The American Theatre-A Lost Gem

JSS Sign

Many Roanokers don’t remember the American Theatre. This is without blame because the theatre was torn down in 1971. But, in it’s day the theatre was a utopia for many Roanokers, providing a place to escape from the trials of daily life into the magical world of the theatre.



“The ‘portraits’ on the ceiling…the fish-pond…popcorn and chocolate covered peanuts…the upper-upper balcony…the uniformed ushers…the lights lowering and the curtain parting…the tingling feeling of being in a cool ‘cave’ away from the bustle on Jefferson street…groping for your date’s hand…the velvet appointments…” (forward-American Theatre)



The Amusement Corp. began dreaming up the plans for the American Theatre in 1925, finally breaking ground in 1927. The completed building stood four stories, had a capacity of 2,100 guests and included murals and chandeliers. The architectural wonder was like nothing Roanoke had seen before.

The theater dazzled guests until 1971 when the doors were closed for the last time.  The American Theater was finally demolished in 1973. The complete story of the American Theater is recorded in Robert Fishburn’s book American Theater: Roanoke, Virginia 1928-1973, available for purchase from the History Museum of Western Virginia.

Book Cover


Fall 2014 Bus Tour-Northern Virginia

Twice a year the History Museum hosts a bus tour, inviting their members and friends to hop on a bus and take an adventure with them.  The Fall 2014 Bus Tour will be departing Roanoke on October 22, 2014 and heading up to Northern Virginia to explore the rich history of the region. The tour will be an overnight trip, with the cost of the hotel and meals included in the ticket.

One of the possible stops will be at Oatlands-Historic House and Gardens, located in Leesburg. Oatlands was founded in 1798 and got it’s name from it’s main agricultural product: wheat. The mansion was built in 1804 by George Carter and is rumored to have been designed by the owner himself. In 1964  the property was donated to the National Trust for Historic Preservation and listed as a National Landmark.


Also included on the trip is a possible stop at Morven Park, the former home of Virginia Governor Westmoreland Davis. Westmoreland and Marguerite Davis purchased the property in 1903 and the property opened to the public in 1967.

Morven_Park,_Leesburg_VA-1 (Morven Park)



Dodona 2011 Lillies 2-400x286 (the Marshall House)

The last expected stop in Leesburg before moving on to the Manassas Battlefields will be the Marshall House.  If you are interested in joining us this fall make sure you reserve your spot early, this is sure to be a fun trip!

The cost of this all inclusive trip is $300 for members of the History Museum or Historical Society and $325 for non-members. Tickets are available by calling the History Museum (540) 342-5770 or by visiting the online gift shop:

(A complete itinerary will be released once it is finalized. )


McAfee Knob Then And Now

Mcafee Knob2

McAfee Knob, located in Catawba, VA is 1,740 feet of adventures and family fun. The popular site for tourists and locals has been drawing in hikers for years with no signs of stopping. The hike features a view of almost 270 degrees at the top.  The panoramic style view has helped the spot become one of the most photographed spots on the Appalachian Trail.

The above photo was taken in 1925 and the below photo in 2014.

The 1925 photograph features two sisters perched on the edge of the rock formation. Mary Grace and Elizabeth Trout, seen here in their teens were photographed by their father Philip H. Trout in the Fall. The sisters were Roanoke residents who married and remained in the Roanoke area. The 2014 photograph features Victoria Baker and Kyle Haugen now residing in Charleston, SC. The two were drawn to hike McAfee Knob in the Spring after hearing of the infamous views.

While many things in Southwest Virginia have been changing McAfee Knob remains a natural haven for many. Click here for more information on visiting McAfee Knob.


To view the 1925 photo and other photographs from our collection please visit the History Museum of Western Virginia, 3rd floor of Center in the Square or the Virtual Museum.


(Images courtesy of the History Museum of Western Virginia, Ms. Victoria Baker, and HikingUpwards)