Text by Sheila Nelson
Old photos donated by members of the reunion committee
Radford Arsenal, a booming World War II war effort industrial complex, rose from a stretch of rural farmland along the New River in seven short months, and the area was changed forever. Peak employment in March of 1941 was 23,150.
People flooded into the region to work. Construction began on Fairlawn village, and each of the approximately 300 homes was occupied immediately upon completion. A village school opened in September of 1942 on a small strip of land sandwiched between Route 114 and Peppers Ferry Road. It was a two-room, tar paper building with windows on one side and two out-buildings that served as toilet facilities. Often referred to as the “chicken coop,” it was heated by huge iron stoves, and the pupils carried drinking water from Pepper Grocery across the street. The two rooms housed grades 1 to 5, and by 1945, the student population had risen to 110. It became necessary to teach some students in nearby facilities until a new school (Riverlawn) was built in 1949; the name came from “River” (New River) and “lawn” (Fairlawn).
Fairlawn Baptist Church began as a mission church sponsored by First Baptist of Radford. A Tuesday night prayer service in a private home developed into a strong body of believers, and in June, 1943, Fairlawn Baptist Church became a reality. For a while this was Fairlawn’s only major church, so “it seems like everyone went there,” several long-time residents have commented.
The Fairlawn Civic League organized in August of 1948 and assumed the task of coordinating the effort to form a fire department. The Fairlawn Volunteer Fire Department began its life without the first piece of equipment to fight fire. Some old equipment in Belspring was usable, such as the pumping unit, but the truck was worthless. Pulaski County agreed to purchase a 1940 Dodge civil defense truck, which was outfitted by members of the department and other skilled residents during the winter of 1948-49.
The fire truck and equipment resided in the Fairlawn ESSO gas station at the intersection of routes 114 and 600. A siren was installed on top of the ESSO station to notify department members of calls. Although the department was officially organized on December 14, 1948, monthly meetings were held throughout the community until August 1950 when the fire house was completed. According to minutes kept by past volunteers, the first recorded fire the group fought was at Gordon Dalton Grocery on May 13, 1949, and the fire occurred during the department’s regular monthly meeting. Without playgrounds, ball fields and basketball courts, the kids of Fairlawn improvised and made their own fun, created make-do facilities and provided their own equipment. They skated on the pond, played various types of ball, and many took piano lessons from a private teacher. They all felt safe in the community. In 1950, the Riverlawn School provided a ball field, and opportunities for play eventually came in the form of Riverlawn Rams football, Church League softball, and the Fairlawn Merchants baseball team.
A variety of small businesses developed in the Fairlawn community, which has since expanded into one of the region’s fastest growing commercial areas. Many services from “back in the day” which have pretty much vanished into the annals of history are groceries on credit, free grocery gathering from lists called in, free delivery and part-time jobs for community youth.
Even after all this time, however, the 3.5 square miles of Fairlawn suffers from an identity crisis. Governmentally, it is located in Pulaski County, but is just across the Route 11 bridge from Radford. Although an independent entity, but not an official town, it shares the same zip code as the City of Radford: 24141. Since the U.S. Postal Service assigns zip codes not by government designation but by geographical location, many attempts to obtain Fairlawn’s own zip code have been denied. Residents and business people alike seem to be constantly attempting to get the word out: “It’s Fairlawn, NOT Radford!”
Unlike the locale, the kids of Fairlawn never seemed to have an identity crisis. Those who grew up there in the 1940s, ‘50s and ‘60s are having a fall reunion to celebrate and renew this sense of community.
Sheila Nelson is a Pulaski County freelance writer and frequent contributor to New River Valley Magazine.
For more information and details on the Sept. 19 Fairlawn reunion, contact Elinor Farmer, 540-239-1601 or email@example.com