Radford is located in Southwest Virginia wrapped by the New River. Despite its name, this river is one of the oldest rivers in the world. I served as City Administrator from 2002 until 2010.
William Ingles and his wife, Mary Draper Ingles, established Ingles’s Ferry as a crossing over the river and an important part of the Wilderness Road that funneled settlers west. The ferry became the nucleus of a commercial center which was to have, among other businesses, a tavern, blacksmith’s shop and a general store. During the French and Indian War, a band of Shawnee warriors took five hostages, including Mary. The Indians and their captives traveled for a month to a Shawnee village near Big Bone Lick, Kentucky. Mary and another captive woman escaped from their captors, making their way on foot through the wilderness to return home. They traveled as much as five to six hundred miles, and arrived home after more than 40 days. There is a monument dedicated to Mary Draper Ingles located in West End Cemetery. It was built using stones from the chimney of the home where Mary lived after her return.
West Radford developed a strong industrial base, including the Lynchbug Foundry (formerly Radford Pipe Works); East Radford developed as a commercial center. Radford was selected as the site for the State Normal School (later named Radford College). This added a new element to the city’s economy, but also a new divisive factor. East Radford, the commercial center, 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. These East / West divisions continue in the community to this day.
The Radford Arsenal or “powder plant” was built in 1940 to manufacture gunpowder and associated products. War time employment exceeded 20,000. The rapid increase in population required development of significant areas of new housing. Today the primary mission of Radford Army Ammunition Plant (RFAAP) is to manufacture propellants and explosives in support of field artillery, air defense, tank, missile, aircraft and Navy weapons systems. RFAAP is the sole supplier of TNT to the US Department of Defense.
The State Normal and Industrial School for Women at Radford grew out of an effort to expand Virginia’s public school system and prepare a sufficient number of teachers. Dr. John Preston McConnell was appointed president of the institution at its inception and guided the school to a mature institution. Radford had a brief relationship with Virginia Polytechnic Institute (VPI), serving as the women’s division for the school in nearby Blacksburg. The 1960s brought big pressure for change, partly because of its “finishing school” characteristics. Students pushed for more and more freedoms at Radford. One by one, many of the traditions which had defined Radford as a “Southern Gentlewoman’s” school were abolished. The final major change that brought Radford into the present was the undergraduate admission of men in the summer of 1972. In 1979, Radford was granted university status. The nickname “Highlanders” was adopted for the Radford athletic teams in celebration of the Scottish heritage of Southwest Virginia.
Quadfest is an annual event at Radford University which grew from an “end of the world” festival where students blew off steam at the end of the school year. To try to offer a better alternative for students, the University started “Quadfest”, a music festival sponsored by several campus organizations. The University abandoned the on-campus event and it evolved over the years into a weekend long party which draws students from across the State and presents a significant public safety challenge.
During my tenure at Radford, we completed construction of the Radford Recreation Center and the walking trail system. Both of these projects were begun under the administration of the previous administrator, Bob Asbury. These two facilities made a significant contribution to the quality of life in the community. We demolished the old recreation building and converted the lot to commercial use, expanded the library, adding a youth wing and public meeting space. In cooperation with the School Board, we were able to build a new elementary school and in the downtown, we renovated the long vacant property formerly used as the fitness center and returned it to active use generating additional customer traffic in the downtown. In the Sunset / Fairground neighborhoods, we undertook a major utility project which corrected stormwater problems in heavy rains. I left several projects in the developmental phase, including an improved corridor between the High School and the new Recreation Center.
Radford is a community with an excellent quality of life and was an ideal location to raise our family. Both of our girls graduated from the Radford school system.