In the backyard of the Blue Ridge Mountains you will find Roanoke, Virginia. The city is charming with many eclectic shops, restaurants, and museums in abundance. Places such as: the Texas Tavern where you and nine of your closest friends can belly up for some great burgers (the restaurant seats ten), the Taubman Museum of Art-a contemporary building featuring a delightful mix of exhibitions and permanent collection objects on display, the Mill Mountain Zoo, home to over 170 animals in a unique mountain setting, the 1882 Historic Hotel Roanoke and Conference Center, on the National Register of Historic Places, this grand lady features grand lodging and the Virginia Museum of Transportation with their collection of planes, trains and automobiles
Take a stroll to the Historic Roanoke City Market. The centerpiece of downtown, the Market has been in operation since 1882. Vendors, restaurants and unique shops dot the square and this feels like the heart of the city. Locally grown fruits, vegetables and flowers are available during growing season and the market is open year-round adding artisans as well.
Roanoke is a family-friendly destination. The aforementioned Virginia Museum of Transportation is a favorite with families and has a wide selection of trains including a massive Class A 1218, known as the “Mercedes of Steam” and a Class J 611, this sleek beauty is the most advanced passenger steam engine ever built. The Museum exhibits both steam and electric locomotives and has the largest collection of diesel locomotives in the South in addition to over 50 rail cars. You can even watch trains go by today as the Museum is housed in a 1918 vintage Norfolk & Western freight station. This 45,000 square foot building is adjacent to an active Norfolk & Southern mainline in downtown Roanoke.
The Museum boasts approximately 2,500 objects in its collection including cars, planes, busses, and even a rocket!
Entering the Museum, you know you’ve arrived someplace special. From the people at the desk to the volunteers in the yard, their dedication to the Museum and the history of transportation is evident and inspiring. Heading outside, we were awestruck by the immensity of the locomotives! Rarely, does one get to see these marvels up close and personal, and here you get to walk alongside them and wonder at the journeys they have taken, wonder about who built them, who kept them going and the passengers and freight they carried. The stories come as well, not just of the past, but of the future.
The Museum plans to fire up the Class J 611 once again! The Virginia Museum of Transportation and the Fire Up 611 Committee are raising money to restore and be able to maintain the Class J 611 Steam Passenger Locomotive. You’ll see why this beauty is worthy of such a mission: sleek and commanding, with a baritone whistle makes her the most distinguished steam locomotive left in the world. Standing by her, you can imagine her saying “let’s go!”
Other Exhibits and Activity Areas (from www.vmt.org) :
Advance Auto Parts Automotive Gallery: Enjoy cars and other vehicles from nearly every decade of the twentieth century, and Virginia license plates dating from 1917.
Harry L. Messimer Bus Collection Exhibit: features artifacts and models from Greyhound, Trailways, and Virginia transit companies.
O-Gauge Model Train Layout: four tier model layout depicting major rail sites around the region, including tracks at “kid level.” With multiple trains operating over 600 feet of track, the layout was constructed and is continuously upgraded by the Roanoke Valley O-Gauge Club.
Model Circus Exhibit: Had there not been railroads, it is questionable whether the circus would have become “the greatest show on earth.” The railroad made it possible for circuses to travel swiftly from one city to another, performing seasons of one-day shows. Trains allow all components of a circus—from the animals to the equipment—to travel together. The specially designed railcars evolved during the circus’ golden era, 1872-1947. This model was built by George I. Neal over a period of 15 years. The large tent housing the exhibit is hand-sewn.
Maritime Gallery: models of historic sailing ships, plus modern ships called Roanoke.
Hanna Transportation Safety Room: named for Virginia’s father of transportation safety, John T. Hanna, this child-friendly gallery by Magnets USA teaches about the important topic of transportation safety through fun, hands-on activities.
Main Street: Travel back in time with a view of oversized photographs of the Roanoke Valley from 1900-1920.
Star Station: a transportation-themed outdoor playground, developed in partnership with the Junior League of the Roanoke Valley, VA.
The Wings Over Virginia Aviation Gallery is now open, with all-new exhibits that interpret Virginia’s aviation history and aviation technology.
Jupiter Rocket: This type of rocket first launched in 1956. The most significant Jupiter flight was made in May 1959 with two primates, Able and Baker, riding in the nose cone. Their survival demonstrated that living creatures could pass through space and safely return.
The Museum really is a treat and just one of many wonderful places to visit in Roanoke. The Blue Ridge Mountains offer up a wonderful opportunity to explore nature and the city of Roanoke has many fine parks. Many Cincinnati area families travel the Blue Ridge Parkway as part of their summer vacations, and it's easy to see why these Mountains and this city are popular draws.
For more information about the Museum, visit: www.vmt.org
For more information about Roanoke, visit: www.visitroanokeva.com