New Progress


After the economic burst and depression of the 1890's, Roanoke regained its footing and continued in its pursuit of modernity and growth. This growth, however, did not result in gentility. Gentility and efficiency also became goals for Roanoke and were indirectly influenced by the railroad.

One might think that the city council or railroad executives would immerse themselves in the beautification process of Roanoke considering the financial benefits incurred. Beautification and efficiency, however, added to what historian Clare White termed, "the bottom line." Efficiency came at too high a cost for the council or executives to pursue. Thus, the wives of the council members and executives took up the worthy cause to remodel Roanoke.

These women formed the Women's Civic Betterment Club in 1906, a civic club to have lasting effects on Roanoke's future. It was a move of "responsible and responsive women of the city which would ultimately lead to the formation of a library, a juvenile court, a nursery school for the children of working mothers, and a local unit of the American Cancer Society. The maiden effort, however, was a plan for the city , only the fifth such ever done for any city. The club, led by Mrs. Lucian H. Cocke and Mrs. M.M. Caldwell, engaged John Nolen of Boston to develop a comprehensive plan for the development of Roanoke" (White 87).

The plan, entitled "Public Reservations and Thoroughfares" fit within John Nolen's nationally extended influence. His goals were not only to beautify the cities he planned but also to "present fundamental principles and stimulate intelligent study of the problems of citizenship." (Nolan 3) In addition he stated, "American cities have not yet solved the serious problems related to railroad approaches and terminals and the elimination of grade crossings. In a word, they have not yet applied in a business like and economical manner the methods characteristic of the modern city planning movement. Therefore the American city still suffers in many ways from haphazard, piecemeal, and shortsighted procedure (Nolan 5). Elsewhere in another work entitled New Ideals in the Planning of Cities, Towns and Villages, Nolan stated his goals for the planning of smaller cities such as Roanoke. For smaller cities, "the case is different. Comprehensive planning or replanning may be to them of far-reaching and permanent service. There is scarcely anything in the smaller places that may not be changed. In these smaller cities, for example, railroad approaches may not be right; grade crossings eliminated; waterfronts redeemed for commerce or recreation, or both; open spaces acquired even in partly built-up sections; a satisfactory street plan can be carried out and adequate main thoroughfares established; public buildings can be grasped in an orderly way; a park system composed of well-distributed and well balanced public grounds can be definitely outlined for gradual and systematic development. All of these elements of a city plan are indispensable. Sooner or later a progressive community may ...obtain these with relative ease and small cost" (Nolan 10). He directed his efforts to "tomorrow's efficiency", "collective power", and "intimate knowledge of noble examples" to meet the needs of modern life. (Nolan 18)

The efforts of both the Women's Civic Betterment Club and of John Nolan must be viewed in a national context. Most of these women, as wives of wealthy railroad executives, probably were privy to the developments of the City Beautiful Movement started by the Chicago Exposition of 1893. For them, Roanoke could not remain as it currently stood. The railroad brought traffic from all over the nation. Should not their city be as progressive and as beautiful as those around the nation? Once again, the influence of the railroad affected Roanoke -- this time with an eye toward the progressive future of the "Magic City."


Introduction/Nothing Inorganic/New SouthBig Lick/Boom/Burst/Conclusion/Works Cited