The Roanoker - November/December 2017 - 96
Echoes of Today?
BY NELSON HARRIS
ROANOKE IN 1917 was half the size it
is today. Much of today's Roanoke had not
yet been annexed. Raleigh Court, Virginia
Heights, Wasena, Mill Mountain, Washington Heights, Monterey and much of Northwest were suburbs of the city. However, other
neighborhoods were being developed within
the city. In Rugby, lots were advertised for $2
down and $2 per week and in Morningside
lots were $10 down and $10 per month.
Roanoke was dry due to the voters of Virginia voting in state-wide Prohibition in the
fall of 1916, three years ahead of national Prohibition. Thus, Salem Avenue-long a venue
for saloons, clubs, and dance halls-was mostly boarded up and abandoned. The city government in 1917 was under the control of
"reformers" led by Mayor Charles Braun.
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In many ways, Roanoke in 1917 was a city coming into its own-
with improvements in public safety and employment for women
leading the way. But in other contexts, the city was on the edge
of peril, both locally and internationally.
Having ridden into office on the wave
of Prohibition sentiment the previous year,
Braun and his allies strictly enforced Prohibition, forced businesses to conform to Sunday
closing laws, and established the position of
the Commissioner of Public Morals. The annual Roanoke Fair was closely scrutinized by
what were derisively called the "Blue Noses"
to determine if any vendors present were
violating current laws. Mayor Braun began
screening movies at local theatres, and even
banned a few from being shown.
Roanoke in 1917 was continuing to live
up to its Magic City moniker, a term used
to describe its rapid growth. The Hampton
Hotel opened in the Henry Street section
and would a few years later be re-named the
Dumas Hotel. The Dumas would anchor the
artistic and cultural life of Roanoke's AfricanAmerican community for decades. The Isis
Theatre opened on Campbell Avenue. Christ
Episcopal Church laid its cornerstone; Melrose
Baptist Church erected its first building on
Melrose Avenue inclusive of a 900-seat auditorium; and Belmont Methodist Church began
construction on its new sanctuary. Organized
labor considered a strike at the railway, but
this was averted when the U.S. Supreme Court
narrowly ruled (5-4) that the 8-hour work day
Roanoke City Mills built its facility, including five-story high silos, on Jefferson
Street, and the N&W Railway completed its new freight depot (now the Virginia
Museum of Transportation). The city council began consideration of transitioning to