Roanoke, VA

Christmas Fantasyland in Downtown Roanoke is different than it was in the 1980s

Cheryl E Preston

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Christmas fantasy figuresPhoto byPinterest screenshot

Fantasyland is no longer the same

You can visit Fantasyland in Roanoke this year for one-day only on December 17 at the History Museum of Western Virginia located at 101 Shenendoah Ave Downtown. The cost is $3.00 for Ages 0-3, $6.00 for Ages 4-13, and $8.00 for Ages 14 and up for timeslots of 11:00 am, 12:00 pm, 1:00 pm, and 2:00 pm. Santa will be on hand to sing songs and teach lessons to the children. This one-day event is nothing like what used to take place in the Star City.

Fantasyland is said to have begun in the 1970s when local businesses donated their retired Christmas figures to Downtown Roanoke, Inc., and later to the Roanoke Valley History Museum (now the History Museum of Western Virginia). The purpose was "to preserve their magic for future generations." What has happened instead is that the joy and beauty of Christmas past have been dissolved but many locals remember something entirely different.

The wonder of Fantasyland

I was first made aware of Fantasyland during the holiday season of 1982 when my firstborn was 15 months old. At that time it was located on one of the upper floors of the old Heironimous Department Store located on the corner of Jefferson Street and Church Ave. Downtown. Carefully placed figurines, cotton, and tin foil gave the atmosphere of being in a real winter wonderland. As soon as you stepped off the elevator you saw lifelike figurines of Santa and Elves bobbing up and down and children ice-skating in the snow. Every corner of this beautiful world captured the attention of wide-eyed children and there was even a train that went round and round and a real Santa on his throne to greet the youngsters.

It was like walking into the world of Willy Wonka where imagination took over. My husband and I or my mother would take my son to see Fantasyland several times each year and he was fascinated by the sights and sounds that felt as if you were really at the North Pole. Our last trip to the wondrous magical kingdom was on Christmas Eve 1984 and we had no idea this would be the end. My husband, son, and I had taken my mother-in-law to finish her Christmas shopping at Heironimous and our final stop was at the land of holiday fantasy. We were the last guests who walked out the door at 2 minutes to 6:00 pm just before they closed and that was the last trip for us as a family.

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Photo byWikipedia

The flood of 1985 took a toll on Fantasyland

The flood in the fall of 1985 damaged the Heironimous building and although the store later reopened the world of fantasy was not the same. The displays seemed old and dated and my oldest son says he last went to Fantasyland in the late 1980s with his elementary school. The Christmas items from were later taken to the History Museum which I believe at that time was located on a floor in the Wells Fargo building on the Market. We went once but the magic was gone and it was not the same. The items were on display and not in their own magical world and had lost their luster.

Sadly as I wrote this article I could find no photos of the original Fantasyland online and the few my mother took of my son were lost when I moved. The cover photo from Ointerwt was the closest I could come to recreating the magic. The only mention of this delightful place was in the Roanoke Times archives from 1983. Not even Wikipedia has any articles on the hometown favorite but for those of us who experienced it, our fond memories will remain. IF anyone reading can update me on anything in this story I would appreciate it.

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I write, about breaking news, and current events. I wrote a newspaper column from 1997 to 2007 and have written for various online platforms since 2012 including Yahoo Contributor Network, Hubpages, and Vocal Media.

Roanoke, VA
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