With nearly everything there is a first—first job, first car, first house, and so on. So it is with our City—a first Mayor, a first City Manager, a first City Engineer, etc. This week, I want to take a few moments to highlight a few of these as a reminder of how our first leaders influenced the growth of our community.
Roanoke’s first Mayor is sometimes recognized as John Trout, who was actually the first Mayor of the Town of Big Lick, which preceded incorporation of the area as the City of Roanoke. Mr. Trout was Mayor beginning in 1874, serving until 1876. He was born in 1813 in Rockingham. In addition to his position as Mayor, Mr. Trout dedicated his life to serving his community in a variety of elected positions including County Assessor of the Revenue, Justice of the Peace, and Town Council Member. He also served in the Virginia General Assembly following the Civil War and was on the Board of Trustees with Roanoke College, serving as its President until his death. His son Henry later served as Mayor of Roanoke in the mid-1890’s. Mayor Trout is buried in the cemetery on Tazewell in Southeast Roanoke.
Second First Mayor
The first actual Mayor of the City of Roanoke was Marshall Waid beginning in 1882, serving for 10 years. Mr. Waid is believed to have been a part of the group that successfully lobbied the railroad to locate tracks in what was then the Town of Big Lick, a move that helped bolster the area population, enabling the City of Roanoke to be incorporated. According to the City’s first Charter, Mr. Waid and his fellow Council Members (12 in all) led the way for growth and stability in our City by appointing a Board of Police Commissioners and “protecting the citizens from diseases, incorrect weights and measures, crime, and disorder in the streets.” Roanoke’s early economic success ended abruptly near the turn of the Century and many of its earliest notable citizens left seeking other opportunities, as was the case with Mayor Waid.
First City Manager
The first City Manager for Roanoke was Williams Pearce Hunter, who interestingly also served a stint as Mayor of Roanoke. W.P. Hunter was first hired as City Manager in 1918 serving for 29 years, leaving in 1947. It is generally accepted that the first City Manager in the Nation was just to our north in Staunton, only 10 years before Hunter’s appointment in Roanoke. An engineer by training, Mr. Hunter was hired at age 34 with an annual salary of $4,800. During his long tenure, Mr. Hunter is credited with innovative leadership, spearheading the development of the city’s modern water system, including initiating the idea of the reservoir at Carvins Cove, development of Victory Stadium and five of the City’s bridges. The Hunter Viaduct, built in 1957—later replaced with the Williams Pearce Hunter Memorial Bridge, which carries Williamson Road into downtown—was named in his honor. Mr. Hunter is buried in the Evergreen Burial Park in the Raleigh Court neighborhood.
Since that first Mayor (Waid), 41 Mayors have served the City, leading right up to Mayor Lea today. Since W.P. Hunter’s time as City Manager, about a dozen others have followed right up to my current tenure.
For the next post, I will focus on a couple of other firsts highlighting how our City’s leadership diversified.
-- Bob Cowell