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The Gainsboro History Project

Dr. John B. Claytor Sr

Dr. John B. Claytor Sr. (1878-1951)

Dr. John Bunyan Claytor Sr. was a physician, surgeon, and co-founder of Burrell Memorial Hospital, who spent his career in Gainsboro. Claytor was born on April 2, 1878, in Floyd, Virginia. He worked on his parents’ farm until the age of 19 when became a teacher. In 1902, he entered the Hampton Institute, earning his diploma after only one year. Afterwards, he entered Shaw University’s Leonard Medical College, where he obtained his MD in 1907.

In that same year, Dr. Claytor moved to Gainsboro and opened a private medical practice. At the time he boarded with Dr. Isaac D. Burrell, a physician who would later contribute his efforts and–after his death–his name to Burrell Memorial Hospital.

In 1907, Dr. Claytor purchased property at 29 Gilmer Avenue. By 1910, he had built a two-story house there with space on the first floor for a grocer. On June 12, 1912, he married Roberta Morris Woodfin, a teacher and Knoxville native. The couple lived at 36 Gilmer Avenue until 1923. Together they had eight children: Frank W. Claytor, John B. Claytor Jr., Bernice Boddie, Roberta C. Palmer, Ralph V. Claytor, Walter S. Claytor, Ruth C. Marsh, and Margaret C. Woodbury.

In 1915 Dr. Claytor, along with four other Gainsboro physicians, opened Burrell Memorial Hospital, which was for many years the only hospital in Roanoke that treated African American patients. He was known for his dedication as a physician, holding office hours for his patients and making house calls day and night.

Dr. Claytor was also active in professional and civic organizations. He served as president of the Magic City Medical Society and he was a trustee and longtime member of First Baptist Church Gainsboro. In addition, he was also a member of the Freemasons, the Elks, the Odd Fellows, and Alpha Phi Alpha fraternity.

The Doctor sitting in his office filled with books and a long photo in the background
Caption: Dr. John B. Claytor Sr. Courtesy of Roanoke Public Libraries

The Claytor Mansion

In 1920 Dr. Claytor bought a 46,916 square foot plot of land at 406 N. Jefferson Street, with the intention of constructing a mansion for his family. In advance of construction, the Ku Klux Klan burned a cross on the property, intended to intimidate the family. Consequently, Dr. Claytor could not find a local contractor to build the house, as White contractors refused to work for him. Instead, his wife Roberta’s father, a contractor in Bristol, Virginia, traveled to Roanoke to build the mansion.

Construction was finished in 1923, and upon completion of the house, at the base of the steps facing Patton Avenue white mosaic tile was inlaid to spell out “Dr. Claytor.” The finished home boasted 4,000 square feet and more than 20 rooms. Shortly after construction of the mansion, the Ku Klux Klan once again burned a cross, this time on Catholic Hill, in another attempt to frighten the family.

9 members of the Claytor family sit in their home with plants and a big window behind them
The Dr. John B. Claytor Sr. Family, in their home. Courtesy of Roanoke Public Libraries

Additional Claytor Family Properties

In the years that followed, Dr. Claytor expanded upon the property, adding the Claywood Service Station, the Claytor Memorial Clinic, the Gainsboro Pharmacy, and various shopfronts that he rented out. Dr. Claytor’s property attracted frequent visits from Gainsboro residents and became a major hub for life in the community.


Dr. Claytor died on October 23, 1951. Ever dedicated to Gainsboro’s medical community, he asked that donations be sent to Burrell Memorial Hospital upon his death.

See Also


Claytor, W. S. (n.d.). It’s your turn Gainsboro residents: (Present or former) let’s hear it! The Roanoke Tribune. Gainsboro Branch Library Vertical Files, Roanoke, VA, United States.

Final rites for Dr. John B. Claytor Sr. (1951, Nov. 10). The Roanoke Tribune.

Gillespie, B. T. (1951, Nov. 3). Dr. J. B. Claytor buried in Va. Afro-American.

Shareef, R. (1996). The Roanoke Valley’s African American Heritage: A Pictorial History. The Donning Company Publishers.

Woodbury, M. C., and Marsh, R. C. (1994). Virginia kaleidoscope: The Claytor family of Roanoke, and some of its kinnships, from first families of Virginia and their former slaves. Published by Margaret C. Woodbury and Ruth C. Marsh.