Book Details the History of Old Southwest in Words and Pictures

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Joel Richert on the porch of her Old Southwest home.

Joel Richert on the porch of her Old Southwest home.
Joel Richert on the porch of her Old Southwest home.

Joel Richert’s book, “In Retrospect,” is a rare compilation of Old Southwest history, featuring vintage pictures of one of Roanoke’s oldest neighborhoods.

“There are over 200 pictures,” said Richert, who has lived in Old Southwest since 1971with her husband Bob. The Richerts own several rental properties in the neighborhood, and their own home dates back some100 years.

Richert worked with the Roanoke Valley Historical Society for five years, and that’s where the idea for the book took hold.

“I became interested in how history affects today’s living … and how people can have pride in where the live,” said Richert, a Midwestern native and one-time substitute teacher.

The Richerts have also been involved with the local civic league. Joel Richert is the current historian, and Bob is a past president. She also serves on the Roanoke City Board of Zoning Appeals.

Sarah Cannady lived at 626 Walnut in the 1920’s.
Sarah Cannady lived at 626 Walnut in the 1920’s.

“Down and out, socially unacceptable behavior,” in Old Southwest has given way to a rebirth said Richert. Earlier residents of that area looking to “move up,” often migrated to newer South Roanoke. Help from local journalists and encouragement from others kept Richert moving ahead on the project. “It all kind of came together [as] ‘hey, we’ve got something special over here’.”

“This was ‘The Neighborhood’ [at one time]. There is so much history over here,” said Richert, who begins her Old Southwest story line in 1750, during the time of King George. Many of the photographs feature unpaved streets and elaborate Victorian homes that no longer exist, while many others still do.

1201 Jefferson Street in the early 1900’s.
1201 Jefferson Street in the early 1900’s.

“I’m not trying to make a social statement… I was trying to get more people visually interested in what we have here.” At one point, Roanoke City was going to zone Old Southwest commercial and “destroy” the neighborhood,” said Richert, an Allison Street resident who recalls abandoned homes being sold by the city for $1,800 in the 1970’s.

Richert and others petitioned city council to make Old Southwest a historic neighborhood.

“We laid the groundwork,” She said.

The large, old homes in the downtown neighborhood near Highland Park certainly have a historic air, although many need sprucing up, and some have been sectioned off in to apartments. “In Retrospect” details much of that area’s legacy in words and pictures.

Contact Old Southwest at 343-8794, or [email protected], for more details on the book “In Retrospect.”