The Roanoker - November/December 2017 - 101

HISTORY | ROANOKE, 1917

FIRE PROTECTION 1917:
FROM HORSES TO TRUCKS
The 1917 effort by the Norfolk & Western
Railway to have Roanoke upgrade its fire
protection-the railroad provided $15,000
toward that end-brings to mind an exchange when I was a member of Roanoke
City Council in the 2000s. The discussion
COURTESY OF THE VIRGINIA ROOM, ROANOKE PUBLIC LIBRARIES

was over whether to relocate two fire
houses in our city, specifically the closing of No. 1 firehouse on Church Avenue and No. 3, and then merging the
two to create the new firehouse that is
presently at the intersection of Elm Avenue and Franklin Road. The question
was why we had two firehouses so close
together. And the answer was simple
if perhaps largely forgotten: That was
the distance horses could travel. -NH

shift away from the rowdy, bawdy days of
being a railroad town dominated by young
men squandering pay checks on Salem Avenue to a city drawn into meeting the necessities of war, recognizing the civic emergence
of women, growing in prosperity, and laying
the groundwork for the great progress Roanoke would see in the 1920s.
Yet Roanoke was far from perfect. In 1917,
children, some as young as five, spun cotton
at the mill in Norwich six days a week, ten
hours a day. Syrians, Jews and blacks were
prohibited through deed restrictions from
buying property and homes in South RoaTHEROANOKER.COM

noke, Raleigh Court, and Wasena. Economic disparity was great, as Roanoke's aristocracy built mansions along Patterson Avenue
in Roanoke's West End section, while just
blocks away the working class lived in tenement, shot-gun housing.
On April 15, 1917, President Woodrow
Wilson declared, "The supreme test of the
nation has come. We must all speak, act and
serve together!" Wilson's vision for national
unity, cemented by a common cause, was in
many ways reflected in the events of Roanoke
that year. Roanokers, black and white, waved
farewell to sons, brothers, and fathers headed

to war; women of all socio-economic backgrounds, whose paths might otherwise have
never crossed, came together to knit, nurse,
and fundraise; and business executives and
labor united to equip and enlarge the production of Roanoke's railways, mills, and shops
to respond to a nation in the crucible of war.
In 1917, the issues that consumed both
national and local attention might prompt
a bit of déjà vu. Securing the border with
Mexico, foreign aggression, income disparity,
morality in a pluralistic democracy, creating
middle-class employment, and human equality are still with us today. I
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Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of The Roanoker - November/December 2017

The Roanoker - November/December 2017 - Intro
The Roanoker - November/December 2017 - Cover1
The Roanoker - November/December 2017 - Cover2
The Roanoker - November/December 2017 - 3
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The Roanoker - November/December 2017 - Cover3
The Roanoker - November/December 2017 - Cover4
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