Junius Blair Fishburn

Junius Blair Fishburn was born on September 27, 1865, in Boones Mill, Franklin County. For reasons unknown, late in the nineteenth century Fishburn and other members of his family dropped the e from their surname.

In May 1889, after helping sell stock to raise capital for his uncle Tipton Tinsley Fishburn’s newly organized National Exchange Bank, in Roanoke, Fishburn took a job as its first cashier. He became a director of the bank in 1894 and vice president in 1901. After serving as its president from 1905 until his retirement in 1919, Fishburn chaired the bank’s board of directors from 1920 until January 1926, when the National Exchange Bank merged with the First National Bank of Roanoke to create the First National Exchange Bank. Fishburn headed the First National Exchange Bank’s executive committee from 1926 to 1949, sat as vice president from 1926 to 1939, and chaired the board of directors from 1935 until his death. In 1903–1904 he served as a state vice president of the American Bankers Association and at least twice sat on the executive council of the Virginia Bankers Association.

In December 1909, along with several business associates, Fishburn cofounded and became vice president and treasurer of the Roanoke Times Company, Inc., which purchased and managed the Roanoke Times and the Evening News. In July 1918 he and other businessmen formed the Times-World Corporation, with Fishburn as president, and acquired the Roanoke Times and the Roanoke World News. He remained president of the corporation until 1923 when his son, Junius Parker Fishburn, assumed that office. The elder Fishburn subsequently served as the corporation’s vice president and sat on its board of directors. In 1931 the Times-World Corporation purchased radio station WDBJ, which later became Roanoke’s CBS television affiliate. In March 1954, after his son died unexpectedly, he became chairman of the board of the corporation.

In addition to his work in banking and publishing, Fishburn was an investor, officer, or director of at least thirty other corporations. From 1895 to 1935 he was an owner, director, and second vice president of the Virginia Bridge and Iron Company, and from 1900 to 1903 he owned the Roanoke Railway and Electric Company. In 1900 Fishburn served as president of the Roanoke Coal and Coke Company and from 1916 to 1939 as vice president of the Hazard Coal Company. Along with his brother-in-law, Edward Lee Stone, in 1891 Fishburn became a co-owner and vice president of the Stone Printing and Manufacturing Company. He and Stone helped organize the Young Men’s Investment Company in 1899 and established the Century Banking and Safe Deposit Company in 1900 and the Southwest Virginia Trust Company the following year. An avid business promoter, Fishburn was a charter member of the Roanoke Chamber of Commerce, and in 1905 he helped found the Century Club, an elite social and commercial booster-organization. The club’s members became the principal investors and directors of the Mill Mountain Incline Corporation, an endeavor they expected would make Roanoke’s Mill Mountain a tourist attraction.

Fishburn’s philanthropic interests were considerable. He served on the board of the Roanoke Public Library and during his life contributed more than 3,000 books to public and university libraries. In 1933 Fishburn gave to the state about 5,000 acres of land in Patrick County for construction of Fairy Stone State Park. Like his cousin, former Roanoke mayor Blair Joshua Fishburn who donated land for a city park, he provided gifts of land to the city of Roanoke during the 1930s and 1940s of more than a dozen city lots and 250 acres that were used for the creation of six public parks and a playground. About 1950 he donated 2,500 acres to Virginia Polytechnic Institute (later Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University). At his death, Fishburn left to the city his forty-two-room Colonial Revival mansion, Mountain View. Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, the former home became a recreation center.

Over the course of his life, Fishburn donated about $1 million to Virginia colleges and universities. He served as a trustee of Hollins College (later University) and the Roanoke Academy of Music. Fishburn received honorary degrees from Roanoke College and Washington and Lee College (later University). Junius Blair Fishburn died on April 1st, 1955, and is buried at Evergreen Burial Park.

Junius Blair Fishburn was inducted into the Southwest Virginia Business Hall of Fame in 1990.

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