Throughout the past eight years of collecting and digitizing documents and photographs related to the history of Smyth County, there is a chronic problem that never ceases to frustrate me — unidentified photos.
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If you could go back in time to the year 1832 and take a tour of Smyth County, the landscape would be considerably different. It would not be dotted with the same homes and office buildings that now occupy valuable real estate. Indeed, there are few structures left standing in Smyth County that date back to the year of its formation.
Housed within the Smyth County courthouse vault is a book that often escapes the notice of most who enter that space. It is a volume that stands apart from the rest of the collection. The other massive books hold the legal proceedings of our county, the land transactions, the births, marriages, deaths, stories of military service and final wishes reflected in countless wills. This book that sets itself apart from the others bears the title “Smyth County History: A Scrapbook Compiled by Clara Hill Carner.”
The courthouse square in downtown Marion has undergone many changes since the formation of Smyth County. In 1953 and 1966, historian Clara Hill Carner wrote a series of articles focused on the buildings that have served our county as houses of justice. The following excerpts provide an abbreviated history of the Smyth County courthouses.
Recently, I had the opportunity to research the history of the Seaver Opera House, which operated on Main Street in downtown Marion. The building is still there, but is now occupied by the Mustard Seed Bargain Outlet and owned by Matt Wassum. This landmark has a unique history. While going through some old scrapbooks, photographs and other local history books, I was led to a few interesting stories.
My favorite item within the collection at the Smyth-Bland Regional Library in Marion is an often-overlooked item. It is a thick, black binder that sits on a top shelf, on the far side of the Southwest Virginia Heritage Room.
Residents of Smyth County have been fascinated with Abijah Thomas’ Octagonal House for generations. This well-known landmark is called by many names: Mountain View, Fairfield, the “Round House,” just to name a few. The home was built in 1856-57.