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Virginians for Appropriate Roads
P.O. Box 2153, Rocky Mount, VA 24151


September 22, 2003

Ann Rogers (540) 725-8222
Jerryanne Bier (540) 365-2230
Mark Barker (540) 342-5580

Keeper of the National Register reaffirms status of Southeast Roanoke Historic District

Historic resources form hurdles to I-73's construction

The Keeper of the National Register of Historic Places has reaffirmed the historic status of the Southeast Roanoke Historic District, a late 19th/early 20th century mixed-use working class neighborhood nominated as an historic district by Virginians for Appropriate Roads (VAR) and found eligible for inclusion in the National Register last October.

The September 15 ruling by the Keeper reaffirms that status in response to a July report commissioned by Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) requesting reversal of the Keeper’s October decision.

VDOT’s July report proposed that a separate historic district, called the Morningside Historic District, qualifies for the National Register as a better representative of Roanoke’s industrial heritage than the Southeast Roanoke Historic District proposed by VAR.

As defined in the VDOT report, the boundary of the proposed Morningside Historic District would have left out a section of residential and industrial properties and excluded a large area of worker housing that is included in the Southeast Roanoke Historic District. VDOT’s proposed district would also extend further to the east than the Southeast Roanoke Historic District.

While reaffirming the eligibility of the Southeast Roanoke Historic District, the Keeper stated, “It may be appropriate to expand the boundary…to include the area noted in the VDOT report”, however VDOT did not provide sufficient documentation to evaluate the area.

In May, 2001, the Commonwealth Transportation Board (CTB) approved building a new-terrain Interstate 73, routing it along I-581 and through southeast Roanoke City, around Mill Mountain, through Windy Gap, Coopers Cove, east of the current U.S. 220, and east of Martinsville to the North Carolina border.

The approved I-73 route would traverse the section of Southeast Roanoke that has qualified for historic designation. Federal law prohibits use of land from historic sites for construction of federally-funded highways such as I-73, unless there is no feasible and prudent alternative.

VAR’s identification of Southeast Roanoke as an historic district forces VDOT to reconsider their plans to route I-73 through the City of Roanoke.

VDOT’s failed proposal to reconfigure the historic district in Southeast Roanoke would have allowed room for I-73 to be built along the Roanoke River between the Riverland and Southeast communities.

Last summer historians and preservationists from the Southeast and Belmont neighborhoods of Roanoke helped VAR identify historic resources in Southeast Roanoke, enabling VAR to accurately document the historic significance of the area. Prior to the Keeper’s October, 2002 approval of historic status for Southeast Roanoke, VDOT claimed that there was no historic district in Southeast Roanoke.

VAR supports upgrading U.S. 220 instead of building I-73 through the historic areas and rural landscapes of Roanoke and southwestern Virginia.

In addition to nominating the Southeast Roanoke historic district last year, VAR has also surveyed and nominated for historic status the Oak Hill Old Order German Baptist Settlement in Franklin County, Virginia. Founded in 1881, Oak Hill is one of Virginia’s ten or fewer Old Order Anabaptist plain sect communities, whose “brothers” and “sisters” in faith continue to practice their distinctive 300-year-old culture. As in other Old German Baptist settlements and the Old Order Hutterite, Mennonite, and Amish plain sects, Oak Hill’s distinctive culture features a rural lifestyle, plain dress, use of traditional religious ritual, selective use of technology, and commitment to nonresistance. VAR’s analysis finds that the Oak Hill settlement is eligible both as a rural historic district and as a traditional cultural property.

The CTB-approved alignment for I-73 is routed through the center of the Oak Hill settlement. The Oak Hill congregation’s outdoor baptismal rites, conducted in accordance with a 300-year-old tradition originating near Schwarzenau, Germany, are held at a traditional site almost directly intersected by the approved I-73 corridor’s alignment.

VDOT’s historic surveys for the I-73 project do not find the Oak Hill settlement to be eligible for listing in the National Register. It is anticipated that the Keeper of the National Register will be called upon to rule on the Oak Hill District’s historic eligibility.

VAR, composed of members throughout Southwestern Virginia including Roanoke City, Roanoke County, and Franklin County, is a chapter of Blue Ridge Environmental Defense League.

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Additional Information:

Map of Southeast Roanoke Historic District declared eligible for historic designation

Sept. 15, 2003: Keeper of the National Register of Historic Places letter, reaffirming a portion of SE Roanoke city eligibility, to Federal Highway Administration.

Sept. 05, 2003: Federal Highway Administration letter, an addition to FHWA's July 18, 2003 letter, to Keeper of the National Register of Historic Places requesting a reconsideration of the SE Roanoke neighborhood.

Nov. 14, 2002: Portion of SE Roanoke declared eligible for historic designation: Virginians For Appropriate Roads (VAR), a BREDL chapter, has won a battle in the nearly decade-long fight against a new terrain interstate from Roanoke, VA to the North Carolina state line.