Blacksburg, Christiansburg, and Radford are the three principal jurisdictions of the Blacksburg-Christiansburg-Radford Metropolitan Statistical Area which encompasses those jurisdictions and all of Montgomery, Pulaski, and Giles counties for statistical purposes. The MSA has an estimated population of 159,587 and is currently one of the faster-growing MSAs in Virginia. Blacksburg is dominated economically and demographically by the presence of Virginia Tech (formally known as Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University), a Virginia land-grant university. Blacksburg is the largest town in Virginia by population, and the 15th-largest municipality overall. It is larger than several of the commonwealth's independent cities.
The town and Virginia Tech campus have a long tradition of safety and living satisfaction, despite the Virginia Tech shootings that occurred on April 16, 2007. In 2011, Businessweek named Blacksburg the "Best Place in the U.S. to Raise Kids". Also in 2011, readers of Southern Living named Blacksburg the "Best College Town in the South". Its public transportation system, Blacksburg Transit, which also connects to the neighboring town of Christiansburg, has repetitively received recognition for the quality of its service. Blacksburg High School, which in 2013 unveiled its new state-of-the-art building, is often ranked among the top schools of the nation for its academics, but its Soccer, Track, and Cross Country teams are also among the top in the state.
European discovery, founding (1671–1771)
In the mid-1600s, English colonists were still uncertain of what lay beyond the Allegheny Mountains, whose topography and possession by native inhabitants, Tutelo-speaking tribes, were a barrier to expanded settlement by the Colony of Virginia. Abraham Wood, who commanded Fort Henry on the frontier (now the site of Petersburg, Virginia), and operated an Indian trading post nearby, organized several expeditions to explore farther west. A passage over the ridge was finally found in 1671 when explorers Batts and Fallam, sent by Wood, reached the present-day location of Blacksburg, Virginia. Their expedition followed Stroubles Creek, through the current locations of the town and campus of Virginia Tech to what they named Wood's River.
They reported the area inhabited by the Monacan and Moneton, Siouan groups, but the Virginia legislature had authorized Wood to claim it. Accordingly, on September 17, 1671, the Batts and Fallam party claimed all of the lands comprising the river's drainage basin for King Charles II. However, the region was not yet open to English patent, and in 1700, Seneca warriors overran the entire area, driving out the Siouans. As early as 1718, the Iroquois had agreed to sell the parts they had conquered east of the Blue Ridge to the Virginia Colony. However, following another cession at the 1744 Treaty of Lancaster, there was a dispute over whether the new boundary was the Alleghenies or the Ohio River. The site of Blacksburg lay just within this disputed zone.
By the 1740s, the Wood's River Land Company, represented by Col. James Patton, gained a large tract of land within present-day southwest Virginia. Part of the tract became Montgomery County and Pulaski County and was sold to Virginian, Anglo-Irish, Scots-Irish, and English settlers as a reward for their services during the Spanish-Indian Wars and other wars. The Draper and Ingles families were among those who built their homes between present location of the campus and the subdivision of Hethwood. This came to become known as Draper's Meadow by 1748.
Because of its strategic location between the Indian nations, who alternately were allies of the French and British as it suited them, plus its location through gaps into the Alleghenies further west, the area's development was viewed with increasing apprehension by the French and their Indian allies. In July 1755, during the French and Indian War, hostile Shawnee Indians equipped and armed by France attacked the frontier outpost at Draper's Meadow, then still consisting of a small encampment with around twenty pioneer settlers. About four settlers were killed in the attacks, and five were taken captive to Kentucky by the Shawnee, among them Mary Draper Ingles, who later escaped. The memorial to Draper's Meadow massacre was dedicated on a bridge located near Duck Pond. By the end of the war, Draper's Meadow was deserted.
By the Treaty of Easton (1758), and again by the Royal Proclamation of 1763, the Allegheny ridge separating the Mississippi and Chesapeake watersheds was made the official boundary between the colony and native peoples. It remained so until 1768, when native claims to the land including Blacksburg were cleared by the Treaty of Hard Labour with the Cherokee, and the Treaty of Fort Stanwix with the Six Nations. The Shawnee finally abandoned their claim to this territory in 1774 following Dunmore's War.
The Black family (1772–1797)
Samuel Black, whose family settled in Staunton, Virginia, bought of land in the Draper’s Meadow area for his sons John and William in 1772. Smithfield Plantation, built in approximately 1774 by Col. William Preston, sits on the original Draper's Meadow site, which is near the Duck Pond on the Virginia Tech campus.
When Samuel Black died in 1792, the land was evenly divided into two sections by his sons. The road now known as Draper Road is the dividing line between the sections. John Black's property covered the majority of the central campus of Virginia Tech, and William Black's property became most of the central downtown area of modern day Blacksburg.
In 1797, William laid out a small grid of streets and lots—16 blocks in all—on a portion of his land. The original town was limited to the area bounded by present-day Draper Road, Jackson Street, Wharton Street, and Clay Street. The town logo contains 16 small squares that create a larger square, representing the original 16 square blocks that were a part of Black's design.
Blacksburg's establishment (1798–1870)
After Black petitioned the state legislature to establish a town at the site, the official establishment and founding of Blacksburg, Virginia was January 13, 1798 on the thirty-eight and three-quarter acre tract that he laid out. The following August 4, he signed over the deed to the town trustees. The town was named after him in his honor.
In 1801, a log cabin was built, which went on to be the home of the future colonel of the 28th Virginia Infantry, Robert Preston and two Virginia governors. The cabin, now known as "Solitude," is the oldest building on the Virginia Tech campus.
According to records of the Post Office Department of the National Archives and Records Administration, the post office was established as "BLACKSBURGH" on April 8, 1827. The name was changed to the current spelling (without the "h") in 1893.
Even though the Methodists had built two cabins to worship in since the town's founding, they did not build a more permanent structure until 1830, when a brick church was constructed. The Presbyterians were the next Christian denomination to build a church within Blacksburg's limits. In 1848 they built their first brick building at 117 South Main Street. Though still standing, this building has not been used as a church for many years. It was once South Main Café, but is currently Cabo Fish Taco. It is also the oldest building on Main Street. The Baptists founded the third oldest church in the town in 1852.
In 1832, Westview Cemetery was established from a few acres of land that were deeded to trustees.
One of the first educational establishments started here was the Blacksburg Female Academy in 1840. The Olin and Preston Institute (re-charted as Preston and Olin Institute in 1869) was a Methodist-sponsored academy established in 1851.
The first bank in Montgomery County, Blacksburg Savings Institution, was established in 1849. The first newspaper published in Blacksburg was the Montgomery Messenger. Its first issue was released in 1869.
Incorporation, modernization (1871–1951)
One year later, the Virginia Agricultural and Mechanical College opened its doors on October 2, 1872 with a faculty of three members. The college grew and became known as Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, which shortly afterward became informally referred to as Virginia Tech.
A fire-fighting unit was organized within the university in 1899. The town bought its first fire truck 43 years later. The Blacksburg First Aid and Life Saving Crew was founded in 1951 and renamed Blacksburg Volunteer Rescue Squad in as another addition to the growing amount of emergency services.
The first automobile came through the town in 1901. Three years later the train entered Blacksburg from Christiansburg using the Virginia Anthracite & Coal Railroad, which later became known as the "Huckleberry." Traffic in Blacksburg increased sufficiently enough that by January 1913 the town voted against allowing cows to continue to roam in town. The first filling station was opened in 1919 and at the time was the only one between Roanoke, Virginia and Bluefield, West Virginia. The town's first landing strip was built in 1929 and was 1,800 feet (548.64 m) in length. The grass landing strip was given airport status in 1931 and later became Virginia Tech Airport. Local buses began to make their rounds for the first time in 1947.
The town's first theater was built in 1909. It was a precursor to the Lyric Theatre on College Avenue.
In the spring of 1935, Main Street was strung with ten street lights from Roanoke Street northward to the top of the hill, where it now intersects the Alumni Mall. By October the town's second stoplight was installed on Main Street at Roanoke Street and was synchronized with the original one at Main and College. The establishment of official law enforcement began in 1937 when Officer Dave "Highpockets" Sumner became the first Blacksburg police officer. The first police car was purchased nine years later.
Compulsory education and commercialization (1952–1992)
Blacksburg experienced a boost of compulsory education during the second half of the 20th century. Even though there had been a place for secondary education somewhere in town since 1906, it was not until 1952 when the first official location for Blacksburg High School was built on South Main and Eheart Streets. That same year, all high schools in Montgomery County began operating on a twelve-grade basis which is still county policy to this day.
Two years later, Blacksburg High School was relocated to a building on South Main Street which eventually became the site of Blacksburg Middle School. The Margaret J. Beeks Elementary School and the Gilbert F. Linkous Elementary School were both completed in 1963 and Harding Avenue Elementary School was built in 1972. Two years later, in 1974, Blacksburg High School moved its location to Patrick Henry Drive after 20 years of issues with overcrowding in its previous location.
In 2003, a new building for Blacksburg Middle School students was opened on Prices Fork Road adjacent to Kipps Elementary School, leaving the original Blacksburg High School building vacant until it was demolished in the Summer of 2011. A new building for Blacksburg High School students is currently under construction on Prices Fork Road adjacent to Blacksburg Middle School following a partial collapse of the school building located on Patrick Henry Drive due to heavy snow loads and improper construction by the original contractor. The new building opened in October 2013.
Jack Goodwin was appointed the first chief of police by the Blacksburg Town Council in 1954. Jan Olinger was made the first female police officer in 1976.
1958 marked the beginning of the end for the railroad that came to be known as the "Huckleberry." Passenger service came to an end on July 25. On June 30, 1966 the last freight train arrived at the Blacksburg depot. Within 24 hours, the depot was closed, the empty cars were picked up, and the tracks were immediately removed. After years of effort by the citizens of the town a trail was constructed on the former railroad right-of-way and, after years of construction, funding and planning issues the Huckleberry Trail was opened to the public on December 1, 1998. 190 years after its original construction, the newly renovated Smithfield Plantation house was re-opened in 1964.
The amount of commercialization in the area began to increase in the mid-1960s. An important opening that occurred was the Corning Glass Works (now called Corning Incorporated) facility in 1964 which is located south of Blacksburg. The Blacksburg Municipal Building on South Main Street was constructed in 1969. Terrace View apartments, the first large student complex, was built in 1970. The Blacksburg Branch of the Montgomery County Library was opened the same year. Ten years later, it was moved into the facility that used to house the Blacksburg Lumber Company on Draper Road. In 1971, Blacksburg ratified a new charter and Montgomery Regional Hospital was built. The University Mall shopping center opened that year as well. During 1981, the Blacksburg Community Center opened. It cost the town $1.2 million to build. By 1988, the New River Valley Mall, located in the neighboring town of Christiansburg, was opened and the Virginia Tech Corporate Research Center had its first ground-breaking ceremony.
After construction of Virginia's portion of Interstate 81 began in 1957, it took about nine years until the segment that ran alongside the town was opened in November 1965. About half that amount of time passed before the U.S. Route 460 bypass opened in 1969.
In the 1970s, Virginia Tech was annexed into the town and other land area was also brought in. The population grew from 9,000 people to 30,000 during this decade. Replacing the old public bus system, Blacksburg Transit began running in 1983.
Information age (1993–present)
Blacksburg is the site of the Blacksburg Electronic Village or BEV, conceived as a computer networking project of Virginia Tech in 1991 and officially born in 1993 as a way to link the town together using the Internet. This project quickly ushered the town into what is being called the Information Age.
In 1994, Kipps Elementary School was opened. By this time, Blacksburg had five elementary schools, a middle school, and a high school. A newly renovated Blacksburg branch library was opened in 1996.
After 24 years of abandonment and six years of planning and construction, the first phase of the Huckleberry Trail built on the old Huckleberry railbed opened in 1996. The second phase of construction was completed in 1998.
On July 8, 1997, ground was broken for the experimental "Smart Road" project. The second phase of construction was completed in 2002. The road is currently closed to the public and used as a research test bed for the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute. A National Weather Service office is located in Blacksburg and serves most of southwestern Virginia, southeast West Virginia, and northwest North Carolina.
On April 16, 2007, Seung-Hui Cho shot 32 people dead and injured an additional 17 in the Virginia Tech shooting before committing suicide. The massacre is the deadliest mass shooting on a college campus since the Texas Clock Tower Massacre in 1966, and also the deadliest mass shooting committed by a lone gunman in U.S. history.