Story of Hotel Roanoke: Looking Back at The Grand Old Lady
All Aboard! The Railroad City Hotel
Roanoke was a little town named Big Lick when enterprising railroad magnate Frederick J. Kimball chose it as the site of a railroad juncture and a major city. After Kimball combined two of his railroads into the Norfolk and Western Railroad, he built his vision of a comprehensive community with the Hotel Roanoke as its grand centerpiece. Travelers coming to the city or breaking a tiring rail journey made the Hotel Roanoke their haven.
The Evolution of "The Grand Old Lady"
Built in a wheat field on a little hill, the Hotel Roanoke began as a rambling wooden structure of less than three dozen rooms. As the city grew, the railroad consistently provided resources for hotel additions, remodeling and furnishings to maintain the Hotel's reputation for excellence. Even in the Depression year of 1931, the railroad spent $225,000 for a wing with 75 rooms, a 60-car garage and such "modern" amenities as circulating ice water, movable telephones and electric fans. By then the Hotel's "Queen Anne" appearance had evolved into something Tudorean, the finishing touches of which were added in the major alterations of 1937-38, when Hotel Roanoke acquired its distinctive facade and entrance. Added too were new public rooms, most of which today's guests will recognize. The history of the Hotel has been carefully preserved over the years.
In 1989, Norfolk Southern Corporation, direct descendant of Kimball's Norfolk and Western Railroad, concluding that its transportation business meant rail service, not room service, closed the Hotel it had owned and operated for 107 years and gave it to the Virginia Tech Real Estate Foundation.
The Hospitality of the Past Meets the Innovation of the Future
After being closed for four years, in 1993 the Hotel Roanoke began a multi-million dollar restoration and remodeling renovation project, funded by a package of public and private financing in conjunction with the City of Roanoke and Virginia Tech.
Re-opening in April of 1995, Hotel Roanoke carefully preserved the past with touches such as an antique-filled lobby, original Czech-made chandeliers, a restored Regency Room (home of our signature Peanut Soup), Pine Room (formerly an Officers' Club in World War II), and the Palm Court, the original ceiling of which was painted to show the constellations as they appeared in the skies the day the first train came to Roanoke in 1852. Simultaneously, the Hotel Roanoke embraced the future by building a 63,000 square-foot meeting space, featuring state-of-the-art technology and accommodating more than 1,200 people, evolving into the Hotel Roanoke & Conference Center.
Special Guests: From Travelers and Locals to Presidents and Beauty Queens
In addition to railroad travelers and businessmen, out-of-towners in the 19th century came to Hotel Roanoke to enjoy long vacations in mountain air. The Hotel's deep veranda, concealed from summer sun by fragrant wisteria, invited relaxation. Since the time of the Hotel's original guests have come Presidents of the United States, governors, millionaires, theater and sports stars, attendees for political and business conventions, and Miss Virginia competitors. Not as celebrated as these notables, but perhaps more important - since they have always formed the core of the Hotel's business - are countless thousands of Roanokers. From meetings, bridge parties, dances, teas and luncheons from the old days to the present, they turned the Hotel into Roanoke's social and cultural center.
Now, we continue to welcome all of our important guests - especially you.
The Hotel Roanoke and Conference Center reached an unprecedented milestone in 2007 celebrating 125 years of service and hospitality in the Roanoke Valley.
- September: "The Grand Old Lady" - a historic Virginia hotel with a unique railroad heritage.
- October: "The Social Center of Roanoke" - a celebration of weddings, special events and cultural activities at the Hotel Roanoke.
- November: "It's Our Employees Who Made Us Great" - Recognizing Hotel Roanoke associates past and present.
- December: "A Victorian Christmas" - a holiday tradition in the spirit of the Hotel's storied past.
- January: "125 Years of Hospitality. What's next for the Grand Dame?"
Each day from September 7, 2007 to January 8, 2008 we offered a little something for everyone, from history tours and night life entertainment to sharing stories and memories and giving away gifts to the 125th check-in.
"We really wanted to offer everyone in the community a chance to be a part of our history and experience The Hotel Roanoke during this monumental year," said Gary Walton, general manager of The Hotel Roanoke and Conference Center. "I personally hope everyone had a chance to take part in the festivities and even share a memory or two with us."
From the beginning, guests, visitors and residents of southwest Virginia were invited and encouraged to sign the 125th anniversary guest book that was buried in the time capsule.
The guestbook allowed everyone who graced the Hotel to leave a message for the future. An entry by a Hotel friend:
"We spent the first night of our honeymoon at Hotel Roanoke, Room 301, Feb. 20, 1948, total cost $10.61, which included breakfast and phone call. We still have invoice 42034. It was "the place to go" then and quite a treat. We returned on our 50th wedding anniversary Feb. 22, 1998, courtesy room rate $8.00 and would love to return on our 60th!! Great memories, bridal luncheon, Beta Club convention, a GREAT hotel then and now!! We have souvenir matchbook, postcard, as well as original statements."
Two guest books were buried with the 125th Time Capsule, one 300-plus page book signed with messages memories and names for the future was completely filled.
This was a way for us to leave an impression on the future. To let them now by firsthand accounts what The Hotel Roanoke was like. They were a way for our visitors and guests to be heard 125 years from now," said Walton.
The Time Capsule will be uncovered on December 23, 2132.
We would still love to hear from you please share your memories and stories, old and new, with us.
With all the wonderful memories being shared with us throughout the years, and the appeal of The Hotel's rich and storied history, we offered a glimpse into the past 125 years with a history tour.
Every Wednesday throughout the 125 days, The Hotel hosted public tours where tour-goers would learn about the storied history, from its beginning in 1882 and fire in 1898 to its brief closing in 1989 and grand re-opening in 1995. Guests and visitors were treated to history tours by our resident historian and Assistant General Manager, Phil Davis.
"It's fascinating," commented Davis. "To look at the history that exists and the fact that this Hotel is as old as Roanoke itself is just amazing. It's truly an icon and centerpiece today just as much as it was in 1882."
Invitations were also extended to schools for private tours. Many of the students were enthralled by the beauty of The Grand Old Lady and remarked how large of a facility it is. They were also all amazed that the Hotel was built in 1882 and that it sold to Virginia Tech for $1.
"The tours gave residents, visitors, and guests an opportunity to experience our history. Many may think it's just a hotel, but it's not; there is so much more to it. There is a special charisma that exists within these walls," Davis said."
Time Capsule Ceremony
On Sunday, December 23rd, the public was invited to share in the past 125 years with a special time capsule burying ceremony. With history tours and light refreshments to begin the afternoon, visitors were offered a final opportunity to share a message for the future and bid farewell to the past 125 years.
"I'm here, because I wanted to see the time capsule buried, and I wanted to sign the guestbook. Hopefully I'll be around when I'm 137 years old and see it dug up again," said Hotel Roanoke friend Emmy Bender.
Filled to the brim with newspapers, historic photos, employee business cards, and other Hotel Roanoke memorabilia, the Hotel Roanoke staff and area citizens helped shovel dirt on the time capsule, burying it until December 23, 2132. The time capsule is buried near the Hokie Bird towards the front of the Hotel. A plaque will also be placed on the burial site commemorating the ceremony.
We would still love to hear from you. Please share your memories and stories, old and new, with us."
As we move towards the future we will continue our commitment to excellence and providing a wealth of entertainment, dining,and hospitality options for all to take pleasure in and continue to celebrate our grand heritage of hospitality.