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Crossroads to Settlement

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Botetourt County
Early travelers following the Great Road crossed the James River near the town ... read more

Roanoke Valley
Crossroads to Settlement: Imagine if there were only a handful of interstate ... read more

Visit the Crossroads to Settlement website at www.crossroadstosettlement.com.

Imagine if there were only a handful of interstate highways and all intersected in one special place. The Roanoke River valley in southwestern Virginia was that special place. “In going from Pennsylvania to the Carolinas the Indians passed through the Great Valley behind the mountains till they came over the divide on the east side of the creek flowing south into the Roanoke river and passed through the water gap of the Blue Ridge. This became the first Great Road through the valley (F.B. Kegley, 1938).

This “Indian Road,” later followed by early travelers crossed the James River near the town of Buchanan in what is today Botetourt County. As early as the 17th century, the Roanoke Valley was a hub granting Native Americans and frontiersmen access into the Trans-Appalachian West. Today, visitors to the Roanoke Valley can walk in their footsteps and discover the diversity of the region through historic districts, museums and live interpretation.

Settlers began to ride into the frontier behind the Blue Ridge Mountains and build homes and claim farmland in the Roanoke Valley and neighboring Botetourt and Franklin counties in the mid-1700s. The first newcomers--Germans and Scotch-Irish—traveled on the Great Road through the Shenandoah Valley from Pennsylvania. The English came from eastern Virginia into Franklin County.

Botetourt, dating from 1770, is the oldest county in the region. In the beginning, Botetourt’s vast boundaries extended to the Mississippi River, covering Kentucky and parts of West Virginia, Indiana, Ohio and Illinois. Frontier residents lived so far from the county seat in Fincastle that they were exempt from paying taxes. Roanoke County was created from Botetourt much later in 1838. Franklin was settled in 1786 by English in the east and Germans in the mountainous west.

Among early structures remaining from the Colonial period and early 1800s are Washington Iron Works, standing behind a Rocky Mount home, and The Farm, an old home nearby. Buena Vista, a Roanoke parks building, was constructed before the Civil War. One of the oldest homes in Roanoke County is the Harshbarger House, dating from 1797. Samuel Harshbarger left here and settled in Indiana because he was opposed to slavery. In Botetourt, the Community House at Buchanan recalls the 1800s James River & Kanawha Canal, a waterway from Richmond.

Salem, laid out in 1802, is the home of Roanoke College, started in 1842. In Roanoke County, Hollins University began in 1837 as Roanoke Female Seminary. Before Roanoke, as early as 1798, the town was known as Big Lick, for salty marshes attracting animals. Gainesboro, New Antwerp and Prestonville were early communities proposed as towns within present Roanoke. Farming was the major occupation in the region until the arrival of the first train in 1852 brought the beginnings of commerce and industry.