One Year in Roanoke 1934
The weather was beautiful on Friday, October 19, 1934 for President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s visit to Roanoke – the first official visit of a president to the area. More than 50,000 people, including 14,000 school children, lined the flag-draped streets to cheer and catch a glimpse of President Roosevelt as his motorcade passed by.
The president was in town for the dedication ceremony of the area’s new veterans hospital.
Built in the midst of the Great Depression, the new $1.75 million facility brought the promise of hundreds of much-needed jobs to the area. Construction started on January 16, 1934, and unemployed workers were given preference for the 500 jobs. The Veterans Administration chose the Roanoke Valley to build the medical center because of its convenience to transportation and utilities, and Congressman Woodrum’s influence as chairman of the Independent Offices Subcommittee was instrumental in getting the facility located in the Roanoke area.
With the hospital’s 472 operating beds, President Roosevelt assured the community that it would provide sick and disabled veterans “the best treatment which medical and surgical science can supply.”
The United States’ history of providing care and benefits to veterans can be traced to 1636, when the Pilgrims of Plymouth Colony passed a law stating that disabled soldiers would be supported. The Veterans Administration was established in 1930 to “consolidate and coordinate Government activities affecting war veterans.”
Roanokers were clearly excited about the president’s visit and the new hospital complex. Many local businesses and schools closed that Friday afternoon. National Guardsmen, Boy Scouts, and students from Roanoke College and Virginia Tech were on hand to direct traffic.
And Roosevelt clearly loved the Roanoke area. Twice during his dedication address, the president turned from his prepared notes to comment on the beauty of the mountains surrounding the hospital.
The state-of-the art facility included both high-tech and low-tech approaches to patient care. While the clinical side of the V.A. Center was touted as one of the most modern hospital designs – it included a pharmacy, x-ray suites, a lab and a dental office – patients at the hospital also tended a working cattle and hog farm on site as part of their therapy.
More in ‘34: Roanoke turned 50, Coffee was 19 cents a pound
Roanoke City celebrated its 50th anniversary in January. The celebration had been postponed from its true date of 1932 due to the economic devastation resulting from the Great Depression.
On March 7, 1934, the Virginia General Assembly voted to adopt a “liquor control plan,” creating the Virginia Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control.
Junius B. Fishburn gifted a plot of land to Roanoke city that became Wasena Park.
Virginia College and St. Charles Hospital both closed their doors in 1934.
The City of Roanoke purchased the Cannaday Farm land for $70,000 and began construction on the Roanoke Municipal Airport.
Sample A&P food prices from January 28, 1934:
Round steak, 23 cents a pound
Fresh ground hamburger, 2 pounds for
Lean pork chops, 15 cents a pound
Florida oranges, 10 pounds for 31 cents
Iceberg lettuce, 2 large heads for 15 cents
Campbell’s soups, 9 cents per can
Peanut butter, 15 cents for a 1-pound jar
Waldorf toilet tissue, 4 rolls for 17 cents
Palmolive soap, 5 cents per cake
Granulated sugar, 10 pounds for 49 cents
Eight O’Clock coffee, 19 cents per pound.