have aided in this recovery include: the 1972 development of Wintergreen Resort, the restoration in progress at Oak Ridge Estate, development of Walton’s Mountain Museum, the resurgence of the apple industry, the maturation of new vineyards, and the steady growth in Nelson County’s tourism industry.
Visit the Nelson Memorial Library for a tour of the rocks that showcase the geologic history of the Blue Ridge.
The rocks that underlie Nelson County contain clues to a long and complex geologic history. When we study these rocks, we are uncovering the geologic history of the Blue Ridge and western Piedmont, as we know them today. Blue Ridge geologic history is characterized by multiple cycles of tectonic plate collisions, rifting or pulling apart, then drifting. This cycle has repeated itself at least twice in the last one billion years.
About one billion years ago as the supercontinent Rodinia was formed, crustal plates collided and formed great mountains (the Grenville Mountains) where the Blue Ridge would eventually stand. These mountains were the ancestors of our present Blue Ridge. With the heat and pressures caused by burial beneath huge mountains, molten masses of rock formed and began to rise upward through the earth’s crust. Some of this molten material may have risen all the way to the surface and poured out as volcanic lava. But much of it crystallized deep beneath the surface, forming large blobs or plutons of granite. These granites are exposed at the surface today in central and western Nelson County, from Lovingston to Three Ridges Mountain.