Wise County’s Big Stone Gap Downtown Historic District is nestled in the Alleghany Mountains of western Virginia. The “Big Stone Gap” refers to the broadening of the Powell River Valley between Stone Mountain, Little Stone Mountain, and Wallens Ridge. The district comprises the historic business center of Big Stone Gap, a boomtown that flourished from the late 19th century through the mid-20th century as a hub for emerging coal and iron-ore industries in Wise County. Unlike many other towns in the region that arose unplanned,the Big Stone Gap Improvement Company laid out the town on a grid plan in the 1880s. The Stonega Coke and Coal Company, a pioneer in coal production in Southwest Virginia and the largest producer in its territory, built its headquarters in Big Stone Gap in 1908, further elevating the prominence of the town. Coal extraction continued as the major local industry throughout the mid-20th century, stimulating commercial development in town to support the growing industry and its employees. The historic district’s architecture ranges from architecturally significant individual buildings, such as the 1912 Renaissance Revival-style Slemp Federal Building and the 1940 Moderne-style Tri-State Coach Bus Terminal, to vernacular commercial buildings constructed from 1900 to the mid-20th century, clustered mostly within approximately four-blocks. Because many buildings associated with the town’s boom period in the late 1800s were destroyed by a 1908 fire, the ten-acre district’s oldest building dates to circa 1900.
Updated September 20, 2018