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History of Roanoke County

Named for Lord Botetourt, a royal Governor of Virginia, Botetourt County was formed in 1769 with boundaries extending west to the Mississippi River. Roanoke County was formed from a portion of this land in 1838.

By the 1740s, the first Scotch-Irish and German settlers reached the upper Roanoke Valley by traveling from Pennsylvania through the Shenandoah Valley. They were joined by Tidewater Virginians of English ancestry who journeyed up the valleys of the James and Roanoke rivers.

Roanoke's earliest era of pioneer settlement produced two major military and political leaders. General Andrew Lewis and Col. William Fleming headed troops from Virginia who defeated the Shawnee at the Battle of Point Pleasant on the Ohio River in 1774. Both Lewis and Fleming then served as western Virginia leaders in the cause of the American Revolution.

The county today (population 80,000) is the mostly affluent suburban area surrounding the City of Roanoke. It includes the Town of Vinton as well as Hollins, home of prestigious Hollins College for women, and historic Bonsack.

Roanoke County's name comes from the Indian word "Rawrenock", which means wampum. These were white shell beads worn by native Americans. This explanation was handed down from Captain John Smith, who wrote about the origins of Roanoke Island in North Carolina's Albemarle Sound.

Many of the county's areas are named for its mountain peaks. One of the most unusual names is Twelve O' Clock Knob. The Mountain got its name because slaves west of Salem could look at it and tell it was time for lunch when the sun was at a point over the mountain's 2,707-foot peak.

Another of Roanoke County's natural resources, underground springs, sparked names for many areas. These include Virginia Etna Springs, site of a former water bottling plant, and Botetourt Springs Resort. Begun in the 1820s, the resort became the nucleus of Hollins College. Another important spring was Big Cook Spring in Bonsack, an area heavily damaged by the Civil War.

Two blanket factories were located in Bonsack during the War between the States. Legend has it that one blanket factory was burned to the ground by the Yankees. However, the second was spared because its owner, with fingers crossed, promised not to sell blankets to the nearby Confederate merchants down the road in Roanoke City.

East of Vinton lies Bonsack, the home of Jim Bonsack. He quit Roanoke College to work on a competition for the first cigarette rolling machine. Young Bonsack won $75,000 competition prize, patented his invention in 1880 at the age of 22, made a fortune and spawned a national industry.

Roanoke County's pioneering spirit extends to modern times. The county was the first in the state to have curbside recycling. It also has been nationally recognized for governmental cooperation, quality of life and support of the Explore Park.

Explore, a unique recreational and educational experience, is the county's tourism focus. It opened in 1994, after the National Park Service completed a road to the area. This Park is located in East County near Vinton. Explore includes a frontier settlement, North American wilderness zoological park and environmental education center. This park will be completed in various phases with a major emphasis on environmental preservation.

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The Roanoke Valley Convention & Visitors Bureau
101 Shenandoah Avenue NE | Roanoke, VA 24016
540-342-6025
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