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Lancaster County, Virginia

The Lancaster County Courthouse is located at 8311 Mary Ball Road, Lancaster VA 22503; phone: 804‑462‑5129.


Beginnings [1]

Lancaster County is located at the southeastern end of Virginia's Northern Neck peninsula, between the Rappahannock and Potomac Rivers. It was formed in 1651 from portions of Northumberland and York Counties. Over time, other counties were formed from its original area. Creeks and waterways with rolling woodlands and fields characterize the county. It is also known for its quiet rural charm, the retention of which citizens attending input sessions in early 2006 overwhelmingly supported.

Lancaster was settled shortly after 1640, predominantly by people of English descent moving from settlements along the James and York Rivers. The first County seat was established at Queenstown on the west side of the Corrotoman River. In 1742, the courthouse was moved inland to what is now Lancaster Courthouse. The present courthouse dates to 1863 and houses basically all records dating from 1652. On the Courthouse Green, the original clerk's office (1797), and the old jail (dating to the first quarter of the 19th century) still stand. Mary Ball Washington Museum, Incorporated uses these two buildings. Prior to the Civil War, the economy of the county depended on tobacco and other types of agriculture. After the Civil War, the economy began to rely on the seafood industry. The shared importance of agriculture and seafood was evident by the early 1900's. By 1920, the economy included forestry as well. Fish, crab, and oyster industries were also important to the people. Trucking of tomatoes and potatoes was the prevalent agricultural industry. These industries were aided by inexpensive and easy transportation to market by steamboats. The menhaden industry has been a mainstay since the early 1900's, and remains important today.

During the 1920's, tourism and retail industries began to develop in White Stone and Kilmarnock. The commerce of Kilmarnock offered many shops and services to county residents. White Stone was seen as a thriving community. Irvington was the largest town and the center of the seafood business.

Changes that occurred during the 1930's made great impact on the county's economy. Automobiles became commonplace, and trucks began to replace steamboats as a means to transport marketable goods. After a devastating hurricane in 1933, many docks and wharves were destroyed and were not rebuilt, thus ending reliance on outside markets.

Although employment was good in the 1940's, the economy of the county declined during the 1950's. Lancaster County became relatively unknown and unimportant, because of poor means of travel to any outlying areas.

With the opening of the Robert O. Norris Bridge in 1957, Lancaster County was provided ready access to counties on the Middle Peninsula. This led to several trends. The age distribution of people in the county began to change. Young people were seeking employment elsewhere and the number of senior citizens was increasing. There was quick growth in the trade and service industries, and tourism and recreation industries regained strength. The Tides Inn, Windmill Point Marine Resort, and the Tides Lodge were all established between 1945 and 1970 and began to flourish.

Other services and facilities began to appear in response to the changing community needs. The Lancashire Nursing Home, Rappahannock General Hospital, and Rappahannock Community College were all established during the 1960's and 1970's.

Although the basic industries of manufacturing, agriculture, and fisheries declined slightly in the 1980's, dramatic increases were noted in retail trade, recreational activity, and professional service employment. Kilmarnock has become the hub of retail and service businesses in the Northern Neck. The influx of retirees and outflow of younger people began in the early 1990's and continues today. The Rappahannock Westminster-Canterbury retirement community, opened in 1985, is a multi-million dollar investment, providing services that continue to attract retirees to the county.

Abundant sights and attractions encourage tourism and recreation today. Historic buildings, restaurants, marinas, and resorts all entice tourists interested in the serene, natural beauty of the county as well as the recreational activities available.

  1. Lancaster County Virginia Board of Supervisors, Lancaster County Comprehensive Plan, 2007, Lancaster VA, www.lancova.com, accessed May 2008

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