Did you know the town of Roanoke gets its name from the rare Native American “Rawrenoke” beads found there? If this is telling of anything, it’s that Roanoke has a long and rich history that has held steadfast through the centuries. Today, the town is home to over 50 historic sites and monuments that attract visitors far and wide to take a dive into American history. To help you navigate through the ages, we’re highlighting our three favorite sites to visit when venturing into the land of the Blue Ridge Mountains.
Buzzard Rock is an archaeological site that dates back ten thousand years. Located on an expansive floodplain, it holds many secrets of Roanoke’s past Native American inhabitants. Artifacts have been found showing the presence of a multitude of separate villages that occupied the site. In particular, the ancestors of the Totero Indians, a Siouan-speaking community who were allies of the Monacan Indians. Looking out over the plains, it’s easy to imagine the different tribes that roamed the lands and how their daily lives might have been. Now just a distant memory, the past residents of Buzzard Rock play a vital role when thinking about the origins of Roanoke.
Historic Smithfield Plantation
The Smithfield Plantation is a prime example of pre-Revolutionary War architecture and worth seeing if only to take in its classic beauty. Originally erected in 1774, the plantation was home to William Preston, a prominent figure who promoted western expansion. It quickly became a social and political epicenter, and many travelers stopped here to restock provisions for their journey west. Today you can take a tour of the plantation and surrounding grounds. Explore the interior of the main plantation house and see the elegant decor reminiscent of the past. Outside, you can see the gardens that provided sustenance for the plantation’s residence and learn about what types of fruits and vegetables were cultivated during that time.
In the late 1800s, the town formerly known as Big Lick was given the name Roanoke commemorating its Native American ancestry. During the time, the town was a booming central hub for Norfolk and Western Railway and its workers. Due to the influx of travelers, the rail company decided to build Hotel Roanoke to meet the demand. Over the past 140 years, the hotel has gone through many transformations. It survived a fire, underwent a Tudor-style renovation, and even temporarily closed around 1980. Virginia Tech bought the hotel and after some miraculous fundraising, they reopened the hotel, providing an updated renovation with modern amenities, like a state-of-the-art conference center.
Today The Hotel Roanoke & Conference Center is one of the Historic Hotels of America, and guests who stay there will get to experience a timeless American icon. Elegant 19th-century architecture and rooms decorated with a traditional charm will greet you upon arrival. The hotel staff can illuminate you on the hotel’s intricate past, and you can also learn more about its mark in history in the new PBS documentary, “Hotel Roanoke: The Grand Old Lady on the Hill.”