Elliott Williams Final Project on Blacksburg, VA

Blacksburg History

Most people in our country won’t know where Blacksburg is unless you explain, “It’s where Virginia Tech is.” Although, the university heavily influences our community, it also has a very deep history dating back to the 1600’s.
European settlers discovered the land in the late 1600’s. Native American tribes originally occupied the land until settlers received orders to claim it. It wasn’t until the late 1700’s that the land was given the name Draper’s Meadow after the Draper and Ingles families were developing land. During the French and Indian wars Draper Meadow’s outpost was attacked, later leaving it deserted and reclaimed by natives through treaties.
The Black family is one of the greatest contributors to Blacksburg and it’s history. The town is originally named after the family. The family bought property in the area in 1772. Later the land was split into 16 lots/blocks of land. This land included where campus is today and most of our downtown area. Later these lots of land became the town logo, as it incorporates 16 squares. January 3rd, 1798 is when Blacksburg was officially established after a prolonged petition with state legislature.
October 1st, 1872 is when Virginia Agricultural and Mechanical College first opened. This would later become Virginia Polytechnic Institute and Virginia Tech as it’s called today. The college had 43 students with three appointed professors. The first Bachelor of Arts degrees were awarded in 1883. Blacksburg has always been a town big on football, so a fun fact: the first football game was played in 1892. Although Blacksburg had several citizens that were African-American, the first wasn’t admitted to V.P.I until 1953.
As many small Appalachian towns, Blacksburg’s history isn’t the most exciting, yet it is always nice to know how the place you call home was formed. Blacksburg has gone on to receive various praises, including being called the best college town in the Appalachia’s, one of the top towns to raise a family, and Virginia Tech has some of the best rated food in the nation!

Events Attended
During the summer there are plenty of local events including the Farmers Market, Stepping Out, and local shows. I happily got to attend these this summer, while taking this class.
Stepping Out is a community event put on by the town each year. It happens downtown where roads are blocked off from Mellow Mushroom to the stop lights beside Moe’s, and then around the corner where Kent Square is. During this event vendors set up tents, restaurants have their food trucks out and about, artists have their works for sell and so on! There’s also a big stage set up for live music. My time at Stepping Out this year was about the same as most (which isn’t a bad thing). I went with my family, which is always fun because I have a six-year-old niece who’s extremely interested in everything going on.
I never actually challenged myself to do anything because it’s a very laid back atmosphere and I felt like nothing really seemed like a challenge. Even talking to locals, like myself, comes so naturally during this event.
I think Stepping Out helps break the stereotype of Southwest Virginia a lot. The event has local color, like blue grass music, Do-It-Yourself arts and crafts and local food. I think most “outsiders” would be surprised at how laid back the event is and how it’s filled with so much local love for this area. I think that the only thing different this year, than others is that I really felt love for my community. As I’ve been saying, I’m hoping to move from here soon, so it was bittersweet thinking “this could be my last time at Stepping Out for a while.” I looked at our community with more passion and love than prior years. Even though my family and I just walked around and looked at stuff, it was a blast.

The Farmers Market
If you’re walking on Draper Road in Blacksburg on a Wednesday afternoon or Saturday morning, you’ll run into the Blacksburg Farmers Market. This is where local farmers bring their foods to sell and local artists share or sell their works. There’s also usually live music too. However, just as it sounds, the main attraction is being able to buy organic crops grown right in this area.
I’ve been to Farmer’s Market a couple times this summer to just look around, visit friends who are working, and of course to play Pokemon GO. During this event I actually did challenge myself to talk to some of the vendors about their local crops and their farming, since my father used to have a garden and grow crops himself. When you attend this event, you really get a sense of what the community is like around this area. You’re going to hear Appalachian draws, or twangs, in people’s accents and sometimes you’ll hear accents from other places. Some people are dressed in overalls that are covered in dirt, while other’s may have dread’s and where “hippie” clothing. The Farmers Market really embraces and exposes Blacksburg for what I believe it truly is: A melting pot in Southwest Virginia. Since Virginia Tech is the main attraction here, you have a large variety of people, yet you still get that small, southern town feel.
Overall with the events I attended this summer, while taking this class, I think I found a new love for Appalachia and Blacksburg. I’ve learned how to deconstruct a lot of stereotypes and resentment towards the area I grew up loving. These events reminded me of how genuine the locals can be in our town and in our region.
Mapping
As I stated in the beginning when people think hear of Blacksburg, they may not at first understand where it is. But, when you say, “Virginia Tech is where Blacksburg is,” they’re more likely to understand the area in which Blacksburg sits. With that being said, Virginia Tech is the biggest attraction to Blacksburg and is a powerhouse for supplying our local economy with growth and wealth. I’ll call these Blacksburg’s positive assets. The university brings in people from all over the world, parents of students, professors and guest speakers, and of course students themselves. This provides the towns local success in small business because of the large amount of traffic. Blacksburg is different from most other smaller Appalachian towns because local business thrives, instead of big companies monopolizing and killing smaller industries. With that being said, Blacksburg has extreme pride for the “Buy. Eat. Live Local,” mentality.
I believe that because of this small town success, thanks to Virginia Tech, Blacksburg is able to afford events like Stepping Out and the Farmers Market, while ensuring good turnouts, which in turn leads to a more proactive town with a large sense of community.
Another positive asset of Blacksburg’s community is the historical landmarks. Blacksburg has left old buildings remaining, such as Cabo Fish Taco (which used to be a church), The Black House, and the building that Mad Dog is in. There’s actually a full list of this historic building that are still in place. Anyways, these landmarks act as a positive asset because (at least in my mind) it sustains the sense of community and the “old town” feeling, unlike towns that tear down buildings to bring in ones that are trendy.
It’s actually hard to find needs in Blacksburg, at least to me. One may be that the town is flourished with rental properties, instead of people owning homes. However, with Christiansburg next to us, it’s cheaper and easier to find suitable housing. Another need of Blacksburg is one that’s hard to find in a lot of Appalachia and that is a sense of a strong LGBTQ+ community. This one is a personal issue for me and is another reason I am moving. Although Blacksburg is a blue dot in the middle of such a red region, there is still a lack of support for those who identify themselves with this community, like myself. Since there is a lack of support, it makes it harder on those in the Blacksburg LGBTQ community to be openly out. It’s also harder to find proper gay-friendly therapy or counseling, and even sometimes finding other LGBTQ friends. Since this issue is important to me, I thought I may mention it in the areas of Blacksburg that need work.
Another negative asset is Blacksburg’s traffic issue. In the summer those in Blacksburg will find that it’s usually pretty easy to get around by car, bike, or just by walking. However, when school comes back or there is a football game, this place becomes flooded with traffic on the roads and on the sidewalks. Blacksburg has been like this sense I grew up, however you think they would have figured out the issue. The needs for better traffic patterns would overall help the growth of Blacksburg, I believe. It would make it easier to get in and out of. It’s almost like flipping tables if you’re a server at a restaurant. The quicker you can get people in and out, the more you’ll make.
Conclusion
Blacksburg is a world of it’s own. You drive 7 miles outside of it and you feel like you’re back in the mountains of Appalachia, which technically you are. This town and community has been extremely successful having Virginia Tech as such a wonderful backbone. With that being said, Blacksburg is currently doing really well and is thriving as a small town in Southern Appalachia. I feel that the negative assets I brought up have already been exposed to higher authorities that are working on those issues, or at least I hope. But, let’s say they’re not being looked at. What should someone who is concerned about those issues do? I know Blacksburg’s large sense of community is the reasoning for such successful town meetings. That would be my first stop to addressing these issues. I would go to a meeting and maybe after find a local leader who may be able to set up a time to discuss issues like there not being a sense of LGBTQ community or high area’s of traffic during big events. Maybe insist on finding a way to have a couple LGTBQ related events in the area or holding a meeting about ideas to make traffic flow better. Overall, Blacksburg is doing well and is very progress for the region it’s in. However, there is always room for improvement!

Sources:
Blacksburghistory. “The Historic 16 Squares of Blacksburg.” YouTube. YouTube, 2012. Web. 12 Aug. 2016.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Blacksburg,_Virginia#cite_note-early-9

“History of Blacksburg, Virginia.” Blacksburg Bicentennial: History of Blacksburg Virginia Timeline. N.p., n.d. Web. 12 Aug. 2016.

“Historical Data Book, Centennial Edition (1872-1972), Table of Contents.”Historical Data Book, Centennial Edition (1872-1972), Table of Contents. N.p., n.d. Web. 12 Aug. 2016.

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