Powhatan County is the site of what is believed to be the first commercial coal mine in America.
But it was the fertile soil of the river basin, the excellent growing conditions and the large stands of pine and hardwood trees that built prosperity in the area. Tobacco was introduced to the colonies in the early 1600s by an Englishman named John Rolfe. Rolfe was an early settler in the area and the husband of Pocahontas. It wasn’t long before tobacco became king in the Tidewater and Piedmont area of Virginia, a status it retained until recently. Food crops were grown, including corn and wheat, but were mostly used for home consumption. Remains of some of the early gristmills that colonists used to grind grain into flour can still be found in the area.
Early Huguenot settlers along the James River began to clear some of the magnificent stands of massive oak and sycamore trees, as well as Virginia pine, as they set up farms. Over the next 200 years, the bottom hardwood and high-quality pine trees were cut and shipped for use all over the world. Many of the taller pines were shipped to England where they were valued as masts for the tall sailing ships. As the hardwoods were cut, the land filled in with pine and other faster growing species. During the Civil War and the Siege of Richmond, both the North and the South felled local trees for railroad ties, firewood and fence rails. Modern inventions also fueled the lumber business in the Powhatan area. By the early 1900s, the invention of the steam engine and later the diesel and gasoline engines made the cutting and transporting of trees easier; large tracts were clear-cut. In the years after the war, clear-cut areas were replanted and are now managed and protected as commercial forestland.
There are more than 200 farms in Powhatan, encompassing more than 50,000 acres of land. The average size of each farm is 239 acres. The top crops are corn and wheat for grain, soybeans and hay. Livestock, poultry and their products account for a major portion of $8 million-plus in agricultural revenues annually.
These large parcels of forest and farmland are what give Powhatan the rural character and natural beauty that are attracting new residents.
Agribusiness thrives in Powhatan. The rural setting and beautiful countryside is home to numerous horse farms and a wide variety of equine services. From cashmere goats to alpacas, and honey bees to micro-greens, Powhatan is the perfect setting for niche agribusiness. The County also boasts of successful vineyards, an orchid nursery and a producer of goat’s milk products.
Newer industries to the Powhatan area include technology-based and auto-related businesses, construction, retail trade and service industries. Unemployment in Powhatan County ranks among the lowest in the region.