What's in a Name?
Southwest Virginia Museum

What's In A Name?

The town of Big Stone Gap is rich in history. In the beginning, it was all wilderness that the Native Americans used for hunting. Later the settlers came to explore and inhabit the area. The town of Big Stone Gap was originally called Three Forks, then Mineral City and finally in 1888 it was named Big Stone Gap. The streets and historical markers throughout the town are named for the Native Americans, early settlers, the 1890's developers and recent towns people. We hope you enjoy discovering how our streets and historical markers received their names. 

Cherokee Avenue was named for the Cherokee Indians who originally hunted this area. About ten thousand years ago, during the end of the Ice Age, the forefathers of the Cherokee made their way from Asia to this continent. It is believed that the Cherokee and Iroquois are brother tribes. They were known for their superior height and robust stature. The Cherokee lived off the land and used nature's resources to survive. You can still visit the Cherokee Nation today in Cherokee, North Carolina.

Wyandotte Avenue was named for the Wyandotte Indians. The Wyandotte Indians became known to the English and Americans and were made up of the surviving remnants of three great Ontario Iroquoian confederacies: the Huron, Petun, and Neutrals. They spoke a northern language. The Wyandottes worked to maintain their old position as a favored middleman in the fur trade with the French, however, their population did not exceed 1500. Hence, they were constantly involved in political changes, playing allies against one another. Eventually, they were not trusted and their old allies threatened war with them.

The town of Big Stone Gap originally consisted of three farms owned by the Horton, Gilley, and Flanary families. This area was explored by such people as Dr. Thomas Walker, Daniel Boone, Elisha Wallen, Ambrose Powell and others. Many people traveled the Wilderness Road cut by Daniel Boone and his men and settled in this area.

Wallens Ridge Boulevard was named for Elisha Wallen, who was an early explorer during the time that Daniel Boone trail blazed through these mountains and Little Stone Mountain made a V with its point at Little Stone Gap. Within the V lies Powell Valley and the town of Big Stone Gap. At the open mouth of the V, another mountain pushes west of East Stone Gap, this is called Wallens Ridge.

Powell Avenue was named for Ambrose Powell. He was a member of Dr. Thomas Walker's party that explored the area in 1749. These men were the first to explore this area. They came "westward in order to discover a proper place for a settlement." While exploring the area, Ambrose carved his name on a beech tree. Today many things bare Ambrose Powell's name such as, Powell River, Powell Valley, Powell Valley High School, and even a bank.

Wood Avenue was named for the Wood Brothers. The two brothers were N.B. and Henry Clinton Wood. They were from Gate City, Virginia. Henry served as a Major in the Civil War, was at the Battle of Gettysburg and wounded at Chancellorsville. Little is known about N.B. Wood, but later the brothers bought the Gilley Farm.

Shawnee Avenue was named for the Shawnee Indian Tribe. Shawnee comes from the Algonquin word "shawun," meaning "southerner." They usually call themselves the Shawano or Shawanoe or Shawanese. The Shawnee Indians were believed to have originally located in Southern Ohio, West Virginia, and Pennsylvania areas. Today, there are more than 14,000 Shawnee Indians located on four reservations. The groups consist of Absentee Shawnee, Eastern Shawnee, Cherokee Shawnee, and the Loyal Shawnee. The largest of these groups is the Loyal Shawnee. They received the name "Loyal" for serving the union during the Civil War.

Preston Street was named for Robert Preston. He owned about 1400 acres of land in the vicinity of Big Stone Gap. There is also a street in East Stone Gap named for Preston. Preston hired J.P. Wolfe, a well known surveyor, to survey the lands of Wise County.

Albermarle (Albemarle) Street is named for Albemarle County, Virginia, the home of Dr. Thomas Walker. He was born on January 25, 1715. Dr. Walker was a distinguished physician and explorer and was sent with a party of men from Albermarle County by the Royal Land Company in the spring of 1749. On his trip, he explored what is now Wise County. He was the first to record existence of the Gap. Throughout his life, Walker acted as a surveyor and land agent. Dr. Walker died in his home on November 9, 1794.

Gilley Avenue was named for Gordon Gilley. The Gilley's were one of the first families to settle in the area. They were also one of the first to build a grist mill on Powell River. The Gilley's farm was in the center of what is now known as Big Stone Gap. Gordon, a descendent of the Gilley family, was one of the first town council members, and also the first postmaster. He served on the police guard as well.

The Marker Reads:

KA 11

Big Stone Gap, originally known as Three Forks, received its charter, February 23, 1888. A post office was established April 12, 1856. In the early nineties it became the center of iron and coal development. It was the home and workshop of John Fox, Jr., novelist, and author of "Trail of the Lonesome Pine."


The town of Big Stone Gap was originally called Three Forks, because three forks of the Powell River came together here. Later it was called Mineral City, because of the rich mineral deposits. In 1888, the town officially became known as Big Stone Gap. In the early 1890's the area was the center of iron and coal development.

Clinton Avenue is named for Henry Clinton Wood. He was born in Pleasant Hill, Scott County on February 15, 1836 and died December 8, 1909. During the Civil War, H. C. Wood organized a company which became a part of the 37th Virginia Infantry Regiment. He was the Senator for Wise, Lee and Buchanan Counties from 1880-1882. In 1885, he was the Republican nominee for Lieutenant Governor of Virginia, but was defeated. Clinton was the first President of the South Atlantic Railroad.

Taggart Avenue was named for John K. Taggart.  Taggart, an engineer, was instrumental in the coke and coal industry of Southwest Virginia. He came to the Virginia Coal and Iron Company from Pennsylvania in 1890, to produce coal commercially and to manufacture coke. Taggart planned the entire operation and taught the civil engineers how to survey for the coal and coke plants. Taggart believed this region's coke was the best he had ever seen. In 1896, he was killed in an explosion at a stone quarry.

Jerome Street was named for Jerome Hill Duff. He was a Lee County native and lived in the house which is now known as the June Tolliver House. He was the owner and manager of the Central Hotel which was originally located across the street from his home. Later the hotel caught fire and burned. Mr. Duff passed away in October 1890. Mrs. Duff then opened her home to boarders in order to make a living. In the winter of 1893, Elizabeth Morris, the little girl most people think of as the model for June Tolliver in The Trail of the Lonesome Pine lived there.

Fox Street was named for John Fox, Jr. He was born on December 16, 1862 at Stony Point, Kentucky. He moved to Big Stone Gap in 1890. Upon moving to Big Stone Gap, he began to publish fiction stories about the people of the Appalachian mountains. In the novel, The Trail of the Lonesome Pine, John tells of an adventure  of a young coal engineer meeting a young mountain girl. Fox wrote several novels and numerous short stories, based on living in Southwest Virginia.

Holton Avenue was named for Governor Linwood Holton. He was born on September 21, 1923 in Big Stone Gap. He attended public school and graduated from Washington and Lee University in 1944. After serving in World War II, Holton attended Harvard Law School and earned a degree in 1949. He then began his law practice in Roanoke. He was deeply involved in politics and in 1969, Holton was elected Governor of Virginia, serving from 1970-1974. He was the first Republican Governor of this century.

Morris Circle was named for Anna Barron Morris. She was an active civic leader in the town of Big Stone Gap, and was an active member of the Lonesome Pine Hospital Board of Directors and the Women's Auxiliary. She served two terms on the town council and a total of forty years on the Big Stone Gap Planning Commission. Thirty of these years were as chairman. Mrs. Morris was voted "Woman of the Year" by the Wise County Democratic Women's Club in 1985.


Special Thanks

A special thanks to Irene Wax, Dutchie Morris, Bill Hendrick and Garnett Gilliam for their input into exhibit information.


The Southwest Virginia Museum is a member of the American
Association of Museums, the American Association of State and Local History, and the Virginia Association of Museums.

Streets of Big Stone Gap, Virginia



Proctor Street was named for John R. Proctor (Procter). He was the Director of the Geological Survey of Kentucky. Procter wrote the prospectus about the area and why people should invest in the region. He gave ten reasons of why people should come to this area. Some of his reasons were the area was rich in mineral resources such as coal, iron, timber and waterways. Procter did the first survey of Big Stone Gap in 1890.

Carter Street was named for George L. Carter. He was born on January 10, 1858 at Hillsville, Virginia. Carter worked energetically to create an industrial empire in Southwest Virginia by purchasing railroads and coal mines. At one time, he owned the South Atlantic and Ohio Railway and the Virginia Coal and Iron Company. His efforts linked this region's coal mines to the markets in Tennessee, North Carolina, Kentucky, and Delaware. He died on December 30, 1936 at Hillsville, Virginia near his birthplace.

Carl Martin was born in April 1906 in Big Stone Gap. In 1918 he performed regionally on the guitar, mandolin, bass and violin in area coal camps. In the 1930's he recorded with a group called the "Tennessee Chocolate Drops." He later moved to Chicago and performed with greats such as, Big Bill Brooney, Tampa Red, and Bumble Bee Slim. Martin served in World War II.

The Southwest Virginia Museum was the home of General Rufus Ayers, and early developer of Southwest Virginia in the 1890's. Rufus later sold the house to C. Bascom Slemp, the ninth district Congressman and private secretary to Calvin Coolidge. Slemp then bequeathed the house and collection to the Commonwealth of Virginia for a museum. It was officially dedicated as a museum on May 30, 1948.

Wax Avenue was named for Don Wax. Don was born April 21, 1927 and grew up in Big Stone Gap. He often said "I never thought of living any place else." He was the founder and owner of Don Wax Properties, which later became known as Lonesome Pine Realty. He developed and built Shawnee Shopping Center, Cloverlead Square, and College Park Mobile Homes. He loved to write and was very knowledgeable about the history of the area. He wrote two books. His first book, Lonesome Pine Country was about the area. His second book Goodloes, was about the Goodlow Brothers who helped to develop Big Stone Gap in the 1890's.