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The city grew frequently through annexation through the middle of the twentieth century. The state legislature has since prohibited cities from annexing land from adjacent counties.
Roanoke's location in the Blue Ridge Mountains, in the middle of the Roanoke Valley between Maryland and Tennessee, made it the transportation hub of western Virginia and contributed to its rapid growth.
The Virginian Railway (VGN), an engineering marvel of its day, was conceived and built by William Nelson Page and Henry Huttleston Rogers.
Following the Roanoke River, the VGN was built through the City of Roanoke early in the twentieth century. The opening of the coalfields made N&W prosperous and Pocahontas bituminous coal world-famous.
The Roanoke Gap proved a useful route for immigrants to settle the Carolina Piedmont region.
About 1960, N&W was the last major railroad in the United States to convert from steam to diesel power.
The presence of the railroad also made Roanoke attractive to manufacturers.
Although the grateful citizens offered to rename their town "Kimball", at his suggestion, they agreed to name it Roanoke after the river.
As the N&W brought people and jobs, the Town of Roanoke quickly became an independent city in 1884.