Radford, which encompasses the eighteenth-century Wilderness Road settlements of Ingles Ferry and Lovely Mount, is named for Dr. John Blair Radford, one of the community's prominent mid-nineteenth-century residents. The New River, which makes a horseshoe bend along Radford's western boundary, was a catalyst in the city's development. In the mid-nineteenth century the Virginia and Tennessee Railroad established its Central Depot here, marking the point where the rail line crossed the New River. Boom times came in the 1880s after the Norfolk and Western Railroad completed a spur from its main line from Central Depot to the coalfields of Virginia and West Virginia. Local boosters pushed for the town's incorporation in 1885, and by the early 1890s Radford boasted two railroad passenger stations, bustling commercial activity, dozens of new industries, and thousands of residents.
A large number of the city's new buildings were designed by Philadelphia-based architects acquainted with the railroad's managers, including Robert G. Kennedy, T. Roney Williamson, and Cope and Stewardson, who designed the Colonial Revival Radford Inn, which was destroyed by fire before 1900. In the first decade of the twentieth century the city successfully lobbied the General Assembly to locate a teachers' college at Radford. Now Radford University (MO26), it is one of the city's principal employers. The Radford and New River arsenals, established in 1940 as powder plants for the army, brought thousands of construction workers and plant employees to the region during World War II, which for a time overwhelmed the city's limited housing stock. Despite the population pressures it has faced over the years, Radford recognizes the value of its historic downtown and participates in the Virginia Main Street Program.
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