Postcard – Greetings from Roanoke
Looking for a fun getaway? Consider Roanoke – an easy four-hour drive from the Virginia Peninsula. In November, I spent two days exploring this amazing city.
Originally known as Big Lick, the rural valley community on the Roanoke River was renamed when the arrival of rail service in the 1880s transformed it into a major rail center with shops for building and servicing locomotives. As former headquarters for the Norfolk & Western (now Norfolk Southern), Roanoke honors its distinctive heritage.
N&W Depot Schedule Board and N&W logo
The O. Winston Link Museum, located in the former N&W terminal, documents the work of America’s greatest photographer of railroad subjects. The museum also highlights Roanoke’s history and architect Raymond Loewy, who designed the sleek terminal. Just outside, freights pulled by diesel engines traverse the same rails used a century ago by steam locomotive consists.
Across the street from the museum is the 1892 Hotel Roanoke, built by N&W to lodge passengers and officials. Today, this elegant turn of the century hostelry, boasting over 300 rooms, features fine meals and a conference center. A glass enclosed crosswalk serves as a picturesque bridge over the tracks to access downtown.
Roanoke is a great example of adaptive repurposing of a historic infrastructure. The City Farmer’s Market is the axis from which shops and restaurants housed in quaint buildings and street entertainments offer a variety of opportunities for fun.
Two include Mast General Store, established in 1883, chockablock full of novelties, and Texas Tavern, a local institution since 1930, open 24/7 for quick, inexpensive fare. Several other musts are the Virginia Museum of Transportation, where dozens of restored vintage trains are displayed and the futuristic Taubman Museum of Art.
The Big Ol’ Bikes, Star
For those wishing to enjoy the great outdoors, nothing is better than a trip to Mill Mountain Park with a dozen walking trails of varying difficulties, a children’s barnyard and Zoo Choo train ride, and the city’s renowned star sculpture. Built in 1949 as a symbol of the city’s progressive spirit, from its base, visitors can take in scenic valley overlooks and pose on StarCam.
With only a weekend to see and do, time did not allow for visiting everywhere I hoped, but I’ll certainly return to Roanoke.