The Future Airport Acres Neighborhood
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History - Notes from a Conversation with Mrs. Susan Roberts
I visited Mrs. Suzie Roberts at Warm Hearth, Christiansburg, Virginia, with her daughter Mrs.Betty Jo Everette on the afternoon of December 12, 2000 to try to learn things of interest about the Airport Acres neighborhood. I had no particular reason or project in mind; no special type of history to be written. I had just delivered the history provided by Mr.Pandapas for editing or approval and realized, again, how easily the past is forgotten or otherwise lost. It may not have significance or special meaning. At least we are who we were, and we are very interesting.
Mrs. Roberts is 91 years old and is recovering from a knee-replacement operation. She was in good spirits during our conversation though complained of some pain. I had a list of questions which I suggested would not be limiting and may only suggest other things. Her husband, Bill Roberts died in 1985. He was an employee of the arsenal, a guard. Bob and Betty Jo Davis are children by her first marriage, Al and Delores are children from her second marriage.
She and her daughter, Betty Jo, lived in the house now owned by Violet Oliver, 605 Fairview. 1943-1948. She had lived in Christiansburg, Roanoke, and then moved to Airport Acres. Betty Jo was born in 1931. Mrs. Roberts rented from Mr. Pandapas and Mr. Robert Smith (whose family lived at 511 Fairview) collected rent for Mr. Pandapas. Mrs. Smith worked at Arno Bowers' restaurant on Main Street. All Airport Acres houses were sold and the Roberts had to move. They then rented a house on Main St.
Violet Oliver now lives there (605 Fairview). Mr.Oliver operated a grocery store. Theirs was the last house on the street. There were no other buildings beyond it (to the west). In 1938-39 David Oliver was with the national guard and ready to go to war. He contracted a tropical disease and died on the operating table.
Much of the conversation revolved around who lived where within the neighborhood:
Mrs. Roberts remembers the area with it small trees." It looked so bare". The trees were no bigger than your thumb in thickness. The Radford plant opened in 1935. She made $1 a day and worked at Tech doing clothing alterations for cadets and others. Financial conditions became better when the Plant (Radford Arsenal) opened. Betty Jo worked at the plant.
There were no cars; gasoline was rationed; everyone walked. Every week or so they would call a taxi and go to get groceries. The taxi would be used to deliver pies which Mrs. Roberts baked for the local restaurants. One was Meredith's diner (an old street car on College Ave on the area where the CEC parking lot is located now, 2000). Mrs. Roberts regularly walked to campus (Airport Road, then down Southgate and across campus, often down Draper St.) (It was 1.7 miles from the Main and College stop-light to her home.) She was telephone operator for the university for the 3 to 11 shift. She also had the 1 to 9 shift.The phone operator sat high in the Burruss Hall tower. Waking home, even late at night, was never a concern. She was never afraid. On some evening the police, if in the area, would give her a lift home. Mr. Sanderson, "a nice man", the dry cleaner (a building across from University Bookstore on Main Street) would also give her a lift home.
The train (its terminal now where the Town Hall is located) could be seen from Airport Acres. It ran on the right of way now the hiking/biking trail.
Margaret Beeks school was not there. The area was only a field. The Porters lived at the corner across from the school. Ms. Beeks was the principal and would come out of the school (the so-called "Media Building" on campus) and ring her bell to call the children in from playing. Steven Everette started primary school in the Media building. David Everette was the first of the four Everette children to go all years of school at Beeks school.
There were no dog ordinances and dogs ran loose. There were no recollections of crime, no large fires, no particularly memorable summers with bad insect outbreaks. The streets were all gravel but there was little traffic, thus little dust. All houses had septic tanks and fields. Eventually when the city sewage system came in it was rumored that some were not "hooked up".
Some houses have a door configuration such that you cannot get a piano into the house. One person moved to the area with one, left it on the porch for months, then sold it. One person took out the front window (the large one typical on the houses) and put a baby grand in through the window.
Mrs. Price "who lived 2-doors away "played the piano and sang. The children made great sport of mocking the way she sang.
Basketball games were played in the armory (across from Mish-Mish). The big bands would come for the cadet major dances and Mrs. Roberts and her husband would go and sit outside the SAB (student activity building , Squires Hall) on the lawn and eat ice cream and listen to the music. There was baseball at the high school (the CEC parking lot now). There was a Town baseball team. Her husband was a manager. The team played at the Salem stadium and the VPI stadium.
There seemed to be more snow then. Snow would stay on all winter it seemed. In 1960 during Lent it snowed every Wednesday night. It totaled 60 or more inches that year. Snow was 2 times the height of the cars. It seemed that every year when the cadets would go by train to the VMI-VPI football game it would be the signal to the weather start snowing for the winter. The Roberts would watch them march to the train in the snow.
She recalled walking to campus when the ground was icy. She was coming down a set of stairs on campus and a senior cadet in his great cape fell and the cape spread out beautifully. She laughed too soon for, at the top of the stairs, she too fell - twice.
Kids played below the open field now known as "Sandy's". The field was bare soil of clay and sand. Children played on what they called the "sandy airfield" the unoccupied area at the end of Porter and Fairview.
The employment of the people was: military, lumber and construction, etc.
On Airport Road there were no houses, only one up to the Gate's house, a 2-story brick house on Airport Road. The road was in use straight across the airport. The area was seldom in use and there was no need for security. The road was the original and only main road to Christiansburg from Blacksburg. Occasionally there would be offers of Sunday flights for $5.
There was a small store at the sharp corner of Airport Road at the airport. It was a grocery and convenience store only, not a bar.
They had no recollection of garbage disposal services. There were then, as now, no sidewalks. There was only a path from campus to Airport Acres neighborhood. There were apple trees at the end of Fairview. Al, Betty's half-brother, was badly cut in a fall from one of the trees. Mrs.Roberts remembers having the flu so badly that she could not keep the coal furnace going. The houses had a furnace and a stove used for heating water. The children got in bed with her to keep her warm.
They went to the opening day at Legget store in the mall (now closed, torn down, and rebuilt as Krogers).
The Hubbards lived where Don Garst now lives off Airport Road.
They remembered Mr. Price who lived on Turner St. who had a large push cart with 2 very large wheels, from which he sold vegetables from his gardens. There were no horses or horse wagons. One field had horses.
There is an extension of Fairview St across Airport road. It is marked by 2 small gateposts. The road is almost completely overgrown. The Walkers lived down that road.
The Corner Drug Store building, (Main and College Ave, now a record store) was the Plank and Whitsett building.
In the old days, women were all at home. In the mornings they would often visit, drink coffee. It was a very different time. Later some went to school, then to work. Major changes seemed to occur about 1973. Betty Jo stayed at home with tending the children and house for 16 years. Now there is little socialization in the neighborhood. Everyone works, etc. The past was a much simpler time - no clubs, organizations, circles, etc. The stereopticon was a favorite way "to see the world". Now everyone has cars; everything is different. People "want it all", immediately.
Robert H. Giles, Jr., December 14, 2000
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Last revision: December 14, 2000.