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Franklin County, Virginia facts for kids

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Franklin County
Franklin County Courthouse in May 2010
Franklin County Courthouse in May 2010
Map of Virginia highlighting Franklin County
Location within the U.S. state of Virginia
Map of the United States highlighting Virginia
Virginia's location within the U.S.
Country  United States
State  Virginia
Founded 1785
Named for Benjamin Franklin
Seat Rocky Mount
Largest town Rocky Mount
 • Total 712 sq mi (1,840 km2)
 • Land 690 sq mi (1,800 km2)
 • Water 21 sq mi (50 km2)  3.0%
 • Total 54,477
 • Density 76.51/sq mi (29.542/km2)
Time zone UTC−5 (Eastern)
 • Summer (DST) UTC−4 (EDT)
Congressional district 5th

Franklin County is located in the Blue Ridge foothills of the Commonwealth of Virginia. As of the 2020 census, the population was 54,477. Its county seat is Rocky Mount.

Franklin County is part of the Roanoke Metropolitan Statistical Area and is located in the Roanoke Region of Virginia. The Roanoke River forms its northeast boundary with Bedford County.


Fort Blackwater historic marker Franklin County Virginia
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 Virginia historic marker
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.

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," ISBN 9781500980115, 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.


According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the county has a total area of 712 square miles (1,840 km2), of which 690 square miles (1,800 km2) is land and 21 square miles (54 km2) (3.0%) is water. It is upriver of the fall line of the Roanoke River, located at Roanoke Rapids, North Carolina.


The county is divided into supervisor districts; a few are: Blackwater, Blue Ridge, Boones Mill, Gills Creek, Rocky Mount, Snow Creek, Union Hall, Ferrum, Glade Hill, Penhook, and Callaway

Adjacent counties

National protected areas

Major highways

  • I-73 (future)
  • US 220
  • SR 40
  • SR 116
  • SR 122


Historical population
Census Pop.
1790 6,842
1800 9,302 36.0%
1810 10,724 15.3%
1820 12,017 12.1%
1830 14,911 24.1%
1840 15,832 6.2%
1850 17,430 10.1%
1860 20,098 15.3%
1870 18,264 −9.1%
1880 25,084 37.3%
1890 24,985 −0.4%
1900 25,953 3.9%
1910 26,480 2.0%
1920 26,283 −0.7%
1930 24,337 −7.4%
1940 25,864 6.3%
1950 24,560 −5.0%
1960 25,925 5.6%
1970 26,858 3.6%
1980 35,740 33.1%
1990 39,549 10.7%
2000 47,286 19.6%
2010 56,159 18.8%
2020 54,477 −3.0%
U.S. Decennial Census
1790-1960 1900-1990
1990-2000 2010 2020

2020 census

Franklin County, Virginia - Demographic Profile
(NH = Non-Hispanic)
Race / Ethnicity Pop 2010 Pop 2020 % 2010 % 2020
White alone (NH) 49,072 46,218 87.38% 84.84%
Black or African American alone (NH) 4,541 3,848 8.09% 7.06%
Native American or Alaska Native alone (NH) 112 75 0.20% 0.14%
Asian alone (NH) 251 303 0.45% 0.56%
Pacific Islander alone (NH) 10 20 0.02% 0.04%
Some Other Race alone (NH) 144 153 0.26% 0.28%
Mixed Race/Multi-Racial (NH) 605 1,905 1.08% 3.50%
Hispanic or Latino (any race) 1,424 1,955 2.54% 3.59%
Total 56,159 54,477 100.00% 100.00%

Note: the US Census treats Hispanic/Latino as an ethnic category. This table excludes Latinos from the racial categories and assigns them to a separate category. Hispanics/Latinos can be of any race.



Census-designated places

Other unincorporated communities

In popular culture

  • Franklin County is the setting for Matt Bondurant's historical novel, The Wettest County in the World (2008) set in the Prohibition era, featuring his grandfather and two great-uncles among the bootleggers.
  • Franklin County is featured in the film Lawless (2012), adapted from the novel in a screenplay by Nick Cave. It is directed by John Hillcoat.
  • 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.
  • Franklin County is the setting for Rebecca Ore's novella, Alien Bootlegger.

Notable people

See also

Kids robot.svg In Spanish: Condado de Franklin (Virginia) para niños

Black History Month on Kiddle
Famous African-American Architects:
Georgia Louise Harris Brown
Julian Abele
Norma Merrick Sklarek
William Sidney Pittman
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