A BRIEF HISTORY OF DAMASCUS, VIRGINIA

Damascus is beautifully situated in the rugged, rustic mountainous region of southwest Virginia. Natives, tourists, and newcomers have long been attracted to the lovely and diverse natural areas in and around the town. Scenic views of the mountains, a recovering and maturing forest, and an abundance of unspoiled natural streams all meld harmoniously with the built environment to create a unique sense of place and a shared need to belong and care about both community and the natural world.

Historians have recorded that the earliest known inhabitants to roam the area were the Cherokee and the Shawnee, fierce enemies who contested rights to the area as late as 1768.

Daniel Boone opened the area to European settlement when he blazed a trail, in 1759, from east Tennessee through the Iron Mountain water gap into what is now Damascus and Abingdon and on to Kentucky. One of the early settlers, Henry Mock, was following this trail on his way to Kentucky with his family. The family was so impressed with the beauty of the area where the Laurel and Beaverdam Creeks converged that they decided to stay, buy land, build a home, and build a grist mill. The first name given to the community was Mock's Mill.

The name of the community changed to Damascus in 1886 when General John D. Imboden purchased much of the land from the Mocks. Imboden, one of Lee's chief officers in the War Between the States, had become a land and development speculator following the war. After failed enterprises at Big Stone Gap, he came to Mock's Mill with a dream of building a steel city on the site. He believed that under the millions of board feet of virgin timber that covered the nearby mountains were rich and unlimited deposits of iron ore. He selected this site as the very best in the United States for a modern 'Damascus,' destined to become as famous...as its ancient namesake in Asia.

The iron deposits turned out to be on the surface only and the dream was doomed. But the surface timber was another story. With an eye on millions to be made from virgin oak, chestnut, pine and poplar, Northern capital rushed into the Damascus area.

The mountains were denuded of their forest cover. The National Lumber Magazine reported in 1912 that Washington County, Virginia was producing more lumber than the entire state of Pennsylvania. Most of this was from the Damascus area.

The lumber boom lasted 25 short years. The creation of the United States Forest Service to conserve and restore forest resources resulted in federal acquisition of much of the land around Damascus.

Today, the spirit of trailblazing and the sense of community responsibility continue in the town. Damascus is known both as Trail Town, USA and the friendliest town on the Appalachian Trail. The Appalachian National Scenic Trail, the Virginia Creeper National Recreation Trail, the Transcontinental Bicycle Trail, the Iron Mountain Trail, and the Daniel Boone Trail all intersect in Damascus. While the town does have other diverse interests, the natural world and the legacy of trail blazing still influence the course of the future.

Excerpted and adapted from "A History of Damascus" by Louise Fortune Hall



Damascus 1914
The Smith children play on Laurel Avenue. Photo taken approximately 1914