Rocky Mount, Virginia

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Rocky Mount, Virginia
Official seal of Rocky Mount, Virginia
Location of Rocky Mount in Franklin County
Location of Rocky Mount in Franklin County
Coordinates: 36°59′44″N 79°53′20″W / 36.99556°N 79.88889°W / 36.99556; -79.88889Coordinates: 36°59′44″N 79°53′20″W / 36.99556°N 79.88889°W / 36.99556; -79.88889
CountryUnited States
 • MayorSteve Angle
 • Total6.85 sq mi (17.74 km2)
 • Land6.82 sq mi (17.65 km2)
 • Water0.04 sq mi (0.09 km2)
1,200 ft (400 m)
 • Total4,799
 • Estimate 
 • Density692.97/sq mi (267.58/km2)
Time zoneUTC−5 (Eastern (EST))
 • Summer (DST)UTC−4 (EDT)
ZIP code
FIPS code51-68496
GNIS feature ID1499983

Rocky Mount is a town in and the county seat of Franklin County, Virginia, United States.[3] The town is part of the Roanoke Metropolitan Statistical Area, and had a population of 4,799 as of the 2010 census.[4] It is located in the Roanoke Region of Virginia.[5]


Franklin County courthouse, built 1909, Rocky Mount

Although Robert Hill built a block house (fortified residence and trading post) in the 1740s, the first English colonists arrived here in 1760, and they named Rocky Mount for a steep cliff near the town. The area originally consisted of two adjacent villages, Rocky Mount and Mount Pleasant. Washington Iron Furnace was built by James Callaway and Jeremiah Early on what is now Main Street slightly outside what is now the historic district, and operated by Calloway's heirs and Peter Saunders until damaged by a flood in 1850, with rebuilding stopped by the Civil War. The first court session was held at Rocky Mount in 1786 following the Revolutionary War, in Callaway's home until he deeded land to the town on which to build the (log) courthouse. Rocky Mount had a post office in 1795. The town was divided into lots in 1804. Jeremiah's son John Early represented the county (part-time) in the Virginia House of Delegates and served as sheriff as well as operated a plantation nearby. The courthouse was replaced in 1831. By 1836 the iron furnace employed 100 people and the town had about 275 residents, included 30 homes and several businesses including 3 grocery stores and a newspaper/printing office. The oldest dwelling is "Mount Pleasant", built overlooking the courthouse in 1829 for Caleb Tate (the court clerk from 1797-1835); the detached brick kitchen built circa 1820 is the oldest building in town. The Rocky Mount Turnpike Company incorporated in 1846 and a bank shortly afterward, but neither prospered.[6]

During the Civil War, numerous planter families from the Tidewater region sought refuge in Rocky Mount, and many brought substantial numbers of slaves with them. Among these were the immediate past governor, Henry A. Wise, who settled his family here before he became a Confederate general. Jubal Anderson Early, who became a Confederate general during the war, was born on a farm nearby, and served as one term in the Virginia House of Delegates representing the county (succeeded by his mentor Norborne Taliaferro, who later became a judge) and more than a decade as Commonwealth's attorney (prosecutor) before the war, then resumed his legal practice here and in Lynchburg, Virginia after the war's end (although the building which served as his law office was razed in 1937). The only building constructed in that era and surviving today was constructed for Dr. Thomas Greer in 1861. Two other buildings constructed in 1850-1854 and used as law offices still survive. The town's clerk, Robert A. Scott, issued scrip to assist families of Confederate soldiers during the Civil War, and the Confederate government also requisitioned slaves from various county landowners to work on Richmond's defenses. The town experienced no battles, although Union Gen. George Stoneman and troops passed through the county in the war's final days. In 1867, the Freedman's Bureau under William F. DeKnight opened a Sunday school in Rocky Mount, about a third of whose residents at the time were African American, but efforts to establish a day school didn't succeed until much later, which is one of the reasons Booker Taliaferro Washington, born enslaved in Franklin County, moved with his mother to West Virginia for his education, and later studied at the Hampton Institute at the other side of the state.[7]

The area's major cash crop both before and after the Civil War was tobacco. In 1873, Rocky Mount incorporated as a town and absorbed the smaller village of Mount Pleasant, creating its present boundaries.[8] Former court clerk Robert Scott became the first mayor. Rocky Mount's population was about 400 people in 1870, 600 in 1897 and about 1100 in 1920. In 1880, the Franklin and Pittsylvania Railroad connected Rocky Mount to Danville and Lynchburg via Pittsylvania County, Virginia, but the more important railroad line would not arrive for another dozen years, until three years after most of Rocky Mount burned in 1889. Industrial and commercial development began as Rocky Mount became a stop on the twisty railroad line between Roanoke, Virginia and Winston-Salem, North Carolina (nicknamed the "Pumpkin Vine", which became the Norfolk and Western Railway after 1896). Canaday Mills (a gristmill and box factory) was built in 1898. Schoolteacher turned merchant and entrepreneur Nathanial V. Angle built the Bald Knob furniture factory in 1903 (which became the Lane Furniture Company in 1957 and is currently the MW Manufacturing Company). By World War I, N.V. Angle owned a furniture and grocery stores, a lumberyard, tobacco house, agricultural implement store and the area's first Ford Dealership. Much of the historic architecture, both residential and commercial, dates from the first decades of the 20th century, although only one structure the Lodge Rooms (Colored) built in 1900, remains of what had been a thriving African American community on West Court Street. Workers needed housing, and more elaborate (including Victorian-style) dwellings were built for managers and professionals. Rocky Mount is roughly halfway between Roanoke and Martinsville, Virginia, which likewise developed furniture manufacturing and textile industries early in the 20th century. The present Franklin County courthouse was constructed in 1909 (two years after the Norfolk and Western freight and passenger station) and modeled on the Roanoke County courthouse in Salem, Virginia. Trinity Episcopal Church and its Rectory (both built in 1874, the church being moved back from Main Street in 1906) survived the 1889 fire, but the pre-1898 African Methodist Episcopal Church no longer exists. The Presbyterian Church (built by 1880) managed to reopen shortly after the fire; the Methodists rebuilt their church of brick, then replaced Scott Memorial Church again in 1925. The Baptist Church (colored) built in 1907 was later deconsecrated and became a business; the Bethel AME church built before World War I is still in active use. The town gained a Coca-Cola bottling plant circa 1920. The area's oldest car dealership (Chevrolet) dates from 1926 (although housed in a building from 1916); Ryland Goode also established a car dealership for Dodges and Hudsons that year. The current International Harvester dealership building dates from 1946; the John Deere dealership (built 1940) is now the county's Developmental Center. The Art-Deco style People's National Bank was built in 1928. The town also gained a Sealtest dairy bottling plant and Exchange Milling (an animal feed processing plant) around 1940.[9]

In 1915, Rocky Mount appropriated $2200 to build an eight-room brick school for white students, complete with central heating and indoor plumbing. The same year black residents built Rocky Mount Colored School and dormitory on Bald Knob outside the town limits. The town became a school district and built a high school for white students in 1924. By 1940 the town's white students had 16 teachers, and 7 African American teachers "struggled with the problems of their race in their own schools."[10] Around that time, a foundation was established to mark Booker T. Washington's birthplace, and in 1952 it donated 6 acres of land to help build a modern four room school for black students. That opened shortly before the start of Massive Resistance and remained in use until 1966, when the U.S. Supreme Court found subsidies for segregated schools (much used by the county's white schoolchildren) unconstitutional, and is now an administrative building used by the National Park Service.[11]

Rocky Mount's brick Municipal Building was built in 1929, and the Works Progress Administration built the Post Office in 1936. The county jail was built in the Art Moderne style in 1938. The town applied for funds to upgrade its sewer system as the Great Depression began in 1933, but the New Deal project with most impact may have been work on U.S. Route 220 and state route 40 near the town. The WPA and prominent local businessman N. V. Angle also drained a swamp and built Mary Elizabeth Park, named for Angle's wife and now maintained by the local Presbyterian church (although Angle was a Methodist philanthropist). Before World War II, Rocky Mount also had a silk mill and a door and sash window factory, in addition to Angle's furniture company. The library, constructed in 1940, was one of ten funded by an anonymous donor in rural Virginia counties in that era, and now also serves as administration building. The county's administration building, built in 1967, is further down the street and named for Virgil Goode Sr., former Virginia House delegate and Commonwealth's attorney. In 1990, local residents saved the former Norfolk and Western station, and have transformed it into a tourist information center.[12]

The Booker T. Washington National Monument, Evergreen-Callaway-Deyerle House, The Farm, Greer House, Rocky Mount Historic District, Washington Iron Furnace, and Woods-Meade House are listed on the National Register of Historic Places.[13]


Rocky Mount is located at the center of Franklin County at 36°59′59″N 79°53′23″W / 36.99972°N 79.88972°W / 36.99972; -79.88972 (36.999855, −79.889673).[14] U.S. Route 220 passes through the east side of town as a limited-access bypass, leading north 23 miles (37 km) to Roanoke and south 26 miles (42 km) to Martinsville. Virginia State Route 40 passes through the center of Rocky Mount as Pell Avenue and Franklin Street, leading east 32 miles (51 km) to Gretna and southwest 10 miles (16 km) to Ferrum.

According to the United States Census Bureau, the town has a total area of 6.9 square miles (17.8 km2), of which 0.03 square miles (0.07 km2), or 0.39%, is water.[4] The Pigg River, an east-flowing tributary of the Roanoke River, forms the southern border of the town. The 1,934-foot (589 m) summit of Grassy Hill is in the northern part of town.


The climate in this area is characterized by hot, humid summers and generally mild to cool winters. According to the Köppen Climate Classification system, Rocky Mount has a humid subtropical climate, abbreviated "Cfa" on climate maps.[15]


Historical population
Census Pop.
2019 (est.)4,724[2]−1.6%
U.S. Decennial Census[16]
State historical marker for Rocky Mount

As of the census[17] of 2000, there were 4,066 people, 1,698 households, and 1,018 families residing in the town. The population density was 886.5 people per square mile (342.0/km2). There were 1,796 housing units at an average density of 391.6 per square mile (151.1/km2). The racial makeup of the town was 74.50% White, 22.26% African American, 0.27% Native American, 1.11% Asian, 0.10% Pacific Islander, 0.49% from other races, and 1.28% from two or more races. Hispanic or Latino of any race were 1.67% of the population.

There were 1,698 households, out of which 26.4% had children under the age of 18 living with them, 40.2% were married couples living together, 15.8% had a female householder with no husband present, and 40.0% were non-families. 36.5% of all households were made up of individuals, and 18.7% had someone living alone who was 65 years of age or older. The average household size was 2.21 and the average family size was 2.87.

In the town, the population was spread out, with 21.4% under the age of 18, 7.7% from 18 to 24, 25.2% from 25 to 44, 22.1% from 45 to 64, and 23.6% who were 65 years of age or older. The median age was 42 years. For every 100 females, there were 85.0 males. For every 100 females age 18 and over, there were 81.1 males.

The median income for a household in the town was $26,927, and the median income for a family was $38,688. Males had a median income of $30,947 versus $22,472 for females. The per capita income for the town was $16,207. About 16.6% of families and 14.1% of the population were below the poverty line, including 17.6% of those under age 18 and 14.0% of those age 65 or over.

Notable people[edit]

Further reading[edit]

  • Fussell, Fred C. (2003). Blue Ridge Music Trails: Finding a Place in the Circle. North Carolina Folklife Institute. 080785459X.
  • Watman, Max (2010). Chasing the White Dog: An Amateur Outlaw's Adventures in Moonshine. Simon & Schuster. ISBN 978-1-4165-7178-0.
  • Greer, T. Keister. The Great Moonshine Conspiracy Trial of 1935, History House Press, 2003
  • Bondurant, Matt. The Wettest County in the World (2008)


  1. ^ "2019 U.S. Gazetteer Files". United States Census Bureau. Retrieved August 7, 2020.
  2. ^ a b "Population and Housing Unit Estimates". United States Census Bureau. May 24, 2020. Retrieved May 27, 2020.
  3. ^ "Find a County". National Association of Counties. Retrieved 2011-06-07.
  4. ^ a b "Geographic Identifiers: 2010 Demographic Profile Data (G001): Rocky Mount town, Virginia". U.S. Census Bureau, American Factfinder. Retrieved October 20, 2016.[dead link]
  5. ^ Roanoke Region of Virginia
  6. ^ Rocky Mount NRIS Section 7, pp. 3-4, 54-56
  7. ^ NRIS pp. 57-58
  8. ^ Frank H. Gille (ed.). The Encyclopedia of Virginia 1999; Volume One. Somerset Publishers. p. 329. ISBN 0-403-09753-3.
  9. ^ NRIS section 7 pp. 9-14, 18, 23, 33, 37-39, 51, 59-60
  10. ^ NRIS p. 62 quoting WPA writer Essie Smith
  11. ^ Booker T. Washington Memorial NRIS, at p. ix, available at
  12. ^ Rocky Mount NRIS section 7 pp. 16-17, 28-32, 49, 52, 61-62
  13. ^ "National Register Information System". National Register of Historic Places. National Park Service. July 9, 2010.
  14. ^ "US Gazetteer files: 2010, 2000, and 1990". United States Census Bureau. 2011-02-12. Retrieved 2011-04-23.
  15. ^ Climate Summary for Rocky Mount, Virginia
  16. ^ "Census of Population and Housing". Retrieved June 4, 2015.
  17. ^ "U.S. Census website". United States Census Bureau. Retrieved 2008-01-31.

External links[edit]