Roanoke & Radford: What Each of These Unique Cities Has to Offer
The merger of Jefferson College of Health Sciences and Radford University next summer will mean more than just two premier institutions coming together. The merger will also unite two of the most prominent and exciting cities in the southwestern part of Virginia.
Even though Roanoke and Radford are separated by just a short trip on Interstate 81, this may be the first time some members of our communities will have the opportunity to explore each city. In this article, we want to briefly introduce you to each location and provide you with some resources to learn more. Then, we hope you’ll do some explorations of your own as we continue to become one under the umbrella of Radford University.
Founded in 1852 and chartered in 1874, Roanoke is the largest municipality in southwest Virginia with a population of approximately 310,000. It is composed of the independent cities of Roanoke and Salem, as well as the counties of Botetourt, Craig, Franklin and Roanoke. Bisected by the Roanoke River, Roanoke is the commercial and cultural hub of much of this part of the Commonwealth.
Virginia’s Blue Ridge, the official destination marketing organization for Roanoke, describes the “Star City of the South” as, “the recreational, cultural and business hub of Virginia’s Blue Ridge Mountains.”
The Jefferson College of Health Sciences campus is located in the heart of downtown Roanoke at Carilion Roanoke Community Hospital, at the intersection of Elm Avenue, Williamson Road and Jefferson Street.
A number of attractions are within walking or driving distance of the college’s campus. The Roanoke River Greenway runs just south of the campus and can easily be reached on foot. The Greenway winds its way through most of the Roanoke area, and provides scenic views of natural landmarks in the region like Mill Mountain.
Overlooking the flagship facilities in Carilion Clinic’s system, Carilion Roanoke Memorial Hospital, Mill Mountain is home to the iconic Roanoke Star. The Star is located within Mill Mountain Park, a 568-acre regional park which is maintained by Roanoke Parks and Recreation.
In addition, visitors to the peak of the mountain will find Mill Mountain Zoo, a habitat to species that are native to Appalachia and the Blue Ridge Mountains, like black bears, bald eagles, bobcats, North American river otters, great horned owls, red foxes, raccoons, red wolves and cougars.
From Jefferson College’s campus, there are a number of additional opportunities to experience destinations unique Roanoke. North of campus on Williamson Road is the Taubman Museum of Art and Center in the Square, along with a variety of shops and restaurants located in the Roanoke City Market Building, which boasts one of the largest Farmer’s Markets in the region.
A few blocks from there is the Virginia Museum of Transportation and its incredible collection of locomotives.
In addition to destinations, the Roanoke Valley hosts more festivals and cultural events than any place west of Richmond, including Festival in the Park, Local Colors, Floyd Fest, the Blue Ridge Marathon, the Salem Fair, the Strawberry Festival, the Smith Mountain Lake Wine Festival, the GO Outside Festival, the Microfestivus Craft Beer Festival, Olde Salem Days, Wingfest, First Fridays, Party in Elmwood, the Green Hill Highland Games, the Salem and Vinton Farmer’s Markets, the Roanoke Valley Car Show and more.
If exploring the region by car is your preference, the Blue Ridge Parkway runs through Roanoke and can be easily accessed at multiple points. On the Parkway, you’ll find stunning natural beauty and discover many of the smaller towns nearby that boast their own wonderful surprises, like Floyd and it’s bustling artists’ community.
You can learn more about Roanoke and what there is to do by visiting some of these sites:
The City of Radford is located just 36 miles southwest of Roanoke, and boasts a population of approximately 17,500. Founded in 1887 in the New River Valley, Radford was originally a small village of people that gathered near the New River—a major draw to travelers heading west. The town had a major population increase in 1854 when the Virginia and Tennessee Railroad came through.
The City of Radford and the surrounding region now provide a rich variety of cultural and leisure activities. Outdoor enthusiasts will find opportunities to hike, kayak, fish, swim and camp. Dozens of bicycling and hiking trails are accessible with less than a 30-minute drive, including access points to the Appalachian Trail and Jefferson National Forest.
Visitradford.com says that because the city is, “surrounded on three sides by the New River, Radford is the New River City.” In addition, outdoor enthusiasts can find easy access in Radford to the Blue Ridge Parkway, the Appalachian Trail, Claytor Lake State Park, Daper Valley Golf Club and fourteen different parks.
Historians can explore the Mary Draper Ingles Monument and the Draper Family Farm, and then stop by the Glencoe Museum, where you can experience the heritage of Radford and the New River Valley in a 19th-century Victorian home, built by Civil War General Gabriel Colvin Wharton on the banks of the New River. The Museum highlights the contributions of the Native Americans, early settlers, industries, educational institutions, businesses, local artisans, handicrafts, as well as elegant furnishings, photographs from Radford’s past, and an old-time woodworking shop.
If you prefer shopping, visit the Radford farmer’s market for delicious fresh food, the ‘Round the Mountain Craft Trail to find handmade treasures and the Highlanders Festival for a taste of the Scottish Highlands in our own back yard. Downtown Radford also offers a variety of shops and restaurants for visitors to explore.
You can learn more about Radford and what there is to do by visiting some of these sites: