A Special Place for 200 Years


by James I. Robertson, Jr.

The primary motivation behind this book was need.

Blacksburg's history spans more than two centuries. Yet, until now, no printed work has done more than hint at the town's early years and development. That is regrettable. The story of the "university town" atop an Appalachian plateau is an amazing evolution, starting with the buffalo, next with the Indian, then with the white man, and finally with people of many races.

Carving a new nation through rugged mountains involved finding the easiest routes of travel. Herds of buffalo in ancient times used animal instincts to locate the more natural routes to streams and grazing pastures. Indian tribes followed and improved upon the buffalo trails. When experienced settlers ventured westward in the mid-eighteenth century, they naturally took advantage of the well-worn traces.

Blacksburg began as a rest stop for wagon trains and groups of pioneers needing to pause after climbing to the crest of the tableland still quite visible north and east of the town. (A panoramic view of the great valley up which the settlers migrated can be seen in late autumn and winter from the municipal golf course.) The trading post matured into a picturesque community; culture germinated from the seeds of frontier survival. Indian threats and civil war slowed but did not stop the growth. The past century-mirroring the development of America itself-has seen unparalleled expansion that gives no indication of abatement.

As Blacksburg commemorates its 200th birthday, it has many reasons to feel civic pride. Hopefully, this book, which reflects a cumulative effort by talented citizens, will become the starting point for more printed works on Blacksburg. Hopefully, too, this compilation will stimulate the formation of an historical society or similar organization whose sole functions will be to preserve and present the major facets of the town's rich annals.

How does a project such as this book begin? Two meetings between Mayor Roger Hedgepeth and me were the origins of this pictorial study. We discussed what a first history should be, we compiled a short list of writers who might be willing to contribute their time to write the various chapters, and I agreed to serve as editor-in-chief. Almost without exception, every individual invited to participate responded with enthusiasm.

Committee meetings were held over a period of several months in the Special Collections reading room of Virginia Tech's Newman Library. It became readily apparent that the book should be organized by not one but both of the usual methods: chronological and topical. The early sections needed a time format; later and more detailed chapters necessitated their being arranged by subjects. With the perimeters thus established, compilers went to work on research and writing. All labored hard, and progress was steady. Then the person in charge had to withdraw.

Professorial duties, intensified by the unexpectedly high reception that a new book* received, forced me reluctantly in the spring of 1997 to relinquish overseer responsibilities. Fortunate we all were that Clara Cox, an indefatigable worker and accomplished writer, stepped forward and took the reins of leadership. The finished product is a monument to her efforts, as well as a testimonial to the fine writers among Blacksburg's citizenry. Every user of this book should feel gratitude toward the historical team. What they have produced is a path-breaking study that calls attention to yesteryear and at the same time opens the door to additional histories.

In any community, of course, it is commendable to work for the present and to plan for the future. However, to ignore the past is to dismiss one's heritage as well as abandon one's culture. Scores of generations, and thousands of individuals, have toiled to bring Blacksburg to its current point in time. The overwhelming number of those contributors are gone. Preserving as much of their accomplishments as possible is a simple and decent act. It acknowledges that you and I are indeed the beneficiaries-and the torch-bearers-of a great legacy that should have no end.

*Editor's note: Dr. Robertson's highly successful book, which he does not mention by name, is Stonewall Jackson: The Man, The Soldier, The Legend. Its great success-a fourth printing was under way less than six months after the book made its debut in Blacksburg in February 1997-created an even greater demand throughout the country for personal appearances by Dr. Robertson. In August 1997 the noted Civil War historian and Alumni Distinguished Professor at Virginia Tech received the 1997 Douglas Southall Freeman Award for his definitive biography of the Civil War general.

Foreword Word From
The Editor

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