American towns and cities originated from a variety of different sources. One of the earliest, and most formal, types of settlements came during the colonial period. Many towns (some are now large cities) that were started during that period were planned using European standards that placed emphasis on sites for public places and generous streets. Examples surviving today are the older sections of Williamsburg, Annapolis, Savannah, Philadelphia and Washington, D.C. Names like Francis Nicholson (the then governor of Virginia), William Penn, James Oglethorpe, and Pierre L’Enfant are recalled as the town planners of these early urban places. Also following the European tradition, the official governmental authority, the crown or a private company was the major player in determining where towns would be built and how they would be developed.
The American Revolution changed that by substituting state government for the authority of the crown. Towns and cities then became “creatures of the State” and it was not until the 1920s that local governments were authorized by their states to prepare town and city plans to guide their community’s development. Under the “laissez faire” attitude toward development that prevailed during the intervening 200-year period, most American towns developed more or less spontaneously where they served market needs. This was usually along some transportation routes and the more major the transportation route the larger the development that ensued.
The feature that stimulated the initial establishment of and growth of almost all American towns was the need to connect one settlement with others in order to provide the exchange of goods and services required to sustain a healthy urban community so most towns and cities started as waypoints or crossroads on transportation routes. Kilmarnock was no exception.
First settled in the mid 1600s, Kilmarnock was originally known as “The Crossroads”. Kilmarnock probably had its beginnings at the intersection of Indian paths which later became the locations of Routes 3 and 200. It was in the early 1700’s that William Steptoe began to operate a storehouse and ordinary at the crossroads so that the crossroads came to be called “Steptoe’s Ordinary.” In 1764, Robert Gilmour, an agent for a mercantile firm based in Glasgow, Scotland, is thought to have been involved in giving the name of “Kilmarnock” to the crossroads location using the name of Kilmarnock, Scotland, where he apparently also owned land. The earliest known record referenced to “Kilmarnock, Virginia,” can be found in a deed recorded in 1778. It was incorporated as the “Town of Kilmarnock” by an act of the General Assembly in 1930. Click for a timeline of significant milestones in Kilmarnock’s history. Click here to see the changes in the Town’s boundaries since 1930.