Established in 1917, the American Viscose Company plant in Roanoke expanded rapidly during the first half of the 20th century in response to the growing use of rayon, known as “artificial silk,” by manufacturers producing hosiery, clothing, upholstery, draperies, carpets, and tires, among other items. Located on 212 acres along the Roanoke River, American Viscose initially employed more than 1,000 workers, many of them young, single women from surrounding rural counties. In 1919 the plant doubled in size, and by 1921-1923, it opened a second processing facility and employed 3,800 workers (58% women), producing 12 to 13 million pounds of rayon—35 percent of total U.S. production. By 1928, with a third facility opened, the plant employed 5,500 workers, becoming reportedly the world’s largest rayon manufacturing complex. With on-site amenities such as dining halls, a gymnasium, a dispensary, and a dormitory for single women, American Viscose’s Roanoke operations thrived through the World War II era when the company produced military supplies, with Roanoke’s plant making fabric for parachutes, paratrooper suits, and machinery. After the war, competition from more efficient, modernized plants elsewhere and alternative materials, such as nylon, resulted in American Viscose closing its Roanoke operations by 1958. In 1961, the Industrial Development and Investment Company purchased the property and continues to operate it as an industrial park. The historic district comprises a well-preserved collection of 18 contributing industrial buildings, including the three sprawling processing facilities, which represent functional designs and construction techniques for rayon manufacture in a large industrial plant during the historic period. Beyond the district, the plant had a significant and lasting impact in the development of surrounding neighborhoods and the general prosperity of Roanoke.
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VLR: Virginia Landmarks Register
NPS: National Park Service
NRHP: National Register of Historic Places
NHL: National Historic Landmark