4 Virginia Counties Named for Natural Features

  1. Rockbridge, Organized 1778
  2. Bath Organized 1790
  3. Highland, Organized 1847
  4. Craig, Organized 1850

Rockbridge, Bath, Highland, and Craig1 Counties are named from their natural features. Rockbridge is south of Augusta between the Blue Ridge and Great North Mountains,2 and is drained by the James and North Rivers. Bath is on the West Virginia border, and is separated from Rockbridge by the Great North Mountains. The Jackson and Cowpasture rivers, which unite to form the James in Botetourt, traverse the county and receive most of its drainage. Highland, just north of Bath, makes a sharp projection into West Virginia. The Alleghany Mountains form the western border of both counties.

Highland county is intersected by numerous streams and mountains, and is the watershed that separates the headwaters of the James from some of the sources of the Potomac. In the northwestern part of the county the North Fork of the South Branch of the Potomac rises within about ten miles of the sources of Back Creek, a tributary of Jackson’s River, and thus, indirectly, a tributary of the James also.

Craig County lies between Giles and Alleghany on the West Virginia line, and, with the exception of a part drained by Sinking Creek, which flows into the New River, is drained by Craig Creek waters.

Rockbridge takes its name from the celebrated Natural Bridge over Cedar Creek in the southern part of the county. The height, of the bridge from the water to its upper surface is 215 feet, average width 80 feet, length.j93 feet, thickness 55 feet.3 The original bridge tract was granted to Thomas Jefferson in 1774 by King George III. After Jefferson was President, he visited the place and made a survey and map of it.4 The bridge has long been a place of interest to travelers. Besides Jefferson, Presidents Monroe, Jackson, and Van Buren have visited there. Chief Justice Marshall called it “God’s greatest miracle in stone.” Henry Clay wrote of “the bridge not made with hands that spans a river carries a highway, and makes two mountains one.”

Bath County takes its name from its numerous and remarkable springs and baths. The most celebrated springs are the Warm Sulphur, whose waters have been famed for nearly a century, the Healing, and the Hot. The Warm Sulphur springs are located at Warm Springs, the county seat.

The tradition5 respecting the discovery of the (warm) springs is, that a party of Indians hunting, spent the night in the valley. One of their number discovering the spring, bathed in it, and, being much fatigued, he was induced, by the delicious sensation and warmth imparted by it, to remain all night. The next morning he was enabled to scale the mountain before, his companions. As the country became settled, the fame of the waters gradually extended.

Highland county derives its name from its great elevation, which varies from 1500 to 4500 feet above the sea level. The surface is greatly broken by streams and mountains.

Craig County is named after its chief Stream, Craig’s Creek,6 which merits the name of river, for it drains about four hundred square miles of territory. The stream probably got its name from some hunter or early settler in that region. Craig’s Creek rises in Montgomery near Blacksburg, flows through Craig, and empties into the James in the western part of Botetourt County.

Source: Virginia Country Names: Two Hundred and Seventy Years of Virginia History, Charles M, Long, PH.D., New York and Washington, The Neale Publishing Company, 1908

  1. Craig hardly belongs under this head, but it is classed here for convenience. See p. 176. 

  2. Also called the Shenandoah Mountain. 

  3. Whitehead’s “Virginia Handbook,” p. 51- . 

  4. Washington, when a surveyor for Lord Fairfax, visited the bridge and carved his name there. Sec Whitehead, p. 50. 

  5. Howe, p. 185. 

  6. Appleton’s American Cyclopedia.” 

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