A Tribute to Dorothy Hall Witt

Dorothy Hall Witt our distinguished first president and charter member of the Wise County Historical Society was instrumental in the compiling and publishing of The Heritage of Wise County and The City of Norton, Volume 1 and 2, among other publications. She was also instrumental in the establishing of the Wise County Historical Society. She served as the President of the Historical Society the first years of its establishment.

Dorothy at Work

First President of Wise County Historical Society

We, the members of the Wise County Historical Society, would like to take this opportunity to offer a tribute to our first president, Dorothy Hall Witt. Without her foresight and perseverance the Historical Society of Wise County would not exist today.

Dorothy Hall Witt our distinguished first president and charter member of the Wise County Historical Society was instrumental in the compiling and publishing of The Heritage of Wise County and The City of Norton, Volume 1 and 2, among other publications. She was also instrumental in the establishing of the Wise County Historical Society. She served as the President of the Historical Society the first years of its establishment.

While helping on the Lee County Book Committee in the creating of the Bicentennial History of Lee County Virginia published in 1991, Dorothy felt the need for the same in Wise County, and was instrumental in forming a group of Wise County historians who published their own Heritage of Wise County and the City of Norton Volume 1 in 1993. She was Chairman of the Book Committee and was elected President of the Wise County Historical Society when it was organized.

For the past 8 years Dorothy has served as recording secretary for the Wise County Historical Society and has worked a day or two a week at the office in the courthouse. She also is the editor of the Aging Gracefully segment of the Appalachian Quarterly published by Wise County Historical Society. She along with her friend and co-worker, Wanda Rose traveled over the county working on volume 1 of Wise County and the City of Norton, and installing lifelines for disabled and the elderly, she became interested in interviewing older people, which was the birth of Aging Gracefully in Appalachia.

Dorothy’s heritage is completely Appalachian as her father was a native of Lee County and her mother was a native of Russell County. Dorothy was born in Norton, grew up in Powell Valley, graduated from East Stone Gap High School, lived in Coeburn for twenty years and has lived in Wise for the past 33 years. She completed several courses at Clinch Valley College in English, Creative writing and Appalachian culture.

Dorothy worked for 14 years for the Department of Social Services, then worked as a medical transcriptionist and secretary at Wise Appalachian Regional Hospital for 19 years, retiring in 1989 to travel and pursue all the volunteer activities in which she was interested.

She has two sons, Hal Addington of Pinckney, Michigan, and Tim Addington of Atlanta, Georgia, and one granddaughter, April Addington, a sophomore at Virginia Tech in Blacksburg. Dorothy is married to Harold Witt and they reside in Wise.

Dorothy is a dedicated member, wife, mother, and grandmother. She is good company and has a great sense of humor.

WCHS Activities 4

Members of Wise County Historical Society traveled to Saltville in the Spring of 1996 seeking information on the town for the first issue of our magazine, “The Appalachian Quarterly,” (Editor: Rhonda Robertson). It was a very interesting and rewarding trip. From the June issue of Appalachian Quarterly, the following excerpts: Saltville Boasts A Long And Rich History by Roger A. Allison

Historical Trip to Saltville, Virginia

Smyth County Virginia

Town of Saltville 1896-June 1996 – First Issue of The Appalachian Quarterly. Featuring In Focus Saltville Virginia. Picture: The Wooley Mammoth.

Members of Wise County Historical Society traveled to Saltville in the Spring  of 1996 seeking information on the town for the first issue of our magazine, “The Appalachian Quarterly,”  (Editor: Rhonda Robertson).  It was a very interesting and rewarding trip.  From the June issue of Appalachian Quarterly, the following excerpts: Saltville Boasts A Long And Rich History by Roger A. Allison

The “Archaeological Dig” Site at Saltville

Archological Dig Site

The Historical Society visited a “dig site” in Saltville; the King-Stuart House, where  Flora Stuart, wife of General J.E.B Stuart (deceased) , and her children lived which was built in 1795 by William King, another of Saltville’s early salt manufacturers; the Battle Site; the Salt Kettles site;  Mrs. Russell’s Methodist Church and home; the Museum;  the Mattheson Chemical Corp. train, which was probably used in the Salt works, and library. (Photos above)

This is where the bones of a Wooley Mamoth was found.


Published by the Saltville Progress,February 22, 1996

“The town of Saltville is celebrating this year the centennial of its incorporation as a town in 1896 but not 100 years of its existence as some have said.    The town of Saltville had existed for almost 150 years before it was incorporated.   That’s why the newly adopted town seal contains two dates – 1896 – the date of incorporation, and 1753, the date of the first land grant in Saltville Valley, issued in the name of King George II of England,

Salt Furnace where Salt Water was Boiled

Salt, one of the world’s most common substances is the town’s reason for being.  It is the presence of salt which assured the town of its rich history.    Over the millennia that vital substance had been responsible for drawing into the Saltville Valley giant mammals, now extinct; settlers, colonial and pre-colonial; members of some of early Virginia’s and America’s most prominent families; invading Union armies during the War for Southern independence; and major industry, which ushered the town into the 20th century.

The Saltville Valley is a virtual graveyard of the first-known visitors to the area. It is almost impossible to dig a ditch or well of any great extent without uncovering the bones of mastodons, wooly mammoths, giant ground sloth’s, musk oxen, and other prehistoric creatures which frequented the valley 14,000 to 10,000 years ago.

The first recorded find of the remains of these animals was made by Col. Arthur Campbell in 1782 when he dug the first well for the manufacture of salt.  Campbell presented his discoveries, “bones of uncommon size” to a collector friend named Thomas Jefferson, who recorded the find in his 1785 “notes on the State of Virginia.”

Since that time there have been dozens of recorded finds and, no doubt, scores of unrecorded discoveries throughout the Saltville Valley.  Some scientific archaeological digs were conducted following accidental discoveries in 1917 and in the mid-1960’s, and since 1980 the town has hosted summer digs almost annually.  The Virginia Museum of Natural History and the Smithsonian Institute has conducted digs each summer since 1991..”

Click on photos to enlarge or click “Show as Slideshow”

Identification of  Photos Above

  1. Kitchen Fireplace in Madame Russell House
  2. Madam Russell Home
  3. Smyth County, VA Old Steam Engine Probably used in Salt works
  4. Log Holder and Log
  5. Kitchen with dried food
  6. Living Room Fireplace
  7. Pies on rack and dried tobacco
  8. Eggs and walnuts in Basket
  9. Madame Russell’s Church sign
  10. Stained Glass window
  11. Madam Russell Methodist Church
  12. Town Cemetery
  13. Old Churn
  14. Stained Glass Window
  15. Stained Glass Window
  16. Historical Society Members at Battle Site – fought in 1864
  17. King Stuart House
  18. Looking from Above the Town
  19. Dig Site
  20. Salt Furnaces and Kettles
  21. Old Museum
  22. Gladys Stallard at Stained Glass Window

Madame Russell

Madame Russell House

By Gladys Stallard

Elizabeth Russell was born Elizabeth Henry in 1749 in Hanover County, Virginia, sister to the well-known Patrick Henry, Governor of Virginia.  She married first to General William Campbell, of Augusta County, Virginia and second in 1783 to General William Russell, of Revolutionary War fame.  They moved to Saltville in 1788.  General Russell built salt houses, the first salt wells and a furnace, sometime between 1788 and 1797 with Francis Preston.  Russell dug his first brine well in 1788.  The well was located near the Russell home where the salt was produced by evaporating brine in a large salt kettles.

“Madame Russell is probably more eminent in the Methodist pioneer history of America than any other woman.  In Saltville, in 1824, a Methodist Church, Elizabeth Church, wad dedicated in her name.  In 1898 construction was begun on a new Methodist church, located a few feet from the then still standing Russell home.  That church, Madam Russell Memorial United Methodist Church, stands today as a monument to Mrs. Russell, the region’s earliest religious leader, and to the pioneer Methodist Movement in the Holston Territory of Southwest Virginia and Northeast Tennessee.  In present day Saltville, there now stands a beautiful stone building named “Madam Russell Methodist Church.”  Nearby is a replica of the original log cabin where the Russell’s had lived.  This is owned by the church.  The stone  doorstep of the church is said to have been the hearth in the Russell cabin.”