Friday, June 3, 2016

Sights and Landmarks in Roanoke Virginia

As we drove around Roanoke we took photos of several local landmarks and historic sites… The city has a lot to look at and explore.

Laurie grabbed this early evening photo of The Roanoke Star.  It looks down on the city from Mill Mountain Park.  The park is also the home of the appropriately named Mill Mountain Zoo.  We love zoos but we didn’t have the time to visit this one unless we gave up on a number of other trip goals.  To learn about Mill Mountain Zoo, go to

The following morning, Laurie and I drove up to Mill Mountain and its iconic star… The Roanoke Star is the world's largest freestanding illuminated man-made star.  It was constructed in 1949 and it’s listed on the National Register of Historic Places.  After construction of the star, Roanoke was nicknamed "Star City of the South".  The star is visible for 60 miles from the air.  It sits 1,045 feet above the city.

There is a viewing area right at the foot of the Star and even with a hazy sky, the views of Roanoke and the valley in which it’s situated were pretty impressive.  Roanoke is the largest city in the Roanoke Metropolitan Statistical Area, which has a population of over 310,000. 

During colonial times the site now occupied by Roanoke was an important hub of trails and roads.  The Great Wagon Road, one of the most heavily travelled roads of eighteenth century America, ran from Philadelphia through the Shenandoah Valley to the future site of the City of Roanoke.  This is where the Roanoke River passes through the Blue Ridge Mountains. The ‘Roanoke Gap’ was a useful route for immigrants who wanted to settle the Carolina Piedmont region.  Also at the Roanoke Gap, another branch of the Great Wagon Road, the Wilderness Road, continued southwest into Tennessee.

One of our goals for this short anniversary trip was to check out a number of southwest Virginia’s wineries… This beautiful view of Roanoke and the valley was taken from near the Valhalla Vineyards.  Unfortunately they weren’t open when we stopped by…

This is the Patrick Henry Hotel in downtown Roanoke.  It’s included on the National Register of Historic Places.  The Patrick Henry Hotel is a Colonial Revival structure that opened in 1925.  It isn’t a hotel any more but the building now features apartments, office space, and a restaurant named “The Patrick Henry” that’s located in the former lobby. 

In 2007, this building was abandoned and condemned for failing to meet modern fire codes.  However in 2009, after foreclosure for failing to pay back taxes, a local developer acquired the property…and a $20,000,000 renovation was completed in 2011.

This Moderne style structure is the Roanoke Valley’s Visitor Center as well as the O. Winston Link Museum.  It is also part of the Norfolk and Western Railway Company Historic District.  This former passenger terminal was originally built in 1905 and in 1949, it was renovated by noted architect Raymond Loewy. 

This is one of O. Winston Link’s famous and fabulous railroad related photos… He was a photographer who is best known for his black-and-white photography and sound recordings of the last days of steam locomotive railroading on the Norfolk and Western Railroad in the late 1950s.  Link helped establish rail photography as a hobby.  For more on the O. Winston Link Museum, go to

Here are 2 more buildings that are part of the Norfolk and Western Railroad Company Historic District.  These buildings were constructed by the Norfolk and Western Railway.  The closest one is the Neoclassical Revival style General Office Building.  It dates back to 1896 with additions made in 1903.  The second Art Deco building was built in 1931 and it served as the railroad’s General Office Building. 

Downtown Roanoke is just across the tracks to the right and the former passenger depot is just up the street above on this side of the active rail line.  In addition, the Virginia Transportation Museum with all its locomotives and rolling stock is right across from these buildings.

This is the Hotel Roanoke and Conference Center.  On the National Register of Historic Places, it sits right next to the Art Deco Norfolk and Western Office building and right across from the O. Winston Link Museum and former depot.
This luxury hotel was originally built in 1882 but it’s been renovated many times.  It is currently owned by Virginia Tech but it’s operated under the “Curio - A Collection” by Hilton Hotels.

Laurie and I checked out the lobby of Hotel Roanoke…and also the 'clubby' wood accented bar where we relaxed with an adult beverage. 

Hotel Roanoke has been host to many famous and well-known guests, including: Dwight Eisenhower; Richard Nixon; Gerald Ford; Jimmy Carter; Ronald Reagan; George H. W. Bush; Douglas MacArthur; Mahalia Jackson; Aerosmith; Spiro Agnew; Dick Cheney; Hilary Duff; Jerry Seinfeld; Ric Flair, and Shania Twain.

In 1927, Harold and Clarence Woods, brothers from Greensboro, North Carolina, established Woods Brother’s Coffee Company in Roanoke.  Harold Woods grew the company by purchasing one 150-pound burlap bag of green coffee at a time. The coffee was hand-roasted, ground and packed and then sold to the local merchants of the Roanoke Valley.

During the war years of the 40’s, Harold made a trip to New York and was impressed by the neon signage used in advertising.  Upon his return to Roanoke, he enlisted the help of a local sign company to design and install the “H and C Coffee” sign on top of the roasting plant.  In 2005, after years of not working, this big neon sign was repaired through funds raised by the local community and moved to its current location.  It is now classified as a Historical Landmark.

Yet another classic sign… “Drink a Bit to Eat at 10, 2 and 4” was a legendary slogan used by Dr. Pepper for decades.  It reminded Dr. Pepper fans to enjoy their favorite “pick me up” at three intervals during the day when research showed human energy would lag.

In 1936, Bill Davis opened Virginia’s first Dr. Pepper Bottling plant.  Residents of Roanoke consumed more Dr. Pepper per capita than any other place on earth from 1957 to 1959 and again in 1961… To this day, Roanoke has among highest per capita consumption rates in the USA.  The sign has become one of the city’s iconic images…

For just a bit of contrast, this is the Taubman Museum of Art.  It sits across the Norfolk and Western tracks from the former passenger depot.  This ultra-modern facility was opened to the public in November of 2008.   The museum’s permanent collection of more than 2,000 works of art includes prominent 19th and early 20th century American art, as well as significant modern and contemporary art, photography, design, and decorative arts, and several smaller collections including Southern folk art.  

We didn’t have time to tour the museum but it’s on our list for the next trip to Roanoke.  To learn more about the Taubman Museum of Art, you can go to

That’s it for this tour.  Just click on any of the photos to enlarge them…

Thanks for stopping by for a visit!

Take Care, Big Daddy Dave


  1. I have always enjoyed visiting Roanoke, although it has been several years since I have been. Thanks for your great photos!

  2. I've never been to Roanoke and didn't realize it was so large. Looks like a good place to visit with plenty of RR history.