Nostalgia

E-Mail from Keith Furr of Blacksburg
to Laura Katz Smith, April 11, 1996

The following is an excerpt from a document that I had prepared for a different purpose. It seems to fit the request for more info on old Blacksburg.

When my wife and I came to Blacksburg in 1960, Montgomery County was, at that time, very rural. Blacksburg, had just attained a population of 10,000 including 4,600 Virginia Tech students. Virtually all of the students were male, were required to be in the Corp of Cadets. There were about 120 girls taking majors that they could not get at Radford College, which was at that time part of Virginia Tech. All of the students lived in dormitories and most of the faculty and staff lived within a comfortable walking distance of the campus. Because of this compact relationship, classes continued no matter how bad the weather, it was only in the winter of 1965-66 that the University had to close for the second time in its history due to weather (previously it had closed in 1910 for one day). There were no housing developments, or apartment complexes. My wife and I were fortunate to find a duplex on Giles Road after being shown apartments over stores in the downtown area. There was no local hospital nor were there medical specialists but only a handful of family practitioners. There were three drugstores downtown where only one exists. Shopping was primitive to say the least. The only "department" store in town still had high button shoes on its shelves. Other than a couple diners downtown and the Greek's, there was only one small restaurant on the edge of town. There were no bookstores, no fast food establishments and if you wanted a beer, you had to know someone at a rather tough hangout. If one wanted to eat out, you had the choice of Grants Tavern (now the Huckleberry Inn), the Outpost outside Chrisitiansburg or the Tyler Hotel in Radford. There were only one grocery stores, one of about 2,000 sq. ft. downtown and a store about one fourth the size of the current Wades (nee Radford Brothers) on the North edge of town.

There were few places to stay. The Lake Terrace Motel, which still exists, and a Hotel downtown where Grand Piano now operates. Again, unless you stayed with friends, most travelers had to go out of town to find accommodations. Of course, the Hotel Roanoke was operating then in all its glory.

The Huckleberry Railroad tracks still crossed Main Street at the present location of the Town Hall and Annie Kay's and the Railroad Station was on the current site of the Town Hall. Very few students had cars, and as noted above, many persons walked to work. There [were] two traffic lights in town. There were no large athletic events. Miles Stadium on Washington Street held only 12,000 spectators and basketball was played in a War Memorial Gym much smaller than the current structure now bearing the name. There was little research at the University. The Research Division did not even exist. The rural countryside began very close to the town center and surrounded the town with farms, forests and scenic valleys and mountains. The quarry behind Cowgill Hall from which stone was taken for most of the buildings on campus had been closed only a few years earlier.

Obviously if you wanted to do any serious shopping, eat out, or obtain any but basic medical care you had to go to Roanoke. It was fortunate that the population was much smaller and even fewer cars proportionally, since the roads to Roanoke were not that great. The road from Blacksburg to Christiansburg was a narrow, winding two lane road. One had the choice as you approached Christiansburg of either going through Christiansburg or taking a chance of being stopped by a train if going through Cambria. The Cambria bypass (as well as the Blacksburg bypass) did not exist. Actually, there was a third alternative which many of us took, going through Ellet Valley which was much shorter (about 6 miles strangely enough). This was a twisting narrow road on which one had to be careful as many of the curves were sharp with limited visibility. There was an interesting blind underpass under the railroad through which only one car could pass at one time. You were instructed to blow your horn as you approached it. This route also had the advantage of bypassing Christiansburg Mountain, a three mile long steep section of Route 11 on which tractor trailers were prone to jackknife whenever the weather was bad. I do not recall too many persons driving the Ellet road for the scenery. Truth-to-tell, it was then as it is now, not all that scenic. There still are many much more attractive rural drives in the County today. Generally it took about an hour and a half to get to Roanoke. This was important to us since my wife and I were both in our mid-thirties before we began having children in the mid to late '60s. As older first time parents it was important to us to be able to reach adequate medical care as quickly as possible.

The Lyric Theater was virtually the only source of entertainment in town. Most evenings, the admission line went around the corner by Gilly's to about where Books, Strings and Things now is. There was a bowling alley in Squires Student Center. Squires has been renovated twice but there are still remnants within the existing building. There was a lovely Japanese garden and pool where the CEC now stands. Some faculty still lived in the older part of the CEC and in a faculty apartment building where the bookstore now stands. Only a very few years earlier, a row of faculty houses had been replaced by the construction of Pamplin and Robeson Hall.


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Last updated December 15, 1997