One Year in Roanoke 1926
Like most of America, Roanoke prospered after World War I, experiencing rapid growth and an increase in wealth. By 1919, the growth reached south of the Roanoke River when the city annexed Wasena, Ghent/Virginia Heights, Raleigh Court, South Roanoke, Forest Park and sections of Villa Heights.
The Woodrum Bridge, or Virginia Avenue Bridge, at 13th Street was no longer adequate to handle the increased population and traffic. So in 1924, Roanokers approved a bond issue for a replacement bridge across the Roanoke River.
While there was widespread support for building the new bridge, naming it turned out to be quite controversial. After World War I, City Council tried to determine a suitable memorial to Roanoke’s servicemen. One suggestion was a marker in Elmwood Park, but ultimately council adopted a resolution to name the new bridge “Memorial Bridge.” Local veterans groups were upset, insisting the bridge was merely a “city improvement” and not originally conceived as a commemorative monument. Many boycotted the dedication ceremony that took place on August 30, 1926. Still, several hundred spectators attended the ceremony and principal speakers at the occasion included Congressman Clifton A. Woodrum, city attorney Judge Robert C. Jackson, and city councilman Charles D. Fox.
Built by W. W. Boxley at a cost of $282,750, the bridge consisted of five 120-foot spans. Four large bronze plaques and a smaller plaque were unveiled at the dedication ceremony, carrying quotations from notable historic figures: Patrick Henry, Thomas Jefferson, George Washington, Robert E. Lee, Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson, Theodore Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson. Another plaque carries the names of the 52 soldiers from Roanoke who died in World War I.
Also in 1926:
• The city announced plans for a six-billion-gallon reservoir at Carvins Cove.
• Harry F. Byrd, Sr. took office as the 50th governor of Virginia, succeeding E. Lee Trinkle who returned to Roanoke, where he served as vice president of Shenandoah Life Insurance Company until 1933 and then as president until his death in 1939.
• Gill Memorial Eyes, Ears, Nose and Throat Hospital opened on South Jefferson Street.
• Ground was broken for the new YWCA to be built on the corner of Franklin Road at First Street SW
New Bridge Over Roanoke River Restores Passages for Native Fish
On June 25, 2010, a replacement low-water bridge spanning the Roanoke River along Wiley Drive officially opened. The old bridge impeded passage for both fish and recreational boaters in an area where Roanoke is developing a public greenway.
The new structure is supported by two concrete pilings which improve fish passage for the federally endangered Roanoke log perch as well as several species of sport fish. Building the bridge and removing the Wasena Dam in March 2009 opened more than 185 river miles in the Roanoke River watershed to fish passage, which will benefit some of the 858,000 anglers who fish in Virginia each year.
Funding for the $852,500 project was provided by the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service Fish and Wildlife Service Wildlife Habitat Incentive Program, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, FishAmerica Foundation, and City of Roanoke. A portion was also funded through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009.
And in October, another new bridge came to the area of the low-water and Memorial bridges, with the opening of the 250-foot span to carry pedestrians and bicyclists from the west end of Wasena Park across the river to the new Vic Thomas Park. The $I million steel bridge will facilitate the extension of the Roanoke River Greenway, with work now under way to build westward into the Norwich area of the city.