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Historic marker for Fort Blackwater, one of the earliest frontier forts outside of the Tidewater area. Built in 1756 in present-day Franklin County
Franklin County historic marker, State of Virginia
The Blue Ridge Foothills had long been inhabited by indigenous peoples. At the time of European encounter, mostly Siouan-speaking tribes lived in this area.
A few colonists moved into the area before the American Revolutionary War, but most settlement happened afterward, as people moved west seeking new lands. Cultivation of tobacco had exhausted soils in the eastern part of the state. The county was formed in 1785 from parts of Bedford and Henry counties. It was named for Benjamin Franklin. The Piedmont and backcountry areas were largely settled by Scots-Irish, who were the last major immigrant group from the British Isles to enter the colonies before the Revolutionary War. There were also migrants from coastal areas, including free people of color, who moved to the frontier to escape racial strictures associated with the slave society of Virginia.
The Great Moonshine Conspiracy era
In the 20th century during Prohibition, local wits named Franklin County the "Moonshine Capital of the World", as moonshine production and bootlegging drove the economy. As of 2000, the local chamber of commerce had adopted the title as a heritage identification for the area. Moonshine is still being made in the area.
Historians estimate that in the 1920s, 99 of every 100 Franklin County residents were in some way involved in the illegal liquor trade. The bootleggers became involved with gangsters from Chicago and other major cities, and some local law enforcement officials were part of the criminal activities and killing of competitors. "Between 1930 and 1935 local still operators and their business partners sold a volume of whiskey that would have generated $5,500,000 in excise taxes at the old 1920 tax rate."
A lengthy federal investigation resulted in indictments and trials for 34 suspects in 1935 for what was called the "Great Moonshine Conspiracy," which attracted national attention. The writer Sherwood Anderson was among the many outsiders who came to cover the trial. At what was then the longest trial in state history, 31 people were convicted, but their jail sentences were relatively light (two years or less). Thirteen conspirators were sentenced only to probation.
This period has recently received new attention by writers. T. Keister Greer's history The Great Moonshine Conspiracy Trial of 1935 (2002) covered the trial and its background in the county. The writer Matt Bondurant had ancestors in the area, whose exploits during this period inspired his historical novel, The Wettest County in the World (2008). (The title was based on a statement by Anderson.) The book was adapted as a film, Lawless, in 2012. In 2014 an historical novel with lots of history about the county and town came out: "Moonshine Corner, Keys to Rocky Mount," ISBN9781500980115, by the widow of T. Keister Greer, Ibby Greer.
Late 20th century to present
Since the 1980s, much residential development has occurred around Smith Mountain Lake. People live there who commute to work in the urbanized areas of Roanoke, Lynchburg, Martinsville, and Danville. Retirees have also moved in, and both groups have increased the county's population.
There were 18,963 households out of which 29.10% had children under the age of 18 living with them, 60.10% were married couples living together, 9.40% had a female householder with no husband present, and 26.60% were non-families. 22.60% of all households were made up of individuals and 8.90% had someone living alone who was 65 years of age or older. The average household size was 2.44 and the average family size was 2.84.
In the county, the population was spread out with 22.20% under the age of 18, 8.10% from 18 to 24, 28.20% from 25 to 44, 27.20% from 45 to 64, and 14.30% who were 65 years of age or older. The median age was 40 years. For every 100 females there were 97.20 males. For every 100 females age 18 and over, there were 96.30 males.
The median income for a household in the county was $38,056, and the median income for a family was $45,163. Males had a median income of $29,807 versus $22,215 for females. The per capita income for the county was $19,605. About 7.30% of families and 9.70% of the population were below the poverty line, including 12.70% of those under age 18 and 9.80% of those age 65 or over.
Board of supervisors
Blackwater District: E. Cline Brubaker (I)
Blue Ridge District: Timothy Tatum (R)
Boone District: R.A. "Ronnie" Thompson (R)
Gills Creek District: Bob M. Camicia (R)
Rocky Mount District: Mike Carter (I)
Snow Creek District: W. Leland Mitchell (I)
Union Hall District: Tommy Cundiff (I)
Clerk of the Circuit Court: Teresa J. Brown (I)
Commissioner of the Revenue: Margaret Stone Torrence (I)
Commonwealth's Attorney: Allen "A.J." Dudley, Jr.
Sheriff: W.Q. "Bill" Overton, Jr. (I)
Treasurer: Susan Wray
Franklin is represented by Republicans Ralph K. Smith and William M. Stanley, Jr. in the Virginia Senate, Republicans Charles D. Poindexter and Kathy J. Byron in the Virginia House of Delegates, and Thomas Garrett, Jr. in the U.S. House of Representatives.
Ferrum College was established in 1913. Ferrum College offers bachelor's degrees in twenty-eight major degree programs. The college continues to operate under the auspices of the Virginia Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church and the United Methodist Women of the Virginia Annual Conference.
Franklin County, and subsequently Smith Mountain Lake, was the setting for Touchstone Pictures 1991 film "What About Bob?". The comedy film was directed by Frank Oz, and starred Bill Murray and Richard Dreyfuss. Murray plays Bob Wiley, a psychiatric patient who follows his egotistical psychiatrist Dr. Leo Marvin (Dreyfuss) on vacation. When the unstable Bob befriends the other members of Marvin's family, it pushes the doctor over the edge.