The unusual name, Rural Retreat, often provokes people into wondering where such a name originated. The origin of this name is perhaps unknown. The present town of Rural Retreat on the Lee Highway used to exist on the site of Mt. Airy (a German settlement of colonial times had its center there). One of its leading men, Robert Doak, was a member of the House of Burgesses for Fincastle County, 1773-1775. History reveals that this German settlement existed before Wythe County was formed from Montgomery County in 1789. The early settlers in the vicinity of Mt. Airy experienced the typical tribulations and hardships of people on the frontier. Their life was primarily centered around family units and a tavern which was present in this general area.
In 1856 the East Tennessee, Virginia and Georgia Railroad was built through Southwest Virginia. This railroad was built through the present site of Rural Retreat about 1856. Because of the facilities afforded by the railroad the activities tended to be centered at the present site of Rural Retreat. The name of Mt. Airy was discontinued so as not to be confused with the Mt. Airy of North Carolina. It has been reported that a General Mahone suggested the name of Rural Retreat.
There is much evidence to support the idea that the early people of this area were greatly interested in the establishment of the Lutheran religion and educational facilities for the youth. As time advanced, the area grew from being a frontier settlement and it advanced rapidly toward becoming a great center for the many developing farms. At the turn of the century agriculture was of a general nature and by 1910 Rural Retreat was beginning to be known as the cabbage center of the world, which did later develop into the largest cabbage market in the world. Cabbage was its leading product until the thirties, when other areas of the nation began to compete with it. As the importance of cabbage declined, the area grew in importance in livestock and dairy farming until today Rural Retreat considers itself to be the heart of Southwest Virginia\'s great dairy land, producing some of the highest quality milk found in these United States. Its maximum potential is far from being realized as a livestock and dairy area. Many of the farms have been handed down from generation to generation and many young farmers have staked their future in the soil of their community.
With the advent of the automobile Rural Retreat has become better known to many people. Many are realizing that it has one of the most ideal climates in the world. Its average temperature for the year is 50.19, and its average yearly rainfall is 39.75\". These figures are based on a period of ten years. Each summer many from other states visit this quiet mountain retreat to enjoy the cool pleasant summers.
Sportsmen are finding this area to be ideal for recreation. The streams are stocked by the oldest fish hatchery in the South. The State has stocked the vast Jefferson National Forest with deer, elk, bear, turkey, and other forms of wildlife. Nearby mountain trails offer the visitor a chance for pleasant journeys among some of the most beautiful scenery in the East.
Although bountifully blest in natural resources, perhaps the greatest blessings of the area are the vigorous, loyal, hard-working people who inhabit the area. One does not have to be among these people long to realize that the Anglo Saxon ideals of virtue, honesty and democracy prevail. Amidst the dissatisfaction and discord prevailing throughout much of the world today, it is evident that the people of this area are striving for a better future for themselves and their families with faith in their God, their country, and themselves.