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Gladetown Community celebrates with biennial reunion

VINTON–The Gladetown Community celebrated its latest Gladetown/Carline/Midway Reunion on the weekend of July 31. Their first tri-community reunion was in 1992. In the beginning they got together every year, but eventually settled on alternate summers.

The first reunion was the result of a conversation between Joe Banks, Glen Thomason, and Reverend Melvin Anderson.  In reminiscing about their years growing up in Gladetown , the men came up with plans for a celebration of community and family that would not only be fun, but would also help to preserve the history and spirit of the community for younger generations.

They recruited Arthur Preston and a committee to help with the planning. Preston remains president of the reunion committee, while Thomason serves as Vice President.

In addition to Preston, Banks, and Thomason, the committee now includes Harriet Childress, Evelyn Macauley, Sandra Wright, Frances Wright, Barbara King, Frank Miller, and Diane Childress.

Harriet Childress, their corresponding secretary, gets the ball rolling each reunion year by sending out announcements and invitations to former residents across the country in the summer before each reunion, which is traditionally scheduled for the first weekend in August.

The reunions have become a three-day event with a “Meet and Greet” on Friday night, a picnic on Saturday, and a Memorial Service on Sunday afternoon. This year over 200 attended the Saturday picnic with the crowd growing in number throughout the afternoon. Individuals and families came from as far away as New York, Ohio, Maryland, Philadelphia, Washington, D.C., and North Carolina.

Many dignitaries from the Town of Vinton and Roanoke County attended the celebration. This year Vinton Mayor Brad Grose, Roanoke County Board of Supervisors Chair Jason Peters, Councilman Doug Adams, Councilwoman Sabrina Weeks, former Councilman Bobby Altice, Vinton Police Chief Ben Cook, Town Manager Chris Lawrence, Clerk of Roanoke County Circuit Court Steve McGraw, Roanoke County Commissioner of the Revenue Nancy Horn, and state Senate candidate Mike Hamlar were on hand for the opening ceremonies at noon on Saturday. Grose said he has attended every reunion that has been held.

Vinton's Gladetown community was the site of the most recent Gladetown/Carline/Midway Reunion from July 31 to August 2, 2015. On hand to celebrate were (front row left to right) organizer Harriet Childress, former Vinton Councilman Bobby Altice, organizer Joe Banks, Louise Styles, and Diane Childress, along with (back row left to right) state Senate candidate Mike Hamlar with his son, Clerk of Roanoke County Circuit Court Steve McGraw, Board of Supervisors Chairman Jason Peters, Vinton Mayor Brad Grose, Vinton Police Chief Ben Cook, Roanoke County Commissioner of the Revenue Nancy Horn, and Earl Wilson.
Vinton’s Gladetown community was the site of the most recent Gladetown/Carline/Midway Reunion from July 31 to August 2, 2015. On hand to celebrate were (front row left to right) organizer Harriet Childress, former Vinton Councilman Bobby Altice, organizer Joe Banks, Louise Styles, and Diane Childress, along with (back row left to right) state Senate candidate Mike Hamlar with his son, Clerk of Roanoke County Circuit Court Steve McGraw, Board of Supervisors Chairman Jason Peters, Vinton Mayor Brad Grose, Vinton Police Chief Ben Cook, Roanoke County Commissioner of the Revenue Nancy Horn, and Earl Wilson.

Mayor Grose and Supervisor Peters read proclamations from the town and county recognizing the dates of July 31 through August 2, as “Gladetown/Carline/Midway Reunion Days,” and honoring the contributions of the community to the town and county.

Mayor Brad Grose and Supervisor Jason Peters delivered proclamations from the town and county recognizing the Gladetown community and reunion. Shown left to right are Grose, Peters, and Glen Thomason, vice president of the reunion committee.
Mayor Brad Grose and Supervisor Jason Peters delivered proclamations from the town and county recognizing the Gladetown community and reunion. Shown left to right are Grose, Peters, and Glen Thomason, vice president of the reunion committee.

After the potluck picnic lunch, the nine oldest individuals present were recognized and received monetary awards courtesy of donations by Mayor Grose and Chris McCarty, president of the Breakfast Lions Club.

Mary Buford Andrews, who will turn 91 on August 28, was the oldest member of the community present. Others recognized were Virgie Craighead, Louise Styles, James Hairston, Lorraine Cunningham, Joe Banks, George Hairston, William Gill, and Frank Preston.

Mrs. Mary Buford Andrews, who will will 91 at the end of August, was recognized as the oldest person in attendance at the reunion. She is shown with her daughter Rolanda Bleau.
Mrs. Mary Buford Andrews, who will will 91 at the end of August, was recognized as the oldest person in attendance at the reunion. She is shown with her daughter Rolanda Bleau.

Festivities continued throughout the day on Saturday with a bouncy house and other activities on the lawn for the children–with prizes.

There was Bingo and also a cornhole tournament with customized play boards constructed by Jacob McMillan who decorated them with the Gladetown/Carline/Midway reunion logo. Trophies and medals were awarded to the winners.

This year's Gladetown Reunion featured a cornhole tournament with play boards designed with the tri-community logo.
This year’s Gladetown Reunion featured a cornhole tournament with play boards designed with the tri-community logo.

Each year Harriet Childress and Joe Banks spend the better part of a week creating a “Memory Wall” with photographs, certificates, obituaries, copies of diplomas of recent graduates, newspaper clippings of events significant to the community, and notices of academic and sports accomplishments from the distant past to the present.

This year one section of the wall paid tribute to Banks’ wife Barbara who passed away in July, just days before the reunion.

One of the most memorable parts of each Gladetown Reunion is the "Memory Wall," arranged each time by Joe Banks and Harriet Childress. This year one section of the wall was dedicated to Joe Banks' wife Barbara who passed away in July.
One of the most memorable parts of each Gladetown Reunion is the “Memory Wall,” arranged each time by Joe Banks and Harriet Childress. This year one section of the wall was dedicated to Joe Banks’ wife Barbara who passed away in July.

The display educates the younger generation and visitors about what the community was like in the old days when there were grocery stores, restaurants, barbershops, beauty shops, and other businesses, not just homes, in the Gladetown neighborhood. It puts faces to names of distinguished citizens throughout the years.

Joe Banks has donated a scrapbook of Gladetown History documents to the Vinton History Museum, which contains clippings and programs from past reunions such as this one from 1995. That 4th reunion included the photo wall, a choir, and a speech from Delegate Dick Cranwell.
Joe Banks has donated a scrapbook of Gladetown History documents to the Vinton History Museum, which contains clippings and programs from past reunions such as this one from 1995. That 4th reunion included the photo wall, a choir, and a speech from Delegate Dick Cranwell.

Many of the families in the Gladetown community have deep roots, living here all or most of their lives, anchored by families and lifelong friendships.

According to Banks, Gladetown came into existence when a number of families moved from farms in Franklin and Bedford Counties after slavery ended.  The community is part of the old Vinyard Farm which originally occupied much of the town of Vinton.

The 1880 Vinton census of Gish’s Mill indicates that there were at least nine black residents at the time—Francis Ometzer, Mary Marshall, William Croney, Dallas Griffin and family, Laura Carr, Morris Taylor, Delia Taylor, Lewis Powell, and Alice Vineyard—although the town was not officially chartered until 1884.

Early residents came because of the job market in and around Roanoke City and often worked for the silk mill at the American Viscose plant in southeast Roanoke, Crozier Furniture, the brickyard, or the railroad.

In earlier years, there were three mainly segregated black communities in Vinton–Gladetown, Midway, and Carline. Gladetown is located in the area encompassed by Third Street, South Pollard, Franklin Avenue, and West Virginia Avenue. Franklin Avenue and Giles Avenue were not part of the Town of Vinton until they were annexed in 1963 and had been considered part of Roanoke County.

Midway and Carline were located along Walnut Avenue and near the railway tracks near downtown Vinton. Midway is now mainly a white neighborhood. Carline disappeared with renovations to Walnut Avenue over the past thirty years, but the Gladetown community is thriving.

Just this past year five new homes have been constructed on Franklin Avenue. Two years ago the Gladetown Loop Trail which is part of the Roanoke Greenway system was completed beginning and ending at the Craig Avenue Recreation Center. This spring members of the Vinton Breakfast Lions Club took on the project of restoring the historic Gladetown Cemetery which had been overtaken by undergrowth.

“This is a community—a neighborhood family,” organizer Melvin Anderson said at their first reunion in 1992.

The next reunion is scheduled for August 2017.

Roanoke Valley Television documented this 2015 Gladetown Reunion with a program to be available this week on the Roanoke Valley Television and InVinton Facebook pages.

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