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Nelson County, Virginia facts for kids

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Nelson County
Nelson County Courthouse
Map of Virginia highlighting Nelson County
Location within the U.S. state of Virginia
Map of the United States highlighting Virginia
Virginia's location within the U.S.
Coordinates: Lua error in Module:Coordinates at line 610: attempt to index field 'wikibase' (a nil value).
Country  United States
State  Virginia
Founded 1807
Named for Thomas Nelson Jr.
Seat Lovingston
Largest community Nellysford
 • Total 474 sq mi (1,230 km2)
 • Land 471 sq mi (1,220 km2)
 • Water 3.5 sq mi (9 km2)  0.7%
 • Total 15,020
 • Estimate 
 • Density 31.69/sq mi (12.235/km2)
Time zone UTC−5 (Eastern)
 • Summer (DST) UTC−4 (EDT)
Congressional district 5th

Nelson County is a county located in the Commonwealth of Virginia, in the United States. As of the 2010 census, the population was 15,020. Its county seat is Lovingston.

Nelson County is part of the Charlottesville, VA Metropolitan Statistical Area.

Nelson County is home to Swannanoa mansion and Wintergreen Resort, a local ski area. It is the location of Walton's Mountain, made famous by the television show The Waltons. A new Bed and Breakfast, John & Olivia’s B&B, has opened recently to extend The Waltons experience. Nelson County is also home to 12 wineries/vineyards, seven craft breweries, three cideries, three distilleries, six fruit orchards as well as Crabtree Falls and White Rock Falls. Nelson County offers The Quarry Gardens, Pharsalia, and the local library's flower gardens for gardening enthusiasts.


At the time the English began settling Virginia in the 1600s, the inhabitants of what is now Nelson County were a Siouan-speaking tribe called the Nahyssan. They were probably connected to the Manahoac.

Nelson County was created in 1807 from Amherst County. The government was formed the following year. 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

See also: Hurricane Camille

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 (130 mm) 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.

Mudslides in Nelson (7797546600)
Mudslide damage in Nelson County after the passage of Hurricane Camille

Flash floods and mudslides killed 153 people, 31 from Roseland, Tyro, and Massies Mill alone. Over 133 public bridges were washed out in Nelson County, while some communities were under water. In the tiny community of Davis Creek, 52 people were killed or could not be found; only 3 of 35 homes were left standing after the floodwaters receded. 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 along the Maury River, which destroyed the town of Glasgow in Rockbridge County.

The James River and its tributaries normally drain Nelson County, but in the face of massive flooding from other tributaries such as Hatt Creek (along the James River some 80 miles (130 km) to the east) the James River crested more than 20 feet (6.1 m) above flood stage at Westham, as Nelson County citizens watched portions of houses and other buildings, bodies, and dead livestock flow past. Just a few miles further downstream, the James River crested at the City Locks in Richmond at 28.6 feet (8.7 m) swamping downtown areas and also flooding a substantial portion of South Richmond (formerly the separate city of Manchester.). The Hurricane Camille disaster did over $140 million (in 1969 dollars) in damage across Virginia, however in no other place in Virginia was the storm as devastating and deadly as in Nelson County, where one percent of the population was killed and where many bodies were never recovered.


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. 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

National protected areas

  • Blue Ridge Parkway (part)
  • George Washington National Forest (part)
  • United States National Radio Quiet Zone (part)

Major highways

  • I-64
  • US 29
  • US 60
  • US 250
  • SR 6
  • SR 56
  • SR 151


Historical population
Census Pop.
1810 9,684
1820 10,137 4.7%
1830 11,254 11.0%
1840 12,287 9.2%
1850 12,758 3.8%
1860 13,015 2.0%
1870 13,898 6.8%
1880 16,536 19.0%
1890 15,336 −7.3%
1900 16,075 4.8%
1910 16,821 4.6%
1920 17,277 2.7%
1930 16,345 −5.4%
1940 16,241 −0.6%
1950 14,042 −13.5%
1960 12,752 −9.2%
1970 11,702 −8.2%
1980 12,204 4.3%
1990 12,778 4.7%
2000 14,445 13.0%
2010 15,020 4.0%
2018 (est.) 14,836 −1.2%
U.S. Decennial Census
1790-1960 1900-1990
1990-2000 2010-2015

As of the census of 2010, there were 15,020 people, 6,396 households, and 4,302 families residing in the county. The population density was 31.9 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 83.3% White, 13.1% Black or African American, 0.3% Native American, 0.5% Asian, Z% Pacific Islander, 1.1% from other races, and 1.7% from two or more races. Hispanic or Latino people of any race were 3.1% of the population.

There were 6,396 households, out of which 21.6% had children under the age of 18 living with them, 51.6% were married couples living together, 11.1% had a female householder with no husband present, and 32.7% were non-families. 27.4% of all households were made up of individuals, and 11.1% had someone living alone who was 65 years of age or older. The average household size was 2.33 and the average family size was 2.81.

In the county, the population was spread out, with 19.3% under the age of 18, 5.7% from 18 to 24, 25.5% from 25 to 44, 29.60% from 45 to 64, and 19.9% who were 65 years of age or older. The median age was 42.8 years. For every 100 females there were 95.2 males. For every 100 females age 18 and over, there were 93 males.

The median income for a household in the county was $48,118, and the median income for a family was $57,356. Males had a median income of $45,222 versus $34,842 for females. The per capita income for the county was $26,996. About 8.9% of families and 11.9% of the population were below the poverty line, including 13.8% of those under the age of 18 and 9.5% ages 65 or older.


Wintergreen, VA
A view down a ski slope at Wintergreen Resort, Nelson County, Virginia
Nelson County marker
Historical marker on Route 250 heading east over Afton Mountain

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.

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.

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.

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

Camp Jeep was held at the Oak Ridge Estate in Arrington for several years beginning in 1999 with the last event taking place in 2007.


There are no cities or incorporated towns in Nelson County. Unincorporated communities include:

Census-designated places

Other unincorporated communities


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.

Jefferson-Madison Regional Library is the regional library system that provides services to the citizens of Nelson.

Notable people

  • Leslie Bibb, an American actress and model. Bibb transitioned into film and television during the late 1990s, first appearing on television in 1996 with minor roles in a few television series, while first appearing on film in 1997 with a small role in Private Parts.
  • Edward Coles, secretary to James Madison and second governor of Illinois; inherited Rockfish plantation in Nelson County and in June 1819 manumitted (freed) the slaves he brought from that plantation on the Ohio River near Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania on their joint way to the Illinois Territory
  • Eli Cook, blues singer, songwriter, guitarist and record producer; released six albums before his 30th birthday
  • DeLane Fitzgerald, head football coach at Frostburg State University
  • Jimmy Fortune, former tenor for the Statler Brothers; member of the Gospel and Country Music Hall of Fame
  • Reverend Dr. William Archer Rutherfoord Goodwin, grew up in Nelson County during the Reconstruction era after the American Civil War; priest and rector; created Colonial Williamsburg beginning in 1926
  • Earl Hamner Jr., born and raised in Schuyler; writer best known for the Emmy-winning CBS television series The Waltons, was based on his experiences of growing up in a large rural family in Depression era America
  • Dr. Gessner Harrison, in 1860 established Locust Grove Academy, a boarding school for boys in the northernmost part of the county
  • Walter Loving, commander of the Philippine Constabulary Band; first African-American to direct a musical performance at the White House
  • William Porcher Miles, South Carolina-born states' rights advocate; former U.S. and Confederate congressman; briefly managed Oak Ridge plantation near Lovingston after the Civil War
  • Robert Monroe, out-of-body experience researcher who founded the Monroe Institute; lived in Faber
  • James Leroy Murrill, last Confederate veteran of the Civil War
  • William Rives, tobacco magnate; built Oak Ridge plantation near Lovingston
  • Thomas Fortune Ryan, born near Lovingston; bought Oak Ridge plantation after becoming rich in New York City by consolidating transportation and tobacco companies

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