You have probably heard it many times said that Roanoke “is a city of neighborhoods.” How true that is. There are 49 recognized neighborhoods within our 43-square-mile City. From time to time, I would like to highlight one of these neighborhoods and the contributions it has made and continues to make in our City. In this post, I want to focus on one of our oldest and perhaps lesser-known neighborhoods – Norwich.
Norwich Residential Use, Roanoke Public Libraries Virginia Room Collection
Locks and Iron
The neighborhood we know as Norwich was established as early as 1825, located in what was then Roanoke County, adjacent to the Roanoke River, near today’s Memorial Bridge. Beginning in 1899, a local land developer established lots, built a bridge and encouraged extension of the streetcar into the area. Soon after its establishment, the Norwich Lock Manufacturing Company located there from Connecticut and gave the neighborhood its name. A number of iron foundries, a brick company, and other manufacturers soon joined the Lock Company. By 1919, Norwich had been annexed into the City limits and while predominantly characterized by its industrial uses included a collection of residences, businesses, churches, and even a school. Over time, the character of the area and its significance as an industrial center shifted. By 1941 the streetcar ceased to serve the neighborhood and by the 1960’s the area was predominantly residential in use and character. Today slightly more than 600 residents call Norwich home.
Norwich Industrial Use, Roanoke Public Library Virginia Room Collection
River, Houses, and Open Space
Norwich is located along the Roanoke River’s bottomland and the river surrounds much of the community. The area is low-lying and flat, which made it an attractive locale for the early industrial uses. The area includes a collection of worker housing consisting of small single-story “shotgun” style homes built primarily in the 1890’s to house laborers from the surrounding mills and manufacturers. This style of housing is especially prevalent along Roanoke Avenue and Russell Avenue. As with many of the neighborhoods in Roanoke, Norwich includes open space and parks for area residents. Norwich Park, located in the center of the neighborhood, is an 11-acre park containing open space, athletic fields, and a recreation center. The Roanoke River Greenway also traverses through and adjacent to the neighborhood with a trailhead located at Bridge Street. In the near future the Greenway will be extended to the north and northwest crossing the Roanoke River, before extending further north. In addition to these features and land uses, the neighborhood still includes a number of manufacturers and warehouses, as well as a small village center located near the intersection of Roanoke Avenue and Bridge Street.
Notable People and Organizations
From its very inception in 1825, Norwich has been home to some notable residents beginning with William Persinger who built the first house in the area. P.L. Terry and his Roanoke Development Company is credited for much of the early development of the neighborhood at the turn of the 20th Century. Pat Toney was in the 1990’s a guiding force in the establishment of the Norwich Neighborhood Alliance, which today continues to “improve, enhance, redevelop, upgrade, and promote Norwich.” Pat was also recognized in 1997 as the Roanoke Citizen of the Year. Today, a few Norwich families can trace their presence in the neighborhood back generations. The industrial jobs and affordable housing present in the neighborhood, in most cases attracted their ancestors.
Though Norwich’s character has changed over the nearly 100 years it has been in the City, it remains an intact neighborhood with its own unique character that combines residential and industrial uses with parks and open space. With the extension of the Roanoke River Greenway into and beyond the neighborhood, Norwich is once again becoming increasingly connected with the adjacent neighborhoods of Mountain View and Raleigh Court. With its strong heritage, unique character, affordable housing and proximity to the Roanoke River, Norwich is in many ways a secret waiting to be rediscovered by both long-term residents of Roanoke and newcomers to the area alike.
So, next time you are out for a stroll on the Roanoke River Greenway go ahead and take that extra mile or so, cross over Memorial Bridge and discover Norwich for yourself!
- Bob Cowell