Not often are you treated like a star unless, of course, you are a Hollywood celebrity or famous athlete. But, the people of Roanoke made me feel like returning royalty including Mayor Bowers, whom I met at the top of Mill Mountain.
You see, decades ago I attended Roanoke College in Salem, Virginia, one of the cities in the area now known as Virginia’s Blue Ridge. While a student I entered the Miss Roanoke Valley pageant and surprisingly won! I did not go on to become Miss Virginia but the experience was memorable and the scholarship money helpful.
Now, after way too many years, I finally returned to Roanoke and found the city itself had earned starlet status- a shining example of living up to its title as the Star City of the South and to downtown revitalization.
Back in the early 1970’s, the city center was nothing to brag about. Today, it thrives with a farmer’s market open seven day a week and many boutique shops and restaurants. The Taubman Museum of Art is the new queen hosting a stellar collection. Plus, the O. Winston Link Museum is an absolute winner for photographers and railroad buffs.
On my tour I saw only two businesses that I remembered from the past. One was the Texas Tavern, a tiny hole in the wall eatery which sits ten and continues to sell burgers for $1.25.
The other building I fondly recall is the Hotel Roanoke, a magnificent Tudor-style mansion sitting on the hill overlooking train tracks. The hotel’s history is closely tied with railroading. The venue (constructed 1937-38) was originally owned by the N & W- Norfolk and Western Railroad, the company that transformed sleepy Big Lick into Roanoke and established their headquarters and a major intersection of the north-south and east-west rail lines.
Sadly, the Hotel Roanoke fell into disrepair and closed her doors in 1989. But, like Sleeping Beauty, growth and change took place around her as she snoozed. Awakened and reopened in 1995, she once again reigns with fashionable rooms and a new conference center that blends into the old architectural style.
Dining tradition continues with the hotel’s famed peanut soup and spoon bread. I was lucky enough to sample a cup of soup topped with chopped peanuts and a tiny skillet of warm cornbread oozing butter. Yum. The hotel insisted my group partake the luncheon buffet: a bounty of entrees, salads, vegetables and six to eight desserts. A splendid curtain call.
I could go about my heavenly trip to Roanoke, but I’ll save more description on Virginia’s Blue Ridge for a later blog post.