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Roanoke, also known as Big Lick or Star City of the South, shares the same name as the island off North Carolina that was the site of the first English settlement in 1584, but otherwise has little to do with Sir Walter Raleigh’s ill-fated colony, as Roanoke is located deep in the interior of southern Virginia and was not chartered until 1874, though settlers had been in the region since the 1740s. At the time of the charter, the city’s name was officially Big Lick. It was renamed a decade later after the nearby river and became the independent city of Roanoke.
The city’s early growth occurred primarily due to the Virginia and Tennessee Railroad, which built a station at the site of the modern city in the 1850s. In the 1880s, the Norfolk and Western Railway also constructed a line that ran through Roanoke from Maryland in order to reach the Shenandoah Valley, which spurred the city’s development so quickly that it gained another nickname, “Magic City.” The Norfolk and Western Railway became the major shipper of western Virginia coal after the development of the coal fields in the Blue Ridge area during the mid-20th century, and remains a major employer and business power in Roanoke today.