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'Roanoke is not dead'

Editor's note: This is the last of four parts on the history of the Stonewall Jackson Lake project and its environmental, economic and emotional legacy.

by Jennifer Biller

STAFF WRITER

Adorning the wall of the administration building at Stonewall Jackson Lake State Park are the memory quilts.

They pay tribute to the community history of Roanoke, the town that virtually disappeared underneath the water.

Pictures of families, churches, stores, schools, the old post office and former residents' homesteads decorate the white quilt squares, stitched together as one against a green background -- much like the close-knit community where they once lived.

The remains of the small town are mostly underwater now at the Stonewall Jackson Lake, but for the citizens who lived there, Roanoke lives on.

"Roanoke is not dead," said Emma Riffle Snider, a former resident. "It never will be for the people."

Snider moved back near the Weston area in the early '90s and was curious to see what happened to her friends and neighbors who lost their homes to the lake project. She organized a Roanoke reunion in 1993 for current and former residents and their families.

"I wondered how many people were still around who used to live in the village," she said. "This was a way to get everyone back together."

The reunion was a success and has since become an annual event every May at the multi-purpose building at the park.

"There are people who met there who hadn't seen each other in 50 years," she said. "It's a sad situation and the first time coming back, it is hard.

"But many feel better since they come and visit with their friends and relatives," she said. "It has helped heal the feelings a lot."

The gathering draws about 300 people each year, with some traveling from as far away as Florida, Snider said. The Roanoke Reunion Committee was created in 1993 and the group elected officers to continue to preserve Roanoke's history.

The memory quilt was one way of doing just that.

The group began compiling pictures and a history of the town and came up with the concept of making a quilt. Visitors at the reunion were asked to contribute a quilt square depicting a piece of family or community history.

The response was overwhelming.

"We thought we'd get enough for one quilt, but we ended up with enough for three," Snider said.

Three quilts with 36 squares each now hang on the wall. The individual squares are numbered and those numbers coordinate to a detailed explanation of each square documented in accompanying books at the display.

A large, framed picture of an aerial view of the community hangs in the center of the exhibit.

The quilts and photo were a good beginning, but the reunion group hopes to do more, Snider said. They want to make a replica of the town as it used to look, which would be housed in the Visitors Center building currently under construction, Snider said. For those who lived in Roanoke, it would be a way to keep the history alive, she said.

"When people go up to the park they can't remember how it used to look," she said. "It would be a great advantage for the park to have it and the people of Roanoke to have it."

Staff writer Jennifer Biller can be reached at 626-1449 or jbiller@exponent-telegram.com.

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