Wythe County

Wythe County, highlighted in map of Virginia

Rural Retreat

Rural Retreat is located at the divide between the New and Tennesee rivers, near the border of Wythe and Smyth counties. The East Tennessee, Virginia and Georgia Railroad (later the Virginia and Tennessee, the Norfolk and Western, and now the Norfolk Southern) connected the town to the coastal cities in 1856. At that time, the town name changed from Mt. Airy to Rural Retreat, to eliminate any chance of shippers getting it confused with Mount Airy, NC. The railroad enabled local farmers to specialize in cabbages before World War II, and Rural Retreat was once the "Cabbage Capital of the World."

You can listen to the steam train come through Rural Retreat (from National Public Radio's All Things Considered on February 2, 2001). The Grace Lutheran church musician describes the train "starts down the hill" before coming through town. Even if you look closely at the 1:24,000 scale quad map, it's hard to tell whether the train was headed north or south on the Norfolk and Western railroad when O. Winston Link was photographing and recording the last steam locomotives.

One student in the 2001 class reported on the special connection between Rural Retreat and the Dr Pepper soft drink:
"The official story is that Dr Pepper is a 'native Texan' drink invented by an English pharmacist, Charles Alderton, while working at the Morrison Drug Store in Waco. Mr. Morrison moved to Waco from Rural Retreat, Virginia, where he had previously worked for a graduate of the UVA Medical School, Dr. Charles Pepper. Legend has it that Morrison was encouraged to leave Virginia by Dr. Pepper after his amorous intentions toward the good doctor's daughter became known."
Others claim that Dr. Pepper actually created the drink, and Wade Morrison simply duplicated it in Texas. The building that once housed Dr. Pepper's pharmacy burned in the 1990's, but Rural Retreat will always have this claim to fame...

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