Roanoke Star

Roanoke Star
Roanoke Star seen at early evening
Roanoke Star is located in Virginia
Location: Mill Mountain, Roanoke, Virginia
Coordinates: 37°15′3″N 79°55′58″W / 37.25083°N 79.93278°W / 37.25083; -79.93278Coordinates: 37°15′3″N 79°55′58″W / 37.25083°N 79.93278°W / 37.25083; -79.93278
Area: 0.5 acres (0.20 ha)
Built: 1949
Architect: Roy C. Kinsey; Roanoke Iron and Bridge Works
Governing body: Local
NRHP Reference#: 99001375[1]
Added to NRHP: November 15, 1999

The Roanoke Star, also known as the Mill Mountain Star, is the world's largest freestanding illuminated man-made star, constructed in 1949 at the top of Mill Mountain in Roanoke, Virginia. It was the largest star ever assembled until the El Paso Star was completed in El Paso, Texas.[2] However, the Mill Mountain Star still holds the claim to world's largest illuminated man-made free-standing star, as the El Paso Star lies flat on the ground. After construction of the star, Roanoke was nicknamed "Star City of the South". It's visible for 60 miles from the air and it sits 1,045 feet above the city of Roanoke.



In 1949, the Roanoke Merchants Association decided to kick off that year's Christmas shopping season by having a neon star built on top of Mill Mountain. Although the structure was always intended to be a permanent addition, the merchants at first weren't sure if the star should be lit year round. When the star immediately became very popular, the Chamber of Commerce and the Merchants Association decided to keep it lit all year. The Merchants Association is credited with the construction of the star, but no single person claimed credit.

Initially, the star was illuminated in all-white. Later, the star's color would change from white to red to indicate a traffic fatality[3] on that day. As part of the bicentennial celebration in 1976, the design was changed to an outer single star of red encompassing inner double-stars of white and blue.[3] Generally all the colors have been lit at once, but occasionally the colors have been lit in a repeating sequence: each color shows exclusively for a second or two, or in succession. To commemorate a tragic event, the red outer star has been used alone, in a manner akin to a lowered flag. Such commemorations have been made for national and local events. After the September 11, 2001 attacks, the star was kept in a red, white, and blue configuration for nearly six years, until April 2007.

On August 12, 2006, the star was turned off for eight days for the city to perform significant electrical upgrades. Outdated junction boxes, transformers, wiring, and conduits were replaced.[4] Many of these devices are from the star's original 1949 construction. The upgrades cost $100,000. The work is expected to save the city more money in the long run due to a reduced need for maintenance.[5]

The Roanoke Star on its first night lit in white following the Virginia Tech massacre. Note several sections out.

On April 17, 2007, the star had to be turned off because one of the power lines had been heavily damaged by a tree.[6] When the star was relit on April 22, 2007, officials changed the color configuration to all-white "as a symbol of hope" after the Virginia Tech massacre.[7]

Red, white and blue colors were restored May 24, 2007 [8] and remained that way until returning to all white on September 12, 2011.[9]


The Mill Mountain Star is 88.5 feet tall with 2,000 feet of neon tubing. It requires 17,500 watts of power to illuminate the neon tubes, so it puts out a pleasant little hum. Roy C. Kinsey of Kinsey Sign Company built the neon tubes with his three sons Roy Jr., Bob, and Warren. It was assembled near a local airplane hangar to study how it looked. Then it was driven to the top of the mountain and placed onto a steel structure. Robert L. Little was the Structural Engineer for Roanoke Iron & Bridge Works at the time and helped on the project as well.

Certain sections of the original red neon tubing still exist, while all of the white and blue sections have been replaced. Most maintenance on the star today involves the replacement of transformers and the repairing of circuit breakers.

The star was "lit" by Mayor A.R. Minton on November 23, 1949. Minton threw a "ceremonial" dummy switch, and Bob Kinsey flipped the actual switch behind the circuit breaker.

Overlook and zoo

View from the overlook in front of the Mill Mountain Star.

Directly in front of the star is an overlook that features dramatic views of the Roanoke Valley and, particularly, downtown Roanoke. The overlook is a well known place to photograph Roanoke. It is also a site where area residents take visiting friends and relatives.

A small zoo was built near the star on the summit of Mill Mountain. Mill Mountain Zoo was originally designated as strictly a children's zoo, but the number of exhibits and variety of animals has expanded. The star, overlook, and zoo are accessible both from Roanoke and from a spur of the Blue Ridge Parkway at Roanoke Mountain.

From 1910 to 1929, an inclined railway ran from near the current location of Carilion Roanoke Memorial Hospital to the mountain's summit. The path of the incline is still visible today. The primary destination was an inn. A group dedicated to making Roanoke an attractive community for 40 year olds has proposed rebuilding the inn.[10] David Bowers, now mayor, stated opposition to the park building proposal in his campaign,[11] as did the Roanoke chapter of the Sierra Club[12] and the Roanoke Valley Preservation Foundation.[13]

The star and the park around it are popular picnic spots by day. They are also popular hangouts at night. City police regularly patrol the area to discourage underage drinking and enforce Roanoke's curfew for minors.

Mill Mountain's summit is 1,740 feet above sea level.

Area businesses

A star is seen in local television station WDBJ's logo, symbolizing the Mill Mountain Star.

From 1964 until it was destroyed by fire in 1976, the former inn served as the first home for the Mill Mountain Playhouse. After the fire, the Mill Mountain Playhouse moved several miles northwest to the recently renovated classic movie theater, the Grandin Theatre in the Raleigh Court neighborhood of Roanoke. In 1983, the Mill Mountain Playhouse became the Mill Mountain Theatre and moved to the new Center in the Square facility on Market Square in downtown Roanoke. The modern facility in the Center in the Square has enabled the Mill Mountain Theatre to become a regional theatre for Roanoke.[14]

Many Roanoke area businesses and organizations have "Star City" in their names or use the star in their logos. A few are named after Mill Mountain. One prominent example is Mill Mountain Coffee and Tea, a small local chain of coffeehouses.


  1. ^ "National Register Information System". National Register of Historic Places. National Park Service. 2009-03-13. 
  2. ^ "The 411 - Fascinating Facts" (in English). GuestLife. Retrieved 2007-05-07. 
  3. ^ a b "The Mill Mountain Star" (in English). Roadside America. Retrieved 2009-02-18. 
  4. ^ Bruce, Becky (August 10, 2006). "Roanoke star going dark for repairs" (in English). WAVY-TV. Retrieved 2006-08-20. 
  5. ^ Leamon, Scott (August 9, 2006). "Roanoke star set to go dark" (in English). WSLS-TV.!news!localnews. Retrieved 2006-08-20. 
  6. ^ "Roanoke Star Will Not Light Tonight" (in English) (Press release). City of Roanoke, Virginia. April 17, 2007. Retrieved 2007-04-26. 
  7. ^ Mill Mountain Star lit for VT students -
  8. ^ "City to Restore Roanoke Star to Red, White, and Blue" (in English) (Press release). City of Roanoke, Virginia. May 15, 2007. 
  9. ^ "Star turn: Roanoke’s Mill Mountain Star returns to all-white lights on Sunday". 
  10. ^ "Valley Forward Inn proposal" (in English). Archived from the original on 2007-09-28. Retrieved 2007-06-17. 
  11. ^ Mill Mountain's future creates impasse for council candidates -
  12. ^ Roanoke Sierra Club - Home
  13. ^ Save Mill Mountain
  14. ^ "Mill Mountain Theatre History" (in English). Retrieved 2007-04-26. 

External links

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