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Hokie Stone to Modern Craftsman - Architectural Styles of the NRV


Any discussion of architecture in the NRV would be remiss to not start with the iconic Hokie Stone. When Virginia Tech buildings were first constructed, they were built in brick with Victorian architectural details. Unfortunately, this look reminded people of sweatshops and the school administration looked for a cost effective way to create buildings that would harken back to Oxford and Cambridge’s “collegiate gothic” architectural style. A limestone quarry was set up on the outskirts of Blacksburg and “Hokie Stone” was born. The iconic limestone facade on most of the buildings of Virginia Tech was first added to the campus during John McBryde’s tenure as president, from 1891 to 1907, and now it gives the campus its iconic look and good luck to the football team as they touch it to enter Lane Stadium.

The VT Quarry no longer sells commercially and the term “Hokie Stone” is trademarked. However, if you’d like to add some Hokie Stone to your home or landscaping, you can ask local quarries for “Appalachian Dolomitic Limestone” or visit the Dutch Quality Stone company for a cast version called “Blacksburg Blend”.

In the 1940s and 50s, a local artisan took to hand crafting Hokie Stone Veneers to mimic Hokie Stone at a fraction of the cost. The homes were faced in a steel mesh and a thick stucco-cement mixture was added to it while the artisan hand shaped the "stones" to replicate the hand carved facing of the stone and then painted them in Hokie Stone colors. While the end effect won’t be confused with a Hokie Stone building, you can see his handiwork throughout the NRV on commercial and residential buildings to this day.

Common in Blacksburg among the merchant class in the early 1900s, the best example of the Victorian home architecture is the historic Alexander Black House.

The original home was built in 1897, but after it burnt down it was rebuilt in the Queen Anne style with the iconic turret. In 2002 the home was moved to accommodate the Kent Square commercial development, but the features of the architectural style were preserved.

Bringing an end to the over-embellished Victorian architecture was the rise of everything being mass produced in the US, including homes. Sears and Roebuck catalog was the Amazon of the time. For the first time Americans could order whatever they wanted from the catalog and the train would drop it off downtown on the platform. That included houses. While few actual Sears houses still stand, the idea of cheap, mass produced houses was a fast way to provide homes for people returning from war and ready to settle down. Homes were built in rows and all matched one another, and the result can still be seen in sections of Radford City that housed workers at the Army Arsenal in the 1940s.

But that didn’t last long because people wanted something with more character and the American Craftsman tradition was born and made its way quickly to the NRV. As the over-embellished look of the Victorian architecture became less fashionable, the Arts and Crafts movement began to take hold throughout the area. In response to the ubiquitous Sears and Roebuck catalog (which was the Amazon of the day, you could order anything mass produced, but of low quality) shopping local for quality products became vogue and that extended from interior decor to home design.

Modern home builds in the NRV tend towards Craftsman architecture. It combines wood or wood-look siding and stone or brick, and favors exposed rafters or simple decorative brackets under the eaves. The developments of Progress Street and The Retreat at Blacksburg are good examples of the modern craftsman style and colors favored in this area.