Concerning the Laying Out of Blacksburg

by Daniel Pezzoni
March 1984

On January 13, 1798, by act of the general assembly, there was established "a town on the lands of William Black, in the county of Montgomery." As the act states, the town was "already laid off into lots and streets"; this was probably in 1797. (Sheppard, Smythe, 1922)

In the Montgomery County records of 1798 there is a description of how the placement and peculiar orientation of the town was set. The land designated for the town began "on a line dividing the land of William and John Black, his brother." (Porter, 1954) William Black's house was on the corner of Church and Jackson Streets. (Conrad, 1881. Conway, 1954) John Black's house was behind Eggleston dormitory, on the VPI campus. The only flank of the original sixteen-block Blacksburg coinciding with a line between the two houses is the south-west side, ie. Draper Road.

The lay of the land supports this account. Draper Road, otherwise known as Water Street, occupies the bed of a stream coming down from the Southside neighborhood. This streambed forms a low straight line from south-east to north-west - and obvious line from Samuel Black to use to divide his land between his sons William and John and an obvious line for William Black to use to establish the grid of Blacksburg.

Early names of the streets of the town are as follows: Smithfield, Roanoke, Main, Water and "the lower street." It is related in several histories that Church Street was the intended "main street" of town. William Black's house was on this street (or rather, the street was made to run next to his house) as was the early church and meeting house, on block #40 at the center of the sixteen blocks. It seems possible that Church Street was even called Main Street because there is no "Church Street" listed among the early street names of the town. Why wouldn't it have been called "Church Street," since a church had been on it from the beginning, if not because it was the principal street of town and so called "Main Street."

It was the refusal of a certain Mr. Amiss to allow the original Main Street to pass through his land northwest of the sixteen blocks that caused it to be shifted to where to where Main Street is now. (Wingard) The town tavern is said to have moved at one point from "the house now occupied by Mr. Tip Evans" to "the house now occupied by Mrs. Henderson, next to the Presbyterian Church", a move that placed it strategically on the new Main Street. (Conrad, 1881) Also at an early point Edwin Amiss built a house and tavern on the north corner of Main and Roanoke Streets and Mr. Rutledge built a Hotel on Main Street near the Town Hall which "to the wonder of the passer-by" he painted red. (Conrad, 1881) Except for the last, these changes probable took place before 1818.

Blacksburg seems to have straddled the middle of three routes used by settlers to cross the divide on their way to the Cumberland Gap. Roanoke Street - the Fincastle Turnpike - coincides with this route that came up from Luster's Gate and the North Fork of the Roanoke River and continued on out to Price's Fork and the New River.


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