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Pearisburg Pearisburg Angels Rest

Pearisburg is the county seat of Giles and has existed as a town since 1808. The original name of this town was Giles Court House. Pearisburg was established when Capt. George Pearis donated 53 acres in 1806.

Pearisburg

DowntownPearisburg is the county seat of Giles and has existed as a town since 1808. It was named for Captain George Pearis of France whose family fled France in 1710 and settled in South Carolina. Pearis had purchased a 204-acre tract from Captain William Ingles for 70 pounds of sterling. He decided to donate a 53-acre tract of land to the county court to use for the construction of the county seat and its first buildings. He built the first temporary courthouse beside his home on the riverbank and supplied the lumber and stones needed to build the county’s official courthouse and other buildings in Pearisburg. He later opened a small retail store and a ferry after being severely wounded in the Revolutionary War. Pearis died in 1810 before he could see much growth in his town.

The first courthouse was also completed in this year and David and Andrew Johnston became the first merchants in Pearisburg when they opened the first tannery. Records from 1818 show there were 30 buildings in the town, mostly stone. A sketch of western Virginia by Edward Bull, published in London in 1837 read, “Pearisburg had 175 white and 34 colored inhabitants, four stores, two taverns, two schools, two tan yards, two saddlers, two hatters, two cabinet makers, one chair maker and painter, one boot and shoe factory, one wheelwright, one stone mason, one doctor, and two lawyers. A stage from Wytheville via Newborn passed daily en route to Greenbrier, while mail came once a week from Franklin and another from Tazewell.”

By 1834 the condition of the original courthouse was deteriorated to a point that the walls were coming out and the second floor was sinking; repair was impossible. Construction on the new courthouse began and was completed in September of 1836 at a cost of $5000.00 and remains in regular use today making it the oldest functioning courthouse in Southwest Virginia.

The Andrew Johnston House was built in 1829 and is the oldest brick house in Giles County. Now it serves as a museum and research center for the county. This house became an important spot during the Civil War. On May 26, 1861, Dr. William Wirt McComas organized the Pearisburg Reserves.

The next thirty days were filled with military drills while the women of Pearisburg made the men’s uniforms. After the thirty days were over, the troops marched into the war.

copiaA year later in May of 1862, the war came to Pearisburg. Union forces were moving through Mercer County toward Princeton. On May 6, the Union forces made it through Princeton and Colonel Rutherford B. Hayes and his men occupied Pearisburg. Rutherford along with Major William McKinley and Lieutenant James A. Garfield used the Andrew Johnston house for their temporary headquarters for three days. The Presbyterian Church across the road was forced into use for commissary and barracks for the Union troops and the Courthouse became a hospital. Officers had meals at the Woodrum Hotel down the road.

The Confederates ended the Union’s stay on May 10th at four in the morning when they drove them off of their territory. At the end of the Battle of Pearisburg, the Union left behind a soldier to burn the church. A confederate soldier shot him, and even though the church was set on fire, the ladies in Pearisburg saved it with a bucket brigade. This little squabble was too small to be considered an official battle. The courthouse dome windows were shattered and other buildings were peppered with shot. The Union lost two men, six were wounded, and the Confederates lost two men, four were wounded. Years later, Hayes, McKinley, and Garfield all became president of the United States.

Of the 800 men that fought from Giles County, 40 listed their homes from Pearisburg. Miss Cunningham saved county records from destruction by carrying the important documents in her saddlebags from the courthouse to her brother’s home in Green Valley for safekeeping. After the war the men returned to their home “almost stripped of everything to eat.”

On May 31, 1897 while court was in session, Pearisburg experienced a moderately severe earthquake. The judge adjourned court and hurried out of the room with everybody following close behind him. A number of chimneys were toppled and some brick walls and masonry were cracked.

Over looking Pearisburg is Angel’s Rest on top of Pearis Mountain at an elevation of 4000 feet while Pearisburg lies at an elevation of 1900 feet, allowing spectacular view of the New River and surrounding countryside.