History of Roanoke County

Roanoke County was formed in 1838 from a portion of the land that made up Botetourt County.

The county today (population 80,000) is the mostly suburban area surrounding the City of Roanoke. It includes the Town of Vinton as well as Hollins, home of prestigious Hollins University 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.

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 enslaved people 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. Created in the 1820s, the resort became the nucleus of Hollins University.

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 the $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 Park, 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 the eastern part of the county near Vinton.

Roanoke Valley Spotlight