Virginia's Blue Ridge is now open in the Phase Three stage of the Commonwealth's Forward Virginia plan. Learn more about the program and what it means for various types of businesses & experiences in the region with our Phase Three Guidelines page. Phase Three >
The Roanoke Valley in Virginia's Blue Ridge allows you the opportunity to experience all four spectacular seasons in the beautiful mountains of Virginia.
The region is recognized for its railroad heritage, numerous festivals, world-class outdoor adventures, and historic markets with nearby shopping, including hand-made crafts and Virginia specialty items. You'll also discover Southern hospitality at our restaurants, shops and attractions.
Located within a day's drive of half the nation's population, the Roanoke Valley in Virginia's Blue Ridge is situated on Interstate 81 in the heart of Virginia's mountains. Roanoke is approximately 251 miles south of Washington, DC, and 216 miles west of Colonial Williamsburg. Learn more about where Virginia's Blue Ridge is located.
European settlers first discovered the Roanoke Valley over three centuries ago. However, the history of the region stretches back thousands of years to geological events that created this vast expanse of ridges and valleys and left alternating limestone and salt deposits in an area that would later come to be known as "Big Lick."
Animal herds came first, mostly bison, elk and deer, and then Native American hunters, particularly the Totera tribesmen.
The earliest written evidence of the Roanoke Valley dates from 1671, but local historians date the first settlements to 1740, when Mark Evans and Tasker Tosh claimed the land.
Virginia's Blue Ridge, like most of the early frontier, was not for the faint-hearted. The salt marshes that once made the valley a fertile hunting ground were also the cause of countless deaths.
Militias were a necessity against frequent Native American and British raids. General Andrew Lewis, who distinguished himself in the Battle of Point Pleasant in 1774, purchased land in then-Botetourt County (later formed into Roanoke County) that eventually encompassed the present limits of the City of Salem.
The City of Roanoke had less auspicious beginnings, although it soon became the busiest commercial center west of Richmond. Once a rough, tawdry outpost along the Wilderness and Great Roads, it was never more than a bumble collection of hamlets, including Gainesborough and Big Lick, until Frederick J. Kimball brought the railroad to town in 1881.
The 19th century was the Age of the Iron Horse. Several railroad companies, including the Virginia & Tennessee, the Atlantic, Mississippi & Ohio and the Shenandoah Valley Railroad, were established in this area around the time of the Civil War, but they soon went under.
Several Philadelphia financiers, led by Kimball, realized there was money to be made with the discovery of bituminous coal in West Virginia.
When some enterprising locals got wind of the plan, it took a Paul Revere-esque midnight ride to Lexington with a satchel containing $10,000 to convince the railroad executives to establish the junction in Roanoke.
The grateful locals almost renamed Big Lick after Kimball, President of the newly formed Norfolk & Western Railway, but he instead urged them to rename their city in honor of the river that runs through the valley (the name comes from a Native American word, "rawrenock," which refers to white shell beads used to trade.) Thus, Roanoke was born.
As Roanoke was gradually evolving into a bustling center for transportation and commerce, Salem was developing its own unique character. Designated the seat of Roanoke County when it was carved from Botetourt County in 1838, Salem was an important stopping point for pioneers and traders looking to make their fortune along the western frontier.
Even today, Salem, which became an independent city in 1968, maintains an identity completely separate from Roanoke.
When Norfolk & Western merged with Southern Railway, becoming Norfolk Southern, and moved its headquarters elsewhere, the economic future of the Roanoke Valley was left in doubt. Over the past three decades, however, the region has emerged as a center for healthcare, banking, shopping and tourism.
With true pioneer spirit, the valley flourished from nothing more than a salt marsh to become the heart of Virginia's Blue Ridge Mountains.
Indians wandering between the parallel ridges of the Allegheny Mountains named their great valley, Shenandoah, "daughter of the stars." Here, nestled in this beautiful valley, is the progressive-spirited "Star City of the South" - Roanoke.
And, visible from just about every part of this city is the splendidly illuminated, 100-foot-tall Roanoke Star. Below are some facts of interest about our most notable landmark.
The Star is illuminated white every night. It's also illuminated different colors, such as red, white, and blue, for certain holidays and special occasions.
Check out the view from the Roanoke Star with our webcam.