Situated on a mountain summit 800 feet above Roanoke, this 568-acre park preserves wildlife habitat and provides recreational opportunities with expansive views of the surrounding valley. Development on Mill Mountain’s summit began in 1892 with the construction of a hotel and observatory accessible via a graded carriage road. Later that same decade, a 20-acre park was designated around Crystal Spring, the source of the city’s drinking water, and from 1902 to 1923 the 40-acre Mountain Park provided recreational opportunities. From 1910 to 1929 an incline railway on the mountain’s western slope provided access to an observation tower, strolling paths, and recreational amenities. In 1924 the carriage road was redesigned as a scenic toll road for automobiles with state-of-the-art concrete paving and a toll house with a stone archway over the road.
Mill Mountain remained under private ownership until 1941 when J.B. Fishburne donated 100 acres to the city. The 88-foot tall neon Roanoke Star designed by the Roy C. Kinsey Sign Company was lit in 1949. The 1960s and 70s witnessed the accumulation of land and various development projects, mostly supported by civic organizations including the installation of a two and one half-acre wildflower garden. In 1965 landscape architect Stanley Abbott developed a master plan for the park which included trails, naturalistic landscaping, and a spur road connecting the park to the Blue Ridge Parkway. The 1990s saw continued landscape development with a master plan developed by Rhodeside & Harwell and design work conducted by Hill Studio including a visitor center and concert lawn.