History of the Rockbridge Center
In the early 1940’s there stood a worn out tiny roadside shop with some sleeping quarters and a kitchen. It wasn’t much, but it was the first place you could stay overnight in immediate proximity to the Natural Bridge. In 1945 all of that changed when James N. Hunter came from the Hotel Roanoke to manage the newly constructed Natural Bridge Hotel. Hunter had a vision for Natural Bridge. He wanted the hotel and the bridge to become the number one visited attraction and resort in the state of Virginia. Part of that vision was bringing Natural Bridge Hotel up to a four-star resort status for its time period.
To realize his vision he knew the hotel had to have something unique and as different as the bridge itself to attract visitors to stay overnight. He needed a place that would not only serve the locals and the staff that would live in the area to work at the resort, but he also needed something people would travel for. That something was Rockbridge Center.
Rockbridge Center became operational in 1951. It gradually evolved from that roadside shop to the gateway to see the bridge. Hunter knew that if people had to go through Rockbridge Center he could create convenience to a set of amenities that would ultimately service the hotel guests and make their experience four star. Rockbridge Center offered shopping, fine dining catered by the Colonial Dining Room, a large and very popular air conditioned cafeteria, a first class indoor heated pool, and in the winter it even had an outdoor ice skating rink complete with an outdoor fireplace to warm up. It was a tradition of many travelers, families, and locals alike to have Sunday lunch at the Rockbridge Center cafeteria.
It was the addition of Rockbridge Center that pulled all the pieces together at Natural Bridge Park to go from a hotel and attraction to a four star resort destination that included the Seventh Wonder of the World!