Nelson County was officially incorporated in 1807. Filled with historical sites, century farms, country roads, and ancient mountains; the cultural landscape provides a timeless charm.
Pharsalia is an 1814 plantation home with stunning views of The Priest Wilderness Area. Oak Ridge Estate is an 1802 mansion on 5,000 acres of rolling hills, forest, and streams. Swannanoa Palace is an Italianate marble home atop Afton Mountain. Visit the Walton’s Mountain Museum in Schuyler and The Walton’s Hamner House, boyhood home of Earl Hamner, Jr., creator of The Walton’s TV Show. The Oakland Museum is located in an old tavern; it houses exhibits on Rural Electrification, Historic Properties, Roads & Ancient Mountains, Nelson County Schools and Hurricane Camille remnants, a Category 5 hurricane that devastated Nelson County in 1969.
Historic Woodson’s Mill (1794) produces stone-ground grain products. Take a drive through the Historic Districts of Lovingston, Schuyler and Afton-Greenwood; or meander along the James River from Wingina to Norwood and view the area where some of the first settlers established homes along the river.
The Oakland Museum
5365 Thomas Nelson Highway
Arrrington, VA 22922
The Oakland Museum is in a historic tavern with exhibits on Rural Electrification in Nelson County in the 1930s and Hurricane Camille and its devastation on Nelson County in 1969. Oakland’s exhibits were created to promote greater understanding of the county’s history and of the connections between the county’s history and that of the state of Virginia and the nation. The property is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and the Virginia Landmarks Register.
Open Saturdays 10AM to 4 PM and Sundays 1PM to 4PM.
Oak Ridge Estate
2300 Oak Ridge Road
Arrington, VA 22922
The mansion on this 5,000-acre plantation estate was first built in 1802 and acquired at the turn of the 20th century by Thomas Fortune Ryan, a Nelson County native who had become one of the 10 wealthiest men in the nation. He made impressive alterations to the building and grounds-adding a formal Italian garden, rotunda greenhouse and railroad station, among other features. In addition to the impressive house and grounds, Oak Ridge Estates is also available for weddings, meetings, corporate functions and private events. The total meeting spaces range from 700-8,000 sq. ft with maximum seating styles as follows: Classroom-775, Banquet-350, Reception-350 and Theater-775. Meeting spaces are handicapped accessible. Group tours by prior arrangement. For additional information or to make a reservation, please call 434-263-8676.
2333 Pharsalia Road
Tyro, Virginia 22976
Built in 1814 at the foot of dePriest Mountain in Nelson County, Virginia, by William Massie, Pharsalia commands stunning views and is surrounded by original outbuildings and lovely gardens. Pharsalia is rich in history with a picturesque setting like no other and is on the National Register of Historic Place and the Virginia Landmarks Register. Pharsalia, owned by descendants of the Massie family, continues to carry on the tradition of grace and eloquence along with a connection with the land. It is a working farm with orchards and extensive vegetable and flower gardens.
Pharsalia is not open to the public, but will schedule group tours with prior arrangement. Events such as weddings, family gatherings and corporate retreats may be arranged at Pharsalia. Workshops are scheduled throughout the year where you can learn, visit and tour Pharsalia.
497 Swannanoa Lane
Afton, Virginia 22920
Swannanoa was built in 1911 by Major James H. Dooley atop the Blue Ridge at Afton Mountain. It is an Italianate marble home with commanding views of the Shenandoah and Rockfish Valleys. Extensive terraced gardens with statues and marble walls surround the palace. It has been used as a retreat, a clubhouse, and a philosophy institute and presently under restoration by the owner.
It is only open to the public on selected weekends during the spring, summer and fall.
The Walton’s Hamner House
128 Treetop Loop
Schuyler, Virginia 22969
The house was built in the early 1900s as a company house for the large soapstone company in Schuyler. From 1929 until 1940, the house was the boyhood home of Earl Hamner, Jr., novelist and scriptwriter and creator of the well-known television series, “The Waltons”. Many of the writings of Earl Hamner were based on life in the house, village and surrounding area. It is a white frame house with a soapstone foundation, a common feature of company homes in the village. The Hamners bought the house in 1936 from the company and it remained in the family until 2003. The present owner has restored the house and placed it on the National Register of Historic Places and the Virginia Landmarks Register.
Tours of the Hamner House are available through the Walton’s Mountain Country Store, adjacent to the Hamner House.
Walton’s Mountain Museum
6484 Rockfish River Road
Schulyer, Virginia 22969
Walton’s Mountain Museum showcases the television show of the 1960s, “The Waltons”. Earl Hamner, Jr., creator of The Walton’s, grew up in Schuyler and many of the scripts were based on life as a boy in Schuyler, VA. The museum displays replicas of rooms on the TV show, such as John-Boy’s Bedroom, Ike Godsey’s Store, the kitchen and living room. A 30-minute video featuring Earl Hamner, Jr. and the stars of “The Waltons”, hundreds of photographs and pieces of memorabilia, and a gift shop are in the museum.
The Walton’s Mountain Museum is open daily except during the winter months. Check the Walton’s Mountain Museum website site for opening date and times of operations.
3211 Lowesville Road
Roseland, Virginia 22967
Woodson’s Mill has been owned and loved by a small handful of families since its construction in 1794, when Guiliford Campbell built the original four-story, 32 foot square building. The Fulchers improved it in the 1840’s, adding the two runs (mill stones), which are still in use today. Sixty-some years later, Dr. Julian B. Woodson expanded the mill into a thriving enterprise that included an icehouse, sawmill, and foundry while maintaining his duties as a medical doctor and State Senator. The rise of large industrial mills in the growing post-war America, along with Dr. Woodson’s death in 1963, brought a temporary end to the mill business. But, Huron T. Campbell, who owned the mill while it was not in operation, refused to sell any of the equipment or machinery in hope that someone would eventually be able to restore it. J. Gill Brockenbrough, Jr., who purchased Woodson’s Mill in the early 1980’s, did restore it and lived there until his death in 2001. All these people were passionate about Woodson’s Mill, and so are we.
Tours are available by appointment with the mill open for business on Saturdays during the spring through fall. Check the Woodson’s Mill website for opening date and hours of operation.
HISTORIC HIGHWAY MILE MARKERS
Virginia’s state historical highway markers are hard to miss on the state’s roadways. There are now more than 2,200 of them erected in Virginia to commemorate people, places, or events of regional, statewide or national significance.
HISTORIC DISTRICTS & HISTORIC PROPERTIES
The Department of Historic Resources (DHR) administers two programs designed to recognize our resources and to encourage their continued preservation: the Virginia Landmarks Register and the National Register of Historic Places. The National Register, established in 1966 and managed by the National Park Service, is the official list of structures, sites, objects, and districts that embody the historical and cultural foundations of the nation. The Virginia Landmarks Register, also established in 1966 and managed by the Department of Historic Resources, is the state’s official list of properties important to Virginia’s history. The same criteria are used to evaluate resources for inclusion in the state register as are used for the National Register
Hurricane Camille arrived in Virginia on the night of August 19, 1969, one of only three category five storms ever to make landfall in the United States since record-keeping began. One of the worst natural disasters in Virginia’s history, the storm produced what meteorologists at the time guessed might be the most rainfall “theoretically possible.” As it swept through Virginia overnight, with Nelson County receiving the brunt of the storm. Communication networks were not in place or were knocked out, leaving floods and landslides to trap residents as they slept. Hurricane Camille cost Virginia 113 lives lost and $116 million in damages. It also served as a lesson that inland flooding could be as great a danger as coastal flooding during a hurricane.
NELSON COUNTY CEMETERIES
The Nelson Memorial Library and the Nelson County Historical Society are both excellent resources for information on local cemeteries. You may purchase the Nelson County Cemetery Book at the Nelson County Visitor Center and the Oakland Museum. You may also want to consider contacting local churches for additional information on cemeteries.
GENEOLOGY & RESEARCH INFORMATION
The Nelson County Historical Society research files are located in the Nelson Memorial Library in Lovingston. They can be accessed when the library is open. Research Committee members are in the library on Wednesday from 1:00 PM – 4:00 PM to help with inquiries.
The following items may be found in the files:
Family genealogy – filed by surname, Government and County History, Cemeteries, Churches, Communities, Homes, Post Offices, Schools, Transportation, Wars