The first settlements in the region began in the early 1700s with German and Scots-Irish immigration from Pennsylvania. Significant land development and population growth began in the early 1800s with the establishment of mills and farms. The Roanoke Valley region attracted farmers that developed diverse agricultural cash crops such as hemp, wheat, corn, and other grains. Livestock was also important. Commercial growth however, was slow because of a lack of navigable waterways and major streets. But by the 1840s turnpike roads began being constructed and Roanoke County had been formed from Botetourt County in 1838. In 1852, the extension of the Virginia and Tennessee Railroad into Big Lick solidified the region’s growing economy.
This important transition time in the history of Roanoke is best represented by the local farmer and builder Benjamin Deyerle (1806-1883). Deyerle, the grandson of German immigrant Peter Deyerle, was a large-scale farmer with tracts of land in Roanoke County (specifically the Greater Deyerle neighborhood) and Franklin County where he raised wheat, corn, tobacco, and cattle.
He also operated a prosperous mill, a general store, and a large whiskey distillery. Mostly known as a builder, Deyerle himself was credited with constructing some of the finest homes in the Roanoke Valley. Two of these significant properties are listed on the National Register of Historic Places and are located in the Greater Deyerle neighborhood: Lone Oaks, which was his home, and the plantation home Belle Aire. However, recent documentation by local architectural historian Michael J. Pulice, confirms that Benjamin actually worked closely with his half-brother Joseph Deyerle on many of the buildings and used their large workforce of adult and adolescent male slaves.
Benjamin and Joseph relied heavily on Charles Lewis, a skilled bricklayer, whom they had bought in Richmond, VA. In a later letter, Charles’s son Peyton M. Lewis (also a former Deyerle slave) described his father as “a great distiller of whiskey and a great brick molder and layer who laid the bricks in the houses of Benjamin Deyerle…and many others in Roanoke….” Pulice also noted that Benjamin was described as “literate, well-mannered, honest, and punctual.”
The building career of Benjamin Deyerle spanned from 1845 until 1866, and like many of the more prominent dwellings built in the valley at the time, they were constructed in the Greek Revival style. They were of brick, with two-stories and low-pitched hip roofs, and accented with decorative treatments derived from Boston architect Asher Benjamin’s popular pattern books.
Lone Oaks (also known as Winsmere), a spacious plantation house built along Mud Lick Creek (Grandin Road), is one of the best examples of the Greek Revival style found in Roanoke. Built in 1850 on a tract known as Mud Lick, which included Deyerle’s mill, Lone Oaks replaced Deyerle’s former log house. Four brick outbuildings were built on the site at the same time and included two-story quarters with kitchen, a storehouse, a kiln, and a springhouse located over the creek.
Belle Aire, the other Deyerle house in the neighborhood listed on the National Register, was erected in 1849 for Madison Pitzer (1799-1861) and his wife Margaret. Belle Aire, located on what is now Belle Aire Circle, was constructed on a knoll overlooking Pitzer’s 1,600-acre tract that spanned to the south bank of the Roanoke River. Pitzer prospered with wheat and tobacco production but further capitalized when the James River & Kanawha Canal opened to Buchanan in 1851 and with the building of the Virginia Railroad in 1852. These new transportation routes provided easier access for his crops into a broader European market. The imposing Greek Revival manor house reflected his wealth, and its classical detailing denotes the heavy influence of Asher Benjamin and his popular pattern book, The Practical House Carpenter (1830). These details were used by Gustavus Sedon (1820-1893), a talented local carpenter, who worked for Benjamin and Joseph, and who played a major role in Belle Aire’s design.
Sedon, a German immigrant, settled in Roanoke County by 1850, and married Catherine Statler in 1851. In 1852, he built his own two-story brick home, Boxwood Summit, on what is now Bruceton Road. The house was built in the Greek Revival style using his hand-carved mantels and handmade furniture, and remains in good condition today. His woodworking skills are evident on some of the fi nest buildings in the Valley, including some at Hollins College. Like many men of the time, Seldon also dealt in groceries and farm produce.
During the 19th Century, Roanoke County remained agrarian, while Salem and Big Lick diversified with a base of goods and services. Although the building of the Shenandoah Railroad in 1881 increased the economic base of the valley, the most important economic activity at the turn of the 20th Century was still agriculture. Significant additional development did not occur until the early 1900s when automobile ownership made the area more accessible, at which time the number of operating farms also began to decline. In Roanoke County, many men quit full-time farming to take jobs in industry.
Remnants of several large farms remain in the neighborhood from between the 1880s and World War II, as well as some good examples of architecture. Some architectural examples include an elaborate Queen Anne farmhouse, a large brick American Foursquare, and a unique Colonial Revival style dwelling with Craftsman influence. The neighborhood also includes an atypical, circa 1930s, vertically constructed log cottage.
Following World War II, a real building boom began. Most of the houses in the neighborhood were built in post World War II subdivisions. Following this growth, the City of Roanoke annexed the Greater Deyerle Neighborhood in 1976 after requests from the neighborhood for City sewer and water service.
Concerning other significant historic properties, Greater Deyerle contains two identified archaeological sites. Site 44RN28, adjacent to Mud Lick Creek is a significant site because of its length of occupation, from prehistoric times to the early 18th Century. Site 44RN29 is located adjacent to Grandin Road and was occupied between 1500 B.C. and 1600 B.C. This site has been partially destroyed and both sites warrant further investigation. Additionally, while some individual houses appear eligible for listing on the National Register, there are no potential historic districts within the Greater Deyerle neighborhood.