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Wise County, Virginia facts for kids

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Wise County
Wise County Courthouse in Wise
Wise County Courthouse in Wise
Official seal of Wise County
Map of Virginia highlighting Wise 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 1856
Named for Henry A. Wise
Seat Wise
Largest town Big Stone Gap
 • Total 405 sq mi (1,050 km2)
 • Land 403 sq mi (1,040 km2)
 • Water 2 sq mi (5 km2)  0.5%
 • Total 36,130 Decrease
Time zone UTC−5 (Eastern)
 • Summer (DST) UTC−4 (EDT)
Congressional district 9th

Wise County is a county located in the U.S. state of Virginia. The county was formed in 1856 from Lee, Scott, and Russell Counties and named for Henry A. Wise, who was the Governor of Virginia at the time.


The Cherokee conquered the area including Wise from the Xualae between 1671 and 1685. It was later contested by the Six Nations and the Shawnee. A Cherokee hunting party fought a protracted battle with a Shawnee one at the headwaters of the Clinch River for two days in the summer of 1786, a victory for the Cherokee although losses were heavy on both sides.

The first white explorers to have reached present-day Wise county are said to have been Thomas Walker and Christopher Gist, both in 1750. Several forts were built all along the Clinch from 1774 onward, but only after Chickamauga Cherokee leader Bob Benge was slain in 1794 was present-day Wise considered safe for white settlers even to hunt in. Among the earliest settlers within the county was William Wells in around 1792.

Virginia's two highest security state prisons are located in Wise County: Red Onion State Prison, opened in 1998, and Wallens Ridge State Prison, opened in 1999.


Benges Gap
Powell Valley, as viewed from Benge's Gap

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the county has a total area of 405 square miles (1,050 km2), of which 403 square miles (1,040 km2) is land and 2 square miles (5.2 km2) (0.5%) is water. The county is part of the Appalachians and has many mountainous features, including the peak of High Knob and Powell Valley.

Adjacent counties and cities

Major highways

  • US 23.svg U.S. Route 23
  • US 58.svg U.S. Route 58 Alternate
  • Virginia 63.svg State Route 63
  • Virginia 72.svg State Route 72
  • Virginia 83.svg State Route 83

National protected area

  • Jefferson National Forest (part)


Historical population
Census Pop.
1860 4,508
1870 4,785 6.1%
1880 7,772 62.4%
1890 9,345 20.2%
1900 19,653 110.3%
1910 34,162 73.8%
1920 46,500 36.1%
1930 51,167 10.0%
1940 52,458 2.5%
1950 56,336 7.4%
1960 43,579 −22.6%
1970 35,947 −17.5%
1980 43,863 22.0%
1990 39,573 −9.8%
2000 40,123 1.4%
2010 41,452 3.3%
2020 36,130 −12.8%
U.S. Decennial Census
1790-1960 1900–1990
1990-2000 2010 2020

2020 census

Wise County, Virginia - Demographic Profile
(NH = Non-Hispanic)
Race / Ethnicity Pop 2010 Pop 2020 % 2010 % 2020
White alone (NH) 38,301 32,586 92.40% 90.19%
Black or African American alone (NH) 2,118 1,771 5.11% 4.90%
Native American or Alaska Native alone (NH) 51 48 0.12% 0.13%
Asian alone (NH) 141 150 0.34% 0.42%
Pacific Islander alone (NH) 2 11 0.00% 0.03%
Some Other Race alone (NH) 20 86 0.05% 0.24%
Mixed Race/Multi-Racial (NH) 348 1,026 0.84% 2.84%
Hispanic or Latino (any race) 471 452 1.14% 1.25%
Total 41,452 36,130 100.00% 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.

Tourist attractions

Natural and outdoor recreation

High Knob Observation Tower

A large portion of the Jefferson National Forest is contained within Wise County, and the Clinch River winds through the county. These two factors, combined with Wise County's location in the Appalachian Mountains, mean that Wise County offers many opportunities for outdoor recreation.

In addition to many trails connecting to and surrounding the Appalachian Trail system, Wise county is home to many parks, including Miners' Park in Big Stone Gap and the Louis E. Henegar Miners' Memorial Park in Appalachia.

Among the unique features of Wise County are High Knob, a mountain which featured one of the last remaining Appalachian Fire Towers until its destruction by arson on October 31, 2007, and Wetlands Estonoa, an Appalachian Wetland and part of the Clinch River Watershed.

Theater and the arts

  • The Trail of the Lonesome Pine Outdoor Drama is performed in Big Stone Gap, Virginia throughout the summer. It is the Commonwealth of Virginia's official outdoor drama.
  • The Pro-Art Association offers a variety of theatrical, musical, and fine-arts events throughout the school year. It is headquartered in Wise.
  • The Wise County Summer Academy of Art, sponsored by Wise County Public Schools and funded in part by the Virginia Commission of Arts, provides fine arts programming for children throughout the summer months, including large scale productions and touring performance opportunities.
  • The Appalachian Children's Theater (ACT) promotes performing arts and fine arts education for children in Southwest Virginia, Eastern Kentucky, and Northeast Tennessee. In 2006, the organization opened its newly renovated facility in Downtown Wise. [1]
  • The Charles W. Harris Art Gallery is located on the site of the Wise County Public Library in Wise.

Festivals and fairs

  • Clinch River Days takes place in St. Paul each spring. [2]
  • Best Friend Festival held in Norton, VA
  • The Virginia-Kentucky District Fair is held each summer in Wise.
  • The Wise County Famous Fall Fling is an annual event held in Downtown Wise. [3]
  • Coeburn holds its annual Guest River Rally over the Labor Day weekend in September.
  • Appalachia Coal Railroad Days is held each summer in Appalachia.
  • Pound Heritage Days is held annually the week before Labor Day in Pound.
  • Dock Boggs Oldtime Music Festival held the second weekend in September at the Country Cabin in Norton, Virginia
  • Mountain Craft Days held the third weekend of October on the campus of Mountain Empire Community College in Big Stone Gap, Virginia
  • the RTE 23 Music Festival is held at the end of August ever year on the campus of the University of Virginia's College at Wise



  • Lonesome Pine Raceway

UVa-Wise hosts NCAA Division II Football, Basketball, Baseball and other inter-collegiate games on the campus of UVa-Wise.


  • The independent city of Norton lies within the confines of Wise County, but is not a part of the county.


Census-designated place

  • Riverview


Public schools

Wise County Public Schools operates thirteen school facilities in the county for its students. For several years the Wise County School Board has considered consolidating high schools, and in 2011 it consolidated six high schools into three; Union High which serves the western part of the county, Central High which serves the central and northern parts of the county, and Eastside High which serves the eastern part of the county.

Private schools

Wise County Christian School operates as a private school in the county.

Colleges and universities

  • University of Virginia's College at Wise, Wise
  • Mountain Empire Community College, Big Stone Gap

Notable residents

See also

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

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