The first pioneers explored the Roanoke Valley region as early as the 17th Century. An exploration party's report in 1671 told of the "blue mountains and a snug flat valley beside the upper Roanoke River." For the next 70 years, after this initial exploration, the region remained undisturbed by settlers.
As the land to the east of the mountains became developed, pioneers began moving into the western regions of Virginia. These early settlers from eastern Virginia were joined by people from Pennsylvania seeking new lands in the rich Shenandoah Valley. The newcomers began farming in the Roanoke Valley by 1740.
Tradesmen & Farmers
As tradesmen and farmers moved into the region, new counties and communities were established. Botetourt County was created in 1769, with the Town of Fincastle as its seat. For a short period, the vast county stretched westward to the Mississippi River. Roanoke County was separated from Botetourt County in 1838. Craig County was formed in 1851 from Botetourt County, Roanoke County, Giles, and Monroe Counties, with New Castle as its seat.
Towns formed within what is now the City of Roanoke in the first decades of the 19th Century. Antwerp was subdivided in 1801 followed by Gainesborough in 1825 (the present Gainsboro neighborhood) and Old Lick in 1834. The Gainesborough settlement remained the most populous community until 1874 when the Town of Big Lick was chartered. Named for a series of salt marshes, or licks as they were called, that ran through the area and brought gatherings of buffalo, elk and deer, this tiny village of less than 500 people was to become the Town of Roanoke in 1882 and in 1884, the City of Roanoke. The new town was located along the old Atlantic, Mississippi, and Ohio Railroad later to become the Norfolk and Western.
Shenandoah Valley Railroad
The completion of the Shenandoah Valley Railroad from Hagerstown, Maryland, to its junction with the newly formed Norfolk and Western Railway in 1882, marked the start of Roanoke's rapid growth. The adjacent town of Vinton was also incorporated at this time.
The Town of Salem, established in 1806, became the county seat for Roanoke County. Salem was the largest town within the area during these formative years and was located on two stage lines. Salem remained the major center of activity in the Roanoke area until the mid 1880's and then became an independent city in 1968.
A geographic location west of the Blue Ridge Mountains and midway of the "great valley" between Maryland and Tennessee, has been the key to Roanoke's growth. A transportation center, the community has flourished as the one of the major hubs of the Norfolk Southern Corporation. Air passenger and freight needs are handled at the Roanoke-Blacksburg Regional Airport. A network of fine modern highways has attracted numerous interstate motor freight lines to establish terminals.
The Roanoke Valley is western Virginia's center for industry, trade, health, education, travel, conventions, and entertainment.