The 1st permanent settlement within Radford's present boundaries occurred at the New River crossing of the Wilderness Road.
This trail extended westward from the valley of Virginia through southwest Virginia and on to the Cumberland Gap into Kentucky. This pathway became known as the Wilderness Road and with later development it became known as the Stagecoach Road. Stagecoach Road would later be called the Valley Pike and eventually what is now US 11.
Radford's section of this road is known as Rock Road and here in 1762
William Ingles and his wife, Mary Draper Ingles, established Ingles'
Ferry. The ferry became the nucleus of a commercial center which was to
have, among other businesses, a tavern, blacksmith's shop and a general
The coming of
the Virginia and Tennessee Railroad in 1854 brought a marked change in
orientation for Radford. A depot was constructed at Lovely Mount and
because it was situated halfway between Lynchburg and Bristol, it was
named Central. Its midway location also led the railroad to build repair
shops at Central stimulating residential and commercial growth in the
When the railroad arrived, Lovely Mount had a
population of 30. Two years later, when the first scheduled trains ran,
there were over 100 people, a roundhouse, repair shop, workmen's homes, a
tavern, restaurant and general store. Gradually trade was taken away
from Lovely Mount Tavern and Central became the commercial center,
serving as a shipping point for the area's products. These products
consisted of tobacco, bacon, and lumber.
Pocahontas Coal Fields
In 1872, the New River Railroad, Mining, and Manufacturing Company
chartered to build a railroad from Central to the Pocahontas coal fields
in West Virginia.
It was 10 years before Pocahontas coal
reached Central (the railroad by then operated by Norfolk and Western),
but this enterprise, coupled with a road to the Cripple Creek iron
mines, spurred a boom in Central. Land development Companies were formed
and subdivisions planned.
The Radford Land and Improvement
Company developed much of the area that was to become West Radford.
Several other companies developed East Radford and the area around the
New River depot across the river. Industry was promoted and during this
time an iron foundry, brick works, lumber companies, a knitting mill and
a stone quarry came into being. Virginia Iron, Coal and Coke Company
was a major employer.
The population grew from 300 in 1880 to 3,000 in 1890. In 1885, Central
City was incorporated as a town and in 1887; its name was officially
changed to Radford. In 1888, the post office was moved from Lovely Mount
Tavern to Radford, although it retained the Lovely Mount name until
1891 when it was changed to Radford. The following year, 1892, a post
office was established west of Connelly's Run and also named Radford.
Therefore, the first post office was again renamed, this time to East
Radford. There were also 2 railroad stations constructed, 1 on either
side of Connelly's Run.
They were called Radford (east side)
and West Radford. By 1892, the 2 Radfords merged politically and, having
the required population of 5,000, attained city status.
Panic of 1894
The Panic of 1894 put an end to Radford's boom. The city population
between 1890 and 1900, but in the twentieth century began slowly to grow
again. Several Radford industries began between 1900 and 1930. These
included Radford Ice Manufacturing Company (1916), Clover Creamery
Company (1922), West End Milling (Lewis Harvey and Sons, owners), and
Norfolk and Western Timber Preserving Plant (1921). The Lynchburg
Foundry acquired the Radford Pipe Works (opened in 1892) in 1905.
State Normal School
The State Legislature selected Radford as the site for the State Normal
School (later named Radford College) in 1913. This added a new element
to the city's economy, but also a new divisive factor. East Radford had
started as the commercial center and now was the educational center.
West Radford was the industrial sector, although some of the city's
finest homes were also there. A sometimes intense rivalry developed.
In an era when paved roads were scarce in Southwestern Virginia, it
proved a boom to the city to secure the passage of the Lee Highway
through its center in 1920. By 1928 there were 15 industries in Radford
employing 980 workers (Norfolk and Western and Lynchburg Foundry were
the major employers) and 84 retail and wholesale establishments
Its population approaching 6,000, the city had 3
banks, 3 hotels, 2 motion picture theaters and 2 weekly newspapers. The
decade saw the addition of a few other industries, including the New
River Textiles, unit of Burlington Mills, and the Old Colony Box
Company. Also, during this time Appalachian Power's Claytor Lake Dam was
built which brought further economic modernization to the area.
During the 1930's the federal government had decided the Radford area
was a choice site for a major industry requiring ample space, plentiful
water, good transportation and a large work force. Radford "powder
plant" or Arsenal was built in 1940-1941 to manufacture gunpowder and
associated products. 10 War time employment exceeded 20,000.
Three housing projects were developed in Radford to accommodate the
rapid influx of people. These were Monroe Terrace, Radford Village, and
Sunset Village. Fairlawn, which is the area across the river from
Radford to Pulaski County, was also developed at this time. Hundreds of
freight cars and no fewer than 12 passenger trains passed through
Radford daily during the peak of the war time economy.
rapid population growth (to 12,000 in 1943) necessitated change in city
government as new and increased services were needed. New committees and
boards were established and a fine recreation expansion and
establishment of a Community Hospital and Chamber of Commerce.
The post-war years saw a sharp decline in population followed once
again by slow increase. In 1957, the city joined the New River Valley
Industrial Commission to help attract new industries to the city. Since
then several companies have chosen to locate in Radford, among them the
Inland Motors Division of Kollmorgen Corporation, Kenrose Manufacturing
Company, Brad Ragan Rubber Company, which was originally the Graflo
Rubber Company, and the RADVA Plastics Corporation.
of Radford College, given university status in 1979, has influenced the
character and development of east Radford. The concern for education
and juvenile after-hours behavior was the basis for Radford's achieving
"All American city" status.
The railroad no longer dominates Radford. All passenger service was
discontinued in 1971. The Radford section of Interstate 81, which was
completed in 1965, bypassed the city and reduced US 11 to primarily
local traffic. The hospital relocated from Radford to the neighboring
county in 1999. Today Radford is a quaint small university town with a
thriving business community made up primarily of specialty shops.