The American map is dotted with thousands of funny sounding or peculiar names which piece together to form one of the most culturally diverse and fascinating nations ever to appear upon the face of the planet.
With United States history literally beginning on Virginia’s eastern shore, it should come as no surprise to discover that the place names of the communities and localities that make up the Commonwealth offer as much insight into American history as does any book or professor. Viewers of a Virginia map can literally watch colonists transform from loyal British subjects in the east, who named their localities in honor of the Crown: King & Queen County, Charles City and Princess Anne County, to the sons of America’s revolution simply by surveying the map from right to left. In the state’s west, the coastal names that honored royalty are replaced by mountain communities with names that celebrate the state’s signers of the Declaration of Independence, and heroes of the Revolutionary War and Antebellum South.
Tucked away in the state’s southwest panhandle is one such map dot which served as my whole world for nearly the first two decades of my life, Wytheville, Virginia.
Crisscrossed by Interstates 77 and 81, Wytheville is one of the most accessible points in all of Appalachia, being approximately midway between the West Virginia state line and the North Carolina state line; Charleston, West Virginia, and Charlotte, North Carolina; and the Canadian border and Florida-line.
For years, residents of the community viewed themselves as merely a stopping point where motorists could fill-up their gas tanks, purchase a cheeseburger or bed for the night, then continue on their journey en route to some distant destination; however, thanks to the foresight of the town’s tourism leaders, Wytheville has successfully reinvented itself as no longer being a stopping point, but rather as a tourism destination.
Boasting of a German-themed dinner theater which serves patrons a four course meal prepared by an in-house chef, a revitalized and vibrant Main Street, as well as endless acreage of Appalachian Mountain fun, including motorcycling and outdoor recreation, the town’s tourism industry is thriving.
But as a lifelong resident of this place, there are some things about our name that you should know!
Let’s Talk Pronunciation
From having lived in the community for roughly my entire life, I’ve heard Wytheville called some pretty fascinating things by unsuspecting and road weary travelers — many of whom mistakenly pronounce it “Why-The-Ville”. Though locals in this friendly community often snicker to themselves, for the most part, they don’t care what you call it so long as you’re shopping in their establishments! But if you really want to impress a local, simply pronounce the place properly and call it “WITH’-vihl”… If you have been mispronouncing the area, don’t feel bad, even local residents have a bad habit of calling it “Wiffle” — gotta love Appalachian English!
Let’s Talk History
The town’s origins can be traced back to May 1790, when it was founded and soon named Evansham; however, after becoming the county-seat for Wythe County and a devastating 1839 fire, town officials decided it was time to rename the town and from this series of events, “Wytheville” was born; a nod to the man known as the “father of American Jurisprudence” and signer of the Declaration of Independence, George Wythe.
Though it is not believed that Wythe ever visited the county that bears his name, his memory is forever preserved in the Appalachian community as his name graces the local high school and his portraits are hung in the halls of government and local court house.
Wytheville: There’s Only One
Maybe it was homesickness, a yearning for the familiar or downright lack of concern in the face of so many more pressing matters, but as the Virginia settlers moved west into what is now Kentucky, they weren’t very creative in choosing the names of their new settlements.
Within a sixty-mile radius in Kentucky are towns and cities bearing the names Lexington, Winchester, Richmond, Mt. Vernon, Danville and Lebanon, all of which are names that can be found back east in Virginia. However, one name you will not find in Kentucky, or anywhere else on Earth for that matter, is “Wytheville”. As the town’s tourism officials are quick to point out, “There’s only one!”
There are few towns or cities in the world which can make the claim of being the only place on the planet with that name, but Wytheville is one of those places and the town is running with this reality.
Unique: And It’s Not Just In Their Name
Though its name may be one of a kind, visitors to this Appalachian community will quickly realize that it’s not just the name that sets this community apart from so many other places — it’s the small town, big experiences that come alongside this name.
In addition to having a three-story tall pencil, as well as one of America’s smallest church buildings, the surrounding locality offers hundreds of miles of hiking, biking and horseback trails, frontage to the New River, Main Street restaurants and an all around fun place to spend a weekend.
In tourism, the cardinal rule is to never say that a town “has something for everyone” as the marketing experts agree that niche marketing is the one thing nearly all successful destinations have in common; however, when it comes to Wytheville, it’s hard to keep from saying this: Whether thunderously loud cars racing around a dirt track capture your fancy, a relaxing evening at a dinner theater, camping or a night’s stay in a downtown boutique hotel are more your thing… Wytheville most likely contains the ingredients for a weekend escape!
To learn more about Wytheville, visit the town’s official tourism website, www.VisitWytheville.com
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