Roanoke is an independent city in the Mid-Atlantic U.S. state of Virginia and is the tenth-largest city in the Commonwealth. It is located in the Roanoke Valley of the Roanoke Region of Virginia. The population within the city limits was 97,032 as of 2010. It is the largest municipality in Southwest Virginia, and is the principal municipality of the Roanoke Metropolitan Statistical Area (MSA). In 2009 the Roanoke MSA had an estimated population of 303,418 residents and is composed of the independent cities of Roanoke and Salem and the counties of Botetourt, Craig, Franklin and Roanoke. Bisected by the Roanoke River, Roanoke is the commercial and cultural hub of much of the surrounding area of Virginia and southern West Virginia.
The town first called Big Lick was established in 1852 and chartered in 1874. It was named for a large outcropping of salt which drew the wildlife to the site near the Roanoke River. In 1882 it became the town of Roanoke, and in 1884 it was chartered as the independent city of Roanoke. The name Roanoke is said to have originated from an Algonquian word for shell "money". This was also the name of the river that bisected it (probably where shells had come from) and the county. The city grew frequently through annexation through the middle of the twentieth century. The last annexation was in 1976. 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.
During colonial times the site of Roanoke was an important hub of trails and roads. The Great Wagon Road, one of the most heavily travelled roads of eighteenth century America, ran from Philadelphia through the Shenandoah Valley to the future site of the City of Roanoke, where the Roanoke River passed through the Blue Ridge. The Roanoke Gap proved a useful route for immigrants to settle the Carolina Piedmont region. At Roanoke Gap, another branch of the Great Wagon Road, the Wilderness Road, continued southwest to Tennessee.