Title page for ETD etd-1113103-100724

Type of Document Dissertation
Author Dotson, Jr., Paul R.
Author's Email Address pdotso1@lsu.edu
URN etd-1113103-100724
Title "Magic City" Class, Community, and Reform in Roanoke, Virginia, 1882-1912
Degree Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)
Department History
Advisory Committee
Advisor Name Title
Gaines Foster Committee Chair
Charles Royster Committee Member
Charles Shindo Committee Member
John Rodrigue Committee Member
Mark Zucker Dean's Representative
  • norfolk & western railroad
  • new south
  • progressive reform
  • boosterism
  • lynching
  • boomtown
  • civic betterment
Date of Defense 2003-11-03
Availability unrestricted
The "Magic City" of Roanoke, Virginia, the fastest growing urban area in the South from 1880 to 1890, exemplified everything that New South boosters claimed to have wanted. The prototypical New South city, Roanoke emerged as an extreme version of all that was supposed to remedy the South's post-Civil War economic stagnation. The city's promise, however, revealed the empty promise of the New South. Despite intensive demographic and industrial growth, by the early twentieth century, Roanoke failed to evolve into the dynamic and modern city prophesied by New South visionaries. Its abysmal conditions, racial turmoil, class conflicts, and superficial "reforms" made it much more village than city, far more dystopia than utopia. "Magic City" examines that history from 1882 to 1912 using the lenses of class, community, and reform as points of departure. It analyzes Roanoke's rapid growth in the 1880s and traces the consequences of that intensive development through 1912, the year local "reform" reached its climax.

Roanoke's emergence in 1882 as the headquarters for two northern-owned railroads was largely the result of native businessmen who adhered blindly to the New South creed. They cultivated a business-friendly ethos that put economic development ahead of all other causes, envisioned industrial expansion as a panacea for social ills and infrastructure troubles, and channeled municipal capital into investment schemes instead of solutions to the rapidly growing city's numerous other needs. The consequences were widespread societal and institutional malfunctioning that climaxed in a cataclysmic lynch riot. When that revolt and the city's decrepit appearance threatened to stall additional development, local elites "reformed" Roanoke in ways that made investors less anxious. Those modifications, however, were largely superficial and failed to resolve the municipality's systematic and deeply embedded problems. Roanoke's early history is primarily the story of sorting out the myriad tensions and ambiguities inherent in attempting to create a modern industrialized city on the one hand, and fomenting municipal and civic order on the other. Examining that story hopefully offers a more complete understanding of how urban development in the New South actually operated.

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