A Special Place for 200 Years


Roger Hedgepeth
Mayor, Town of Blacksburg

The problem with history is that it involves yesterday. And yesterdays accumulate at a very rapid rate-while we're not watching. In other words, history just keeps on happening.

It is indeed fortunate that many daily happenings have been, without premeditation, recorded through letters, diaries, short summaries of events, and through similar means. When combined with deeds, wills, transactions, and drawings, for instance, these many "scraps of the past" form a latent and sometimes vast storehouse of interesting information that is waiting to be collected into a "history." This "collecting" is frequently the work of a writer-browser who skillfully seeks out and compiles chronological enumerations of the noteworthy and the just plain interesting into a record that is both entertaining and useful; i.e., useful because some randomness and mystery have been removed from a finite segment of the history of certain people and places.

An impetus for the production of new "history" is usually in the form of some personal interest kindled in the mind of the potential author or some event that points to a need for a unique compilation of facts.

The formation, in 1995, of a Bicentennial Commission whose purpose was to plan and create the many events and products that would celebrate Blacksburg's 200th birthday provided just such an impetus. The need for a "book" that would accompany the bicentennial year was the catalyst that set the book authors afoot to carry out their detective hunt for existing histories, interesting stories, and missing pieces of information that would add to the historical canon of Blacksburg.

But the life of a town, even in the New World, covers a very long period of time. Blacksburg was established by an act of the Virginia General Assembly in 1798, but the recorded actions of explorers date back to the middle and late 1600s; therefore, a "complete" history of Blacksburg would cover, in the bicentennial year, more than 340 years. And there are many missing pieces of the total historical stream of information. At the same time, several excellent histories and unpublished manuscripts exist in the libraries of Virginia Tech, the Town of Blacksburg, and other regional sources. Just as an archaeologist might carefully assemble the broken pieces of an ancient vase, these sources combine to give an understandable account of Blacksburg's "story." This book forms yet another valuable piece of the tale.

The major personages of Virginia's early history were, of necessity, entrepreneurs and explorers. They were very mobile (without benefit of anything approaching an "improved" road), and their names drift into and out of the existing historical writing about Virginia in general. The reader will find them all here as they relate to Blacksburg: Colonel James Patton and the "Great Grant" of 1748, the Prestons, the Drapers, the Blacks, and many others. One will learn about the steady stream of settlers coming down the Shenandoah Valley and heading for what is now Kentucky and how some followed the Roanoke, Little, and New rivers into the eastern (Cedar Run and Indian Run) and western (Draper's Meadow) areas of what would become Blacksburg almost fifty years later. Other pieces of the historical mosaic are summary narratives of Blacksburg's early development (1800-1880), the railroads, the coal mines, and the Olin and Preston Institute (1851), which was the forerunner of Virginia Tech.

Blacksburg's modern history encompasses the twentieth century and especially the major growth of the town and the university in the 1965-1985 period and the further growth in the late 1990s. This subtle modernization of a still gorgeous college town allows both Blacksburg and Virginia Tech to present a noteworthy image in the bicentennial year. Examples of unique features comprising this image are Virginia Tech's Corporate Research Center, the Huckleberry Trail, a new public library, a renovated downtown that includes a farmers' market and a restored vintage movie theatre, an aquatic center/town park, a majestic and extensive Virginia Tech campus, and the renowned Blacksburg Electronic Village.

Some very interesting aspects of Blacksburg's history have yet to be unearthed, and what we might call a "definitive" history is yet to be written. But this book should entertain immediately and be a source of joy and pride of ownership as a memento of a "once-in-a-lifetime" occasion. Not in the least it should also whet the desire of all of us to capture, whenever the opportunity arises, the "history" that just keeps on happening.

From A Special Place for 200 Years: A History of Blacksburg, Virginia. Edited by Clara Cox. Blacksburg: Town of Blacksburg, forthcoming. Blacksburg Educates Its Children, 1740s-1990s


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