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Roanoke showcases Virginia food, history and trains

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By Wayne Lazarus on May 29th, 2011

Categories: Linda's Travel Articles

Pull off the Blue Ridge Parkway at Roanoke to see a modern city in touch with its heritage. The Historic Roanoke City Market is said to be the oldest continuously operating open-air market in Virginia. Licenses were first issued to vendors who were then called “Hucksters” in 1882. The city authorized a municipally-owned market in 1884 the first City Market Building was completed in 1886. Over the years it has been remodeled and the block surrounding it developed.  Produce, plants and arts and crafts are certified locally grown or locally made.  The market has recently undergone a $10 million renovation that will add restaurants and retail to the kiosks and stalls that sell produce and art from the local area. This proper was deeded to the city by the family that owned it 150 years ago.

From the shaded stalls packed with crisp produce, brilliantly colored flowers, jewelry, crafts and homemade soap, visitors can see the ultra-modern Taubman Museum of Art. Designed by Randall Stout, it opened in 2007 and  received an American Architecture Award from the Chicago Athenaeum: Museum of Architecture and Design and Metropolitan Arts Press, Ltd.  Contemporary yes, but its design is meant to evoke the surrounding mountains and to reflect the colors of the sky and the seasons here.  The lighting inside mimics the meandering Roanoke River, which flows through the center of town.

The art museum is just of one of several of interest in Roanoke.  The Virginia Museum of Transportation actually begins outside on the David R. and Susan S. Goode Railwalk – a sidewalk that runs along the working railroad track, where kids and curious adults can learn about the railroad signals by changing them, cause the cross arm to come down, ring the bells and, yes, blow the whistle. Inside are two early 20th century cars manufactured by a Lynchberg company called Piedmont. There’s also a Model 42 Clear Vision Brougham, an electric car built by the Detroit Electric Car company, bought in 1913.  They have an extensive collection of Greyhound memorabilia. But the heart of this museum is its trains.  You can board two Norfolk and Virginia steam engines, check out the caboose and others cars and discover the power and wonder of the era of railroad transportation.

Speaking of train-lovers, you’ll want to see the O. Winston Link Museum, located in the historic N&W passenger station, which is now the Roanoke Valley Visitor Information Center. If you don’t “get” trains, if you don’t understand why people travel to stations just to watch trains come and go, you will feel a little of that passion yourself as you learn about this man who was a commercial photographer but spent his off-hours (and much of his own money) in the ’40s and ’50s to record the steam engine. His photographs were admired enough by N&W’s corporate office that eventually, he was able to stop trains to get the perfect shot, but public recognition did not come until the 1983.

Roanoke is located off Interstate 81 and along the Blue Ridge Parkway, about an hour from Lynchburg, Virginia and three hours from Richmond.

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