Virginia Magazine of History and Biography
Volume 116 / Number 2
New South Boomtown: Roanoke, Virginia, 1882–1884
- By Rand Dotson, pp. 150–90
This article explores the early social and economic history of Roanoke, focusing especially on the years immediately after the city became the headquarters for two northern-owned railroads and emerged as one of the fastest growing urban areas in the South. It deals mainly with residents' struggles to solve problems associated with the intense industrialization and urbanization that followed the railroads' arrival, arguing that such rapid development for a time made Roanoke seem more like a gold-rush era boomtown of the West than a city in Virginia. The essay also explains the crucial role natives played in luring the railroad and other industries to their town. It contends that local leaders' belief that unfettered development would serve as a panacea for all civic needs led to infrastructure shortfalls, political turmoil, and resentments between residents of the older sections of town and northern newcomers living in parts of the city developed by the railroad. The article concludes that despite these problems and the devastating impact of the 1883 depression, Roanoke survived its formative years to become a potent symbol of what regional economic boosters were calling the New South.