Illustrious Roanokers: Junius Fishburn(e)
While passing the imposing First National Exchange Bank building in downtown Roanoke, I made a mental connection to another one of Roanoke’s past greats:
Mr. Junius B. Fishburn(e) (1865 – 1955)
Though perhaps not iconic, Junius had a quite significant impact on the development of Roanoke – and of Virginia. Businessman extraordinaire, philanthropist, entrepreneur, and pillar of the community, Junius’s story is one of a determined young man who pulled himself up by his bootstraps.
Born in Franklin County, young Junius moved with his family out of the state for much of his young life, returning at the age of fifteen to further his education. A few years later, Junius (now in his early twenties) got involved with his uncle’s business venture – the brand-new National Exchange Bank of Roanoke. From salesman and cashier, Junius worked his way up to become the bank’s president in only a few short years. He would also go on to serve in leadership positions on several important state banking associations.
Somewhere around this time, Junius also made the momentous decision to drop the trailing ‘e’ from his last name – which, unfortunately, did not completely remove its connotation with overcooked seafood.
Junius was a man of action and energy, and a true entrepreneur. While serving as president of his bank, he was simultaneously embarking on many other business ventures. Primary among them: founder, vice president, and treasurer of a media conglomerate which owned (among other establishments) the Roanoke Times and the WDBJ radio station. As if this weren’t enough, Junius invested in, led, or directed dozens of other Roanoke based businesses, including iron, coal, electric, and manufacturing firms. He was one of the primary investors in the Mill Mountain Incline, which ran (with limited success) until 1929.
Junius’s love for his hometown was evident in his business decisions. From backing local businesses, to promoting tourism, to his legendary philanthropy, Junius poured his ample energy and money into Roanoke’s growth and enrichment – with much success. He served on the board of the Roanoke Public Library and donated thousands of books; he gave hundreds of acres of land to the City of Roanoke for the construction of public parks, and another 2,500 acres to Virginia Tech; he bequeathed his residence (the mansion that is now Mountain View Recreation Center, just down the road from Black Dog Salvage) to the City. And in perhaps his most impactful act of philanthropy, Junius donated 5,000 more acres of land (what a real estate investor he must have been!) to the state of Virginia for the formation of Fairy Stone State Park, a state treasure in Patrick County.
Junius’s remains rest in the Evergreen Burial Park near Grandin Village. Though in my mind he remains faceless (there are no publicly available portraits of him), I can imagine him bustling into the massive bank building on Jefferson Street, planning his next venture to promote the young city of Roanoke.