Roanoke, Virginia — The American South (Mid-Atlantic)
From Frontier to Urban Community... A Gainsboro Prelude
Gainesborough to Big Lick to Roanoke
The early settlement of Roanoke started along the Big Lick, a large salt marsh that attracted animals and hunters to the Roanoke Valley. The earliest roads through the valley followed Native American and buffalo trails. Later, Scots-Irish and German settlers traveled from the north along the Great Wagon Road, which connected to the Carolina Road to the south at Big Lick, and continued west toward the Wilderness Road in far Southwest Virginia. Early settlement near the intersection of present-day Williamson Road and Orange Avenue included a mill, tavern, store and post office. By 1835, the Town of Gainesborough was formally chartered on 68 acres and named after Major Kemp Gaines, who had helped develop the community.
With the coming of the Virginia and Tennessee Railroad to the valley in 1852, a depot was built about a half mile south of the Town of Gainesborough, near the current Shenandoah Avenue and Second Street. A new community grew around the depot, and the railroad named it Big Lick after the nearby postal station. Gainesborough became known as Old Lick. The name Gainesborough
The Big Lick depot and tracks were destroyed in the Civil War, but the community rebuilt and prospered in the following years. In 1874, the new town of Big Lick was incorporated along the railroad tracks, a one-square-mile town which included the original town of Gainesborough to the north. While the area surrounding the depot developed with businesses and factories, Old Lick/Gainesborough grew with an influx of newly-freed blacks seeking job opportunities with the railroad. The Shenandoah Valley Railroad line arrived in 1881, and Big Lick was renamed Roanoke the following year, home of the new Norfolk & Western Railway headquarters.
Mixed Neighborhood to African-American Community
As Roanoke grew, its neighborhoods were referenced by quadrants, with Jefferson Street being the central divide between "Northeast" and "Northwest." At the turn of the century, the area was racially, socially and economically mixed. By the 1920s, the area was a self-sufficient, prominent African-American neighborhood with many black professionals and businesses located in commercial hubs on Gainsboro Road, Henry Street, and the first block of Gilmer Avenue NW. Surrounded by residential development, churches, and civic establishments that extended to the west and the east,
Impacts of Urban Redevelopment
At the end of the 1950s, there were two major blows to the local economy: the closure of the American Viscose Plant and layoffs at Norfolk & Western Railway. These two operations had been the top employers of residents of Northeast and Northwest. With the neighborhood declining and urban renewal funds as a potential solution, the area was targeted for redevelopment starting in the 1950s. What followed would disrupt the fabric of the community and further displace many of its residents and businesses. Large portions of Northeast were cleared and the landscape flattened for the new interstate, a civic center, and large industrial parks. By the 1990s, 1,600 homes, more than 200 businesses, and 24 churches had been removed. Realigned streets altered the shape of the neighborhood, including the realignment of 2nd Street, Wells Avenue and Gainsboro Road. The once-vibrant commercial core on Henry Street and Gainsboro Road was gone, and much of the residential neighborhood was replaced with large tracts of land offered for new development.
Today, neighborhood organizations work to preserve the heritage of Gainesborough and tell the story of this vibrant area. Gainsboro and Henry Street are listed on the National Register of Historic Places and the Virginia Landmarks Register to honor the significant cultural and architectural heritage of the neighborhood.
Topics. This historical marker is listed in these topic lists: African Americans • Civil Rights • Industry & Commerce • Settlements & Settlers.
Location. 37° 16.535′ N, 79° 56.379′ W. Marker is in Roanoke, Virginia. Marker is on Wells Avenue Northeast east of North Jefferson Street, on the left when traveling east. Marker is located in a small sidewalk plaza on the north side of Wells Avenue. Touch for map. Marker is in this post office area: Roanoke VA 24016, United States of America. Touch for directions.
Other nearby markers. At least 8 other markers are within walking distance of this marker. Social and Cultural Life (here, next to this marker); Evolution of a Neighborhood Name (here, next to this marker); Milestones in Education (here, next to this marker); A Once-Vibrant African American Community (here, next to this marker); Health Care and MedicineCivil Rights Trailblazers (here, next to this marker); The Influence of Churches in Gainsboro (here, next to this marker); Hotel Roanoke (about 500 feet away, measured in a direct line). Touch for a list and map of all markers in Roanoke.
Regarding From Frontier to Urban Community... A Gainsboro Prelude. Gainsboro Historic District, National Register of Historic Places #05001276.
Henry Street Historic District, National Register of Historic Places #04001276.
Related markers. Click here for a list of markers that are related to this marker. Gainesborough • Big Lick • Roanoke
Also see . . . History of Roanoke. Mark Evans and Tasker Tosh came from Pennsylvania and took up land near the salt licks where Indian and animal trails crossed in the center of the valley. For generations, those salt marshes, or licks as they were called, had been a gathering place for buffalo, elk and deer, as well as for the Indians who hunted them. The salt marshes were to lend their name to the first village in the Roanoke Valley, which started on the east-west path as Gainsborough in 1834. The town soon came to be known as Big Lick. (Submitted on November 29, 2019, by Cosmos Mariner of Cape Canaveral, Florida.)
Credits. This page was last revised on April 28, 2021. It was originally submitted on November 27, 2019, by Cosmos Mariner of Cape Canaveral, Florida. This page has been viewed 109 times since then and 42 times this year. Photos: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6. submitted on November 28, 2019, by Cosmos Mariner of Cape Canaveral, Florida.