Nelson County, Virginia

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Nelson County, Virginia
Nelson Co Courthouse Dec 08.JPG
Map of Virginia highlighting Nelson County
Location in the state of Virginia
Map of the United States highlighting Virginia
Virginia's location in the U.S.
Named forThomas Nelson, Jr.
 • Total474 sq mi (1,228 km2)
 • Land471 sq mi (1,220 km2)
 • Water3.5 sq mi (9 km2), 0.7%
 • (2010)15,020
 • Density31/sq mi (12/km²)
Time zoneEastern: UTC-5/-4
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Nelson County, Virginia
Nelson Co Courthouse Dec 08.JPG
Map of Virginia highlighting Nelson County
Location in the state of Virginia
Map of the United States highlighting Virginia
Virginia's location in the U.S.
Named forThomas Nelson, Jr.
 • Total474 sq mi (1,228 km2)
 • Land471 sq mi (1,220 km2)
 • Water3.5 sq mi (9 km2), 0.7%
 • (2010)15,020
 • Density31/sq mi (12/km²)
Time zoneEastern: UTC-5/-4

Nelson County is a county located in the Commonwealth of Virginia. As of the 2010 census, the population was 15,020.[1] Its county seat is Lovingston.[2]

Nelson County is home to Wintergreen Resort, a local ski area; Swannanoa mansion and is the location of Walton's Mountain made famous by the television show, The Waltons. Nelson County is also home to many thriving vineyards, three craft breweries, a cidery, a whiskey distillery, and Crabtree Falls.

Nelson County is part of the Charlottesville Metropolitan Statistical Area.


At the time of English settlement in Virginia in the 17th century, the inhabitants of what became Nelson County were a Siouan-speaking tribe known as the Nahyssan. They were probably connected to the Manahoac.[3]

Nelson County was created in 1807, when it was separated from Amherst County. The government was formed the following year.[4] The county is named for Thomas Nelson, Jr., a signer of the U.S. Declaration of Independence, who served as Governor of Virginia in 1781. An earlier Virginia county, also named in his honor, became part of Kentucky when it separated from Virginia in 1792.

Hurricane Camille[edit]

On the night of August 19–20, 1969, Nelson County was struck by disastrous flooding caused by Hurricane Camille. The hurricane hit the Gulf Coast two days earlier, weakened over land, and stalled on the eastern side of the Blue Ridge Mountains, dumping a world record quantity of 27 inches (690 mm) of rain, mainly in a three-hour period. Over five hours, it yielded more than 37 inches (940 mm), while the previous day had seen a deluge of 5 inches in half an hour, with the ground already saturated. There were reports of animals drowning in trees and people who had had to cup their hands around their mouth and nose to breathe.[citation needed]

Flash floods and mudslides killed 153 people, 31 from Roseland, Tyro, and Massies Mill alone.[5] Over 133 public bridges were washed out in Nelson County, while some communities were under water.[6] In the tiny Davis Creek community, 52 people were killed or could not be found; only 3 of 35 homes were left standing after the floodwaters receded.[5] The bodies of some people have never been found; others washed as much as 25 miles (40 km) downstream along the creeks and rivers. The entire county was virtually cut off, with many roads and virtually all bridges, telephone, radio/TV, and electric service interrupted.

The waters of the Tye, Piney, Buffalo, and Rockfish rivers flow into the James River. There was massive flooding elsewhere in Virginia, such as the Maury River which destroyed the town of Glasgow in Rockbridge County.

Draining all of Nelson County, and joined by massive flooding from other tributaries such as Hatt Creek, along the James eighty miles to the east just above the fall line at Richmond crested more than 20 feet (6.1 m) above flood stage at Westham, as citizens watched portions of Nelson County houses, people and buildings and dead livestock flow past. Just a few miles further downstream, the James crested in Richmond at 28.6 feet (8.7 m) at the City Locks, swamping downtown areas and a substantial portion of South Richmond which had formerly been the separate city of Manchester.[7] The Camille disaster did over $140 million in damages across Virginia, in 1969 US dollars. However, nowhere in Virginia was the storm as devastating and deadly as in Nelson County, where 1% of the population was killed and still never found.


The Tye River flows through the mountains and low hills of Nelson County.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the county has a total area of 474 square miles (1,230 km2), of which 471 square miles (1,220 km2) is land and 3.5 square miles (9.1 km2) (0.7%) is water.[8] The Blue Ridge Mountains form the northwest boundary of the county; the James River forms the boundary to the southeast. Internally, Nelson consists of the Rockfish, Tye and Piney rivers, along with many known creeks.

Adjacent counties[edit]

National protected areas[edit]

Major highways[edit]


Nelson County Public Schools is a Virginia public school division. It operates two elementary schools, one middle school, and one high school. The middle and high schools are connected and located just outside Lovingston, Virginia. Nelson County also provides free GED testing to all adults.


Historical population
Est. 201214,827−1.3%
U.S. Decennial Census[9]
1790-1960[10] 1900-1990[11]
1990-2000[12] 2010-2012[1]
Historical marker on Route 250 heading east over Afton Mountain

As of the census[13] of 2000, there were 14,445 people, 5,887 households, and 4,144 families residing in the county. The population density was 31 people per square mile (12/km²). There were 8,554 housing units at an average density of 18 per square mile (7/km²). The racial makeup of the county was 82.65% White or American American or European American, 14.89% Black or African American, 0.19% Native American, 0.24% Asian, 0.06% Pacific Islander, 0.62% from other races, and 1.35% from two or more races. 2.11% of the population were Hispanic or Latino of any race.

There were 5,887 households, out of which 27.10% had children under the age of 18 living with them, 55.70% were married couples living together, 10.70% had a female householder with no husband present, and 29.60% were non-families. 25.00% of all households were made up of individuals and 10.30% had someone living alone who was 65 years of age or older. The average household size was 2.42 and the average family size was 2.88.

In the county, the population was spread out with 21.70% under the age of 18, 6.40% from 18 to 24, 25.60% from 25 to 44, 29.60% from 45 to 64, and 16.80% who were 65 years of age or older. The median age was 43 years. For every 100 females there were 94.80 males. For every 100 females age 18 and over, there were 91.40 males.

The median income for a household in the county was $36,769, and the median income for a family was $42,917. Males had a median income of $29,684 versus $24,153 for females. The per capita income for the county was $22,230. 12.10% of the population and 8.50% of families were below the poverty line. Out of the total people living in poverty, 14.40% are under the age of 18 and 14.60% are 65 or older.


A view down a ski slope in Wintergreen, Nelson County, Virginia

The Wintergreen Resort near Nellysford opened in 1975. A planned development begun in 1969, it offers 45 holes of championship golf; seasonal skiing, snowboarding and snowtubing. On the eastern slope of the Blue Ridge, Wintergreen is a "top down" resort in which practically all of the amenities are built on the peaks and ridges, rather than at the base like a traditional ski resort.[14]

Sections of the former Virginia Blue Ridge Railway along the Tye River are now part of the Blue Ridge Railway Trail, which was under development in the early 21st century. The trail will eventually connect the James River with the Blue Ridge Parkway and the Appalachian Trail.[15][16]

Fishing and camping are popular activities in Nelson County. Sections of the Tye River are also popular for whitewater boating with canoes and kayaks. The rapids are rated Class I to Class II+. Depending upon water conditions some rapids on the Tye River can approach class III.[17]

The first annual Lockn' Music Festival was held September 5–8, 2013 on a farm in Nelson County near Arrington, Virginia.[18]


There are no cities or incorporated towns in Nelson County. Unincorporated communities include but are not limited to:

Notable people[edit]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b "State & County QuickFacts". United States Census Bureau. Retrieved January 4, 2014. 
  2. ^ "Find a County". National Association of Counties. Retrieved 2011-06-07. 
  3. ^ Swanton, John R. (1952), The Indian Tribes of North America, Smithsonian Institution, p. 64, ISBN 0-8063-1730-2, OCLC 52230544 
  4. ^ Nelson County, VA USGenWeb Archives
  5. ^ a b
  6. ^ United States Department of Commerce (1969). "Hurricane Camille August 14–22, 1969" (PDF). Environmental Science Services Administration. Retrieved March 23, 2008. 
  7. ^ Discover Richmond |
  8. ^ "US Gazetteer files: 2010, 2000, and 1990". United States Census Bureau. 2011-02-12. Retrieved 2011-04-23. 
  9. ^ "U.S. Decennial Census". United States Census Bureau. Retrieved January 4, 2014. 
  10. ^ "Historical Census Browser". University of Virginia Library. Retrieved January 4, 2014. 
  11. ^ "Population of Counties by Decennial Census: 1900 to 1990". United States Census Bureau. Retrieved January 4, 2014. 
  12. ^ "Census 2000 PHC-T-4. Ranking Tables for Counties: 1990 and 2000". United States Census Bureau. Retrieved January 4, 2014. 
  13. ^ "American FactFinder". United States Census Bureau. Retrieved 2011-05-14. 
  14. ^ Wintergreen Resort
  15. ^
  16. ^ Virginia Short Lines and Industrial Roads
  17. ^ Nelson Downriver Race – 2005
  18. ^ Greene, Andy. "Interlocken Festival Unites Neil Young, Furthur and Widespread Panic". Rolling Stone. Retrieved September 10, 2013. 

External links[edit]

Coordinates: 37°47′N 78°53′W / 37.79°N 78.88°W / 37.79; -78.88