Dictionary of Virginia Biography

Junius Blair Fishburn (27 September 1865–1 April 1955), entrepreneur and philanthropist, was born in Boones Mill, Franklin County, and was the son of James Addison Fishburne and Mary Louise Harriet Boone Fishburne. In 1867 his father, a farmer and merchant, moved the family to Danville, Kentucky, where Fishburne attended the public schools and at age fourteen began working in the printing plant of the Kentucky Advocate. In 1880 he moved to the Virginia town of Big Lick, where he lived with relatives and attended high school. His family followed about 1881, the year before Big Lick's name was changed to Roanoke in recognition of its emergence as the headquarters of two major railroads. Fishburne worked with his father at J. A. Fishburne and Son, a successful Salem Avenue grocery store. On 5 September 1893 he married Theresa Grace Parker in her hometown of Cleveland, Tennessee. They had two daughters and one son. 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), and in 1937 the College of William and Mary presented him the Algernon Sydney Sullivan Award for outstanding service to Virginia education. His wife died on 15 April 1950. Junius Blair Fishburn died at a Roanoke hospital on 1 April 1955 of complications from a heart attack suffered the previous month. He was interred at the city's Evergreen Burial Park.

Sources Consulted:
Biographies in W. C. Stouffer, "Roanoke's Mr. Fishburn," Virginia and the Virginia County 5 (Mar. 1951): 10–12, 37–39 (cover and other portraits), William Couper, History of the Shenandoah Valley (1952), 3:22–23, Fishburn, Parker, Boone, and Allied Families… (1952), esp. 13–25, National Cyclopædia of American Biography (1891–1984), 41:566–567, and Norma Lugar, "The Life and Times of J. B. Fishburn," Roanoker 5 (Nov./Dec. 1978): 14–16, 18, 20, 86; self-reported birth date and birthplace in passport application, 4 Nov. 1920, General Records of the Department of State, Record Group 59, National Archives and Records Administration, Washington, D.C.; Roanoke Times, 7 Sept. 1893; Raymond P. Barnes, A History of Roanoke (1968); obituaries and editorial tributes in Roanoke World-News, 1, 2 Apr. 1955, New York Times, Richmond News Leader, Richmond Times-Dispatch, Roanoke Times, and Washington Post and Times-Herald, all 2 Apr. 1955.

Written for the Dictionary of Virginia Biography by Rand Dotson.

How to cite this page:
Rand Dotson,"Junius Blair Fishburn (1865–1955)," Dictionary of Virginia Biography, Library of Virginia (1998– ), published 2016 (http://www.lva.virginia.gov/public/dvb/bio.asp?b=Fishburn_Junius_Blair, accessed [today's date]).

Return to the Dictionary of Virginia Biography Search page.

facebook twitter youtube instagram linkedin