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County History

The state Senate officially established Clarke County on March 8, 1836, by separating the new county from Frederick County. It is named for George Rogers Clark (no “e”), a Virginian who became the highest-ranking American military officer on the northwestern frontier during the American Revolutionary War. Today, Clarke County remains primarily a rural, agricultural county, with a strong culture of community.

In the early 18th century, this area was part of a vast 5-million-acre property owned by Lord Thomas Fairfax (1693-1781) that stretched from the Shenandoah Valley to the Chesapeake Bay. Lord Fairfax built his American home in what is now the Clarke County village of White Post. White Post is named for the signpost that pointed to Lord Fairfax’s office.

Young George Washington came to the area to survey land for Lord Fairfax. Here, Washington met Daniel Morgan, who later became a hero of the Revolutionary War. Members of Washington’s family took up land here, and Washington frequently visited.

Robert “King” Carter, who served as the American agent for the Proprietary, granted more than 50,000 acres in the Shenandoah Valley to his sons and neighbors in the 1730s. In the latter part of the 18th century, the descendants of these Tidewater grant holders moved here, bringing with them their slaves, plantation lifestyle, and love of foxhunting. The large crops of wheat grown on these plantations contributed to the area’s “Bread Basket of the Confederacy” title during the Civil War.

Outside of the Tidewater land grants, immigrants from Pennsylvania and New Jersey settled the northern and western areas of Clarke County, where mills and small farms abounded.

By 1836, the inherent differences between the large landowners on the east side of the Opequon Creek and the German-Scotch-Irish settlers west of the creek created a chasm in life-styles that caused the new County of Clarke to be created.

The Civil War devastated the area, but many old plantation homes survived and remain standing today. Gradually the agricultural emphasis changed from wheat to fruit production, with immense orchards of apples spreading over the landscape. Horses and cattle still flourish. Over time, the county’s businesses have become more diverse, yet the Clarke County maintains the rural nature its residents cherish.

Virginia has 95 counties. At 178-square miles (113,920 acres), Clarke County is the eighth smallest county by area in Virginia. It is No. 73 on the list of counties by population.

Clarke County shares border with the Virginia counties of Loudoun, Fauquier, Frederick, and Warren; Jefferson County, W.Va., is to the north. About 25 percent of Clarke County is mountain land. Almost 75 percent of the county is west of the Shenandoah River.

Clarke County’s seat, Berryville, sits at the intersection of U.S. 340 (Lord Fairfax Highway) and Va. 7 (Harry Byrd Highway). Berryville is the center of commercial, residential, institutional, and industrial activity for the county. Settled in 1775 and incorporated in 1798, it was originally known as Battletown. 

The county’s only other incorporated town is Boyce. Unincorporated villages are Bluemont, Millwood, Pine Grove, and White Post. Other communities known by locals include Browntown, Double Tollgate, Frogtown, Gaylord, Old Chapel, Swimley, Wadesville, Waterloo, Webbtown, Wickliffe, and more than two dozen other almost-forgotten crossroad communities.

Learn much more about Clarke County at the Clarke County Historical Association museum located at 32 E. Main St. in Berryville, Va.