Montgomery County and economic growth, 1776-1860

TR Number



Journal Title

Journal ISSN

Volume Title


Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University


The Blue Ridge Mountains separated Montgomery County, Virginia from the state's eastern agricultural markets. This mountain barrier restricted the transportation of crops and therefore limited farm products to subsistence crops and easily transported livestock. Only after the construction of the Allegheny Turnpike in 1809, and the Roanoke Canal in 1815, which together provided outlets to formerly inaccessible markets., did Montgomery's infant economy begin to emerge. Still, the county's economy could not supply enough capital to finance further internal improvements. Therefore the citizens of Montgomery appealed to the General Assembly for internal improvements. But within the existing system of representation, the state's western reaches were underrepresented.

In part then, Montgomery's struggle for economic prosperity was a political struggle where the Westerners, desirous of increased representation sided against the overrepresented Easterners. After almost fifty years of political agitation by the West, that region finally obtained concessions from the Easterners which approximated its equal share of legislative power. Almost immediately Western representatives pushed measures through the General Assembly providing for an increased number of internal improvements for the West.

Among the internal construction projects that aided the Transmontane was the Virginia and Tennessee Railroad. This railroad, extending from Bristol to Lynchburg, became an important stimulant for the undeveloped Montgomery economy. Rail transportation provided cheap, quick access to eastern agricultural markets. This facilitated the use of large-scale farm production in Montgomery. Moreover, rail transportation generated other non-agricultural industries such as coal and lumber.

Montgomery's struggle for economic development paid off in the decade 1850-1860. This prosperous period came as a result of the internal improvements which Westerner's had begged for since early in the nineteenth century. During this successful period the economic ties established with the East by Montgomery helped to mold the county's decision to secede from the Union in 1861, while the counties further west shared no such common bonds and did not join the Confederacy.