To say that this is a bucolic and laid back place would be an understatement. With a total population of 2,321 living in an area totaling 416 square miles, there are only 5.6 residents per square mile. This compares to our ‘rural’ county in east Tennessee with 171 residents per square mile…or even more dramatically to the population of the state of Wyoming, with 5.85 residents per square mile!
Settlement in this area of Virginia began around 1745. Early settlers were Scotch & Irish highlanders, followed closely by German immigrants. Because of its pristine scenic beauty and rustic rural charm, Highland County has been nicknamed “Little Switzerland”. The economy here over the years has been based primarily on sheep, cattle and the lumber industry. Wool is still a key commodity.
Of course, there is a downside to being a bit isolated. The county’s population has been on the decline since it peaked at 5,647 in 1900. There are several severely decimated small towns or villages scattered around the county. The photo above was taken in the early evening in the village of Blue Grass. The county’s population has declined by a little over 12% since Laurie and I first came through here. This particular village was in much better condition during our last visit.
In addition to the declining population, demographics tell another story… Comparing Highland County to Virginia as a whole, 24.9% of the county’s population is over 65 vs. 12.2% for the state. Residents aged 5 or under totaled only 2.8% of the county’s total, (65 in total), vs. 6.4% for the state.
We did hear conversations about consolidating schools between counties and even the possibility of merging counties. Highland County was formed in 1847 from portions of Bath and Pendleton Counties.
In spite of its economic and population woes, this is a beautiful place. The county consists of a series of high narrow ridges complemented by relatively narrow river valleys. The James and the Potomac River’s headwaters are both found in the county. Elevations range from 4,546 feet above sea level down to 2,894 feet in the county seat of Monterey.
The climate in Highland County provides moderately cold winters and comfortable cool summers. Summer temperatures average between 70 and 80 degrees with the average temperature coming in at 47.6 degrees over the whole year.
'Just' another pretty valley in the least populated county in Virginia...
Staunton Virginia is located about 40 minutes east of Monterey, the County Seat for Highland County. Staunton, Waynesboro and Augusta County Virginia have a combined population of roughly 118,000. If a resident of Highland County wanted to go shopping, it's 2 lanes all the way to the 'big' city!
There are no Interstate Highways in Highland County. The nearest Interstate is I-81, which is 45 miles away in Staunton Virginia. The county is bisected by US Highway 250, which runs east and west, and US Highway 220, which runs north and south. This view is looking east in the direction of Monterey along US 250. The little hamlet shown in the photo was unnamed as far as we could tell.
As we drove along the county’s roads, we saw lots of sheep and cattle, some horses, a bunch of deer and then we noticed that we weren’t the only ones watching the ‘critters’ along the road!
Some of the unincorporated communities in the county have interesting names…such as Doe Hill, Forks of Waters, Hardscrabble, Mustoe, and Possum Trot. It would be interesting to dig up a little more history on the county, its towns and villages.
A Civil War battle took place in Monterey County in May of 1862. Stonewall Jackson’s army suffered a battlefield defeat but a tactical victory when Union forces failed to dislodge his forces in the Battle of McDowell. Only 34 Union soldiers were killed compared to Jackson’s 116… This battle is sometimes referred to as the start of Jackson’s Shenandoah Valley Campaign.
Other points of interest include the Virginia Trout Company, the Highland Wildlife Management Area, the George Washington National Forest plus the town and county seat of Monterey. (My next Blog)
We just liked the looks of this closed up or abandoned cabin along the back roads. At times, we drove for miles without passing another car…a very relaxing drive!
In March, since 1958, the county stages a Highland Maple Festival. During this time, Maple Sugar camps throughout the county welcome visitors to view the process of syrup making. (http://www.highlandcounty.org/maplefestival.html) Every August, the Mountain Mama Road Bike Challenge brings cyclists from all over the country to challenge themselves on the steep roads of the county. (http://bikemountainmama.homestead.com/) Also, the Highland County Fair, held on the last weekend of August or the first weekend of September, is the longest continuously running fair in Virginia. (http://highlandcountyfairva.com/)
That’s about it for now… My next Blog will include more on Monterey Virginia, the Inn where we stayed and the only restaurant available at the time of our visit.
Just click on any photo to enlarge it…
Thanks for stopping by for a visit!
Take Care, Big Daddy Dave