Formation of Wise County
A petition was signed by the citizens with the name of the new county to be called “Dunn.” It was later decided the county was to be called “Roane.” The amended bill by Mr. Thomas L. Preston, a member of the House of Delegates from Smyth County, amended the bill by striking out the name “Roane” and inserting the Name “Wise,” naming the new county after Henry A. Wise, then Governor of Virginia.” Wise County was taken from Scott, Lee and Russell counties.
The act forming the new county of Wise, February 16,1856, provided that the county seat of the new county should be on the lands of Daniel Ramey at the Big Glades, and that the name of the county seat should be Gladeville. Eventually the name of the town became Wise.
The first court was held in the Little Primitive Baptist Church, a one story log building about 20 x 24 feet in size which stood near the property where the new courthouse would be built. This building was too small so the grand juries and petit juries had to retire to a nearby large, flat rock for holding their deliberations. This rock is still intact and is known as the “Jury Rock.” Due to school being held in the Primitive Baptist church and held court in the home of A. J. Dotson.
The first courthouse was to be 30 X 45 feet and made of logs. A. J. Dotson was to build the courthouse. A.J. Dotson was the first Sheriff of the county. This courthouse seems to have been completed by 1858 and was also used for worship due to the little Primitive Baptist church where they had held court, having been burned. In 1864 during the Civil War the courthouse was burned by Federal forces. Court was held in various homes until a two story house was purchased for that purpose.
The second courthouse built in 1876, was made of native clay bricks. two story with chimneys at either end. In 1881 James M. Gilley, Sr. and Hop Elkins hauled the courthouse bell from Estillville (Gate City) in a wagon. They tied the clapper with a rope so it would not make so much noise when the wagon jolted. But when they topped the hill coming into Wise, Hop cut the rope and let the clatter-call of the bell resound over the village until he drew up in front of the courthouse.
The present courthouse was built in 1896 by Milbourne Gilliam and Creed Flanary. In 1920 the western annex was built and later a records storage was constructed on the south side of this annex. An Item of interest connected with the court is that in the early days of the court a whipping post stood between what is now the present courthouse and jail. It was used mainly for whipping men who mistreated their wives. Behind the old courthouse stood a gallows on which seven men were hanged.
If you are planning a trip to Southwest Virginia, why not visit Wise County and the beautiful old courthouse in Wise. While you are there don’t forget to stop by the office of the Wise County Historical Society, Room 250. Browse our bookstore, look at nostalgic pictures on the walls, research you family history or just drop by and talk. You will find a friendly volunteer there to assist you.