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The Gainsboro History Project

A Historic Landmark and Important Employer

Hotel Roanoke is one of the Roanoke Valley’s most prominent and familiar landmarks. Built in 1882 by the Roanoke Land and Improvement Company for the Norfolk & Western Railroad, the hotel has been a center of business, commerce, and hospitality for over one hundred years. Its famous Dogwood China and Peanut Soup and Spoonbread are signature items.

Hotel Roanoke was an important employer for African American residents of Gainsboro and Northeast. However, African Americans could not stay at the Hotel Roanoke until after 1964 when the Civil Rights Act prohibited discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, or national origin.

Hotel Construction and Architecture

Hotel Roanoke is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and is recognized for its cultural, social, and architectural significance, especially between 1882-1946. It was constructed for railroad business travel and played an important role in the early transportation history of the region by providing gracious lodging and dining for business meetings, events, conventions, assemblies, and social gatherings.

The architecture of Hotel Roanoke contributes greatly to its historic significance and its popular appeal to both residents and visitors. Today, the hotel exhibits the Old English Tudor architecture completed in 1938. In addition, part of the 1931 addition is still visible from the east (Williamson Road).

  • In 1882, the first Hotel Roanoke, fronting on Jefferson Street and Shenandoah Avenue, was designed by Philadelphia architect George T. Pearson. At its opening, the hotel had 35 rooms and a dining room that could accommodate up to 200 guests.
    • The hotel was a two-and-one-half story structure, arranged in an L-shape (main building and annex). Built in the Queen Anne style, the building featured half-timbered detailing, irregular pyramidal roof massing, and wrap-around porches.
    • The building was constructed of quarried stone footings, brick fireplaces and chimneys, wooden floors and porches, and a tin and cypress-shingled roof painted medium dark red.
    • The interior featured an oak main stair and select yellow pine paneling and wainscoting.
  • By 1890, Hotel Roanoke was expanded, to include another wing with 59 more hotel rooms and an additional dining room.
  • A fire in 1898 partially destroyed the 1890 wing addition. Historic images show smoke billowing from the hotel and clothing and furniture scattered on the hillside.
In July 1898, a fire started in the kitchen of the hotel. This photo makes the fire appear worse than it actually was, as the hotel was only closed for several months. Notice the furniture on the lawn; hotel guests and employees removed what they could from the building to prevent the spread of fire. The hotel reopened in 1899. Courtesy of Roanoke Public Libraries.

By 1916, increased passenger and freight traffic brought more travelers and tourists to Hotel Roanoke, and a new, brick, three-story wing was added to the east. Designed by Frye and Chesterman Architects of Roanoke, the new wing continued the half-timbered detailing, but without exterior porches, because of cost overruns. The addition housed a new banquet hall, private dining room, and a rebuilt kitchen.

Hotel Roanoke Expansion and Updates

In 1931, Hotel Roanoke once again was under construction to serve increased rail traffic, as well as a growing number of automobile travelers. Two principal wings, four stories in height, replaced the 1882 frame annex and the 1890 addition. The new construction included a basement garage for sixty cars was included as a draw for automotive business. The hotel now had 250 rooms. In 1938, George B. Post & Sons of New York City designed a new West Wing for Hotel Roanoke. Today, this is the most recognized architectural version of the hotel. Following the redesign, Hotel Roanoke was marketed as an Old English Inn with 310 rooms, parking for 100 cars, and seating for 2,500 conference attendants.

  • The design reflects traditional English architecture, with half-timber treatment and a Tudor entrance portico.
  • The architects were very specific in their direction and selection of interior decor and furnishings, including the interior murals and ceiling paintings.
  • The new wing had technical advances, including “air conditioning” specifically designed by the York Ice Machinery Corporation, as well as state of the art kitchen equipment, washers, and laundry presses.
  • Even the landscape was reconfigured, to include a reflecting pool in the front, a formal garden to the north, and lawn plantings.
    Hotel Roanoke. Courtesy of Roanoke Public Libraries.
  • In 1945, a new addition replaced the 1916 wing and expanded Hotel Roanoke to 365 rooms, with a beauty parlor, conference rooms, and hotel offices. In 1953 another addition increased rooms to 416.
  • In 1989, the Hotel Roanoke closed its doors, and all the furnishings were sold at public auction. Roanoke citizens were devastated and worked diligently to save the landmark. By 1993, civic leaders, city officials, and the Virginia Tech Real Estate Foundation raised sufficient funds for rehabilitation. Hotel Roanoke reopened in 1995 with an adjoining conference center.

Hotel as an Employer

The Hotel Roanoke has employed many Roanoke and Gainsboro residents. During the late nineteenth and first half of the twentieth century, employment opportunities at the hotel were segregated, as was true for most local businesses. Barred from holding managerial or high-skill jobs at the hotel, African Americans were hired as waiters, bellmen, maids, cooks and kitchen staff, laundry staff, and maintenance and grounds personnel. For some long-term Black employees, the income from stable jobs at the hotel allowed them to send their children to college.The most notable employee of Hotel Roanoke was executive chef Fred Brown. He was the creator of Hotel Roanoke’s Famous Peanut Soup.

The Regency Room, Hotel Roanoke’s main dining room. Courtesy of Roanoke Public Libraries.

See Also


Vosmick, J. (1995). Hotel Roanoke. National Register of Historic Places, Final Nomination.Virginia Department of Historic Resources. No. 128-0025.

Piedmont, D. (1994). Peanut soup and spoonbread: An informal history of Hotel Roanoke. The Virginia Tech Real Estate Foundation,Inc.

Piedmont, D., Harris, N., Fenderson, L., & Piedmont, A. (2020). Hotel Roanoke: The grand old lady on the hill. History Press.