Demolition in progress. Photo provided by Joe Thompson.
Demolition in progress. Photo provided by Joe Thompson.

In October, Salem announced a $10 million incentive package for Ed Walker and Joe Thompson, principals of Valleydale Catalyst LLC, to redevelop the Valleydale Meat Packing and Processing Plant into a 300-unit upscale apartment complex. The timeline called for demolition to start in December 2022 and construction in spring 2023, with completion slated for 2025.

The project is still on track for 2025 completion, but the demolition did not start until February. 

“I think there was definitely some delays related to getting some of their construction contracts in place and scheduling those folks that were already working on other projects,” said Tommy Miller, Salem’s director of economic development.

Another view of the demolition. Photo provided by Joe Thompson.
Another view of the demolition. Photo provided by Joe Thompson.

Subcontractors are still being hired, but general contractor G&H Contracting of Salem and  excavators Joe Bandy & Son of Roanoke are already on the job.

Walker, whose hands are full with the massive Riverdale project in Southeast Roanoke, referred questions to Thompson.

Once the demolition started, it “went well, but it was quite the endeavor,” Thompson said. “There was quite a bit of unanticipated concrete and so forth. It’s not uncommon for buildings like that to get funds during …. the Cold War where they would pay for factories to put a bomb shelter in. A component of that processing facility was actually upgraded to be used as a bomb shelter.

“And so there was some instances of very thick concrete, and rebar as thick as my arm, tying together some components of that building. And it took a little more time. But we were very fortunate to have a building that we have crushed and we’ll be using for fill on site.”

When the plant was built in 1936, nuclear weapons were envisioned only by a handful of physicists and science-fiction authors. As the arms race ratcheted up in the 1950s, U.S. authorities started planning for survival after a nuclear strike. The Kennedy administration began the Community Fallout Shelter Program in 1961.

There is a difference between bomb shelters, which offered protection from blasts, and fallout shelters, which were intended to protect survivors from radiation contamination in the days and weeks following an attack and were stocked with food and medicine. 

“The purpose of the community shelter program was to locate, mark and stock as many fallout shelter spaces as possible,” according to 

On Dec. 5, 1965, The Roanoke Times reported that fallout shelter maps had been distributed to about 90% of homes in Roanoke on the previous day. “About 3,500 boy and girls scouts, high school and college students and members of PTAs, veterans organizations and other civic groups volunteered to distribute the materials Saturday,” the article states, quoting Warren Trent, Roanoke’s assistant coordinator of civil defense. The maps told each resident which fallout shelter to go to “in case of emergency.”

That article is in the Virginia Room of Roanoke’s downtown library, along with a state listing of civil defense directors. Salem’s directors were Charles Via and Woodford Green.

Like a nightmare best forgotten, the civil defense era in the Roanoke Valley has largely faded from its memory banks. The Roanoke fallout shelter map was not in the archives of the Virginia Room. No listing of fallout shelters in Roanoke, Roanoke County or Salem could be found by archivists or librarians in the Salem Library, the city of Salem, Roanoke County, the county’s South County Library or the Salem Museum.

* * *

Through the Cold War and beyond, the Valleydale plant, located at the corner of Indiana and Eighth streets in Salem, continued to churn out sausage and bacon. The plant closed in 2006. In 2017, it was purchased by Walker. Now the property has become a clean slate for its next life.

Joe Thompson started a real estate appraisal business, Thompson Valuation & Consulting, in 2008, according to his LinkedIn page. He still works as a consultant and expert witness. He is also a developer whose projects prior to Valleydale included apartments, self-storage, a car wash, and notably, The Preserve at Crooked Run, an Orvis-endorsed hunting preserve and event venue, formerly Camp Fincastle.

At Valleydale, “right now we are filling the site,” he said. “And from there, we will be digging footers within the next two weeks, and getting started in about a 12-month construction process for the first building.”

“It was cool seeing ’em knock it down,” said Dakota Washington, who was sitting on the porch of a house on Ohio Street watching the trucks and earth moving equipment. The work has left dust on cars in the neighborhood, she said, but it can be washed off.

The Valleydale Apartments will have three main buildings, with high-end amenities including a vanishing-edge pool, an outdoor grilling area, a turf recreation field, pickleball courts and a dog area, comparable to similar complexes in Richmond and Charlotte, North Carolina, Thompson said. Rents will be market-rate.

Aside from the tougher-than-expected demolition, there have not been any surprises, he said. 

  • Aerial view of the site. Photo provided by Joe Thompson.
  • Excavators Joe Bandy & Son at work. Photo by Randy Walker.
  • Crew at the site. Photo by Randy Walker.
  • View through the fence. Photo by Randy Walker.
  • Another view through the fence. Photo by Randy Walker.

Randy Walker is a musician and freelance writer in Roanoke. He received a bachelor's degree in journalism...