The building in downtown Roanoke that Oakey's Funeral Service has occupied since 1938 was once a Presbyterian manse, the minister's home for a nearby church. The garage around back served the Roanoke Lifesaving Crew, the first volunteer rescue squad in the nation.

 "I believe it was back in the 1940s until the 50's," Sammy Oakey told us, "they housed their men there, their equipment there, their boat, their vehicles, and that was a nice partnership."

Oakey's Funeral Service is just one of more than two dozen properties along Church and Luck Avenues that are now part of the Roanoke Downtown Historic District.

Planner Patrick Hughes of Hill Studio helped document the district's transition in the 1930s and 40s, from a residential area to more commercial and industrial uses.

"Tracing back through the old city directories to see what the uses were and what was here," Hughes said in an interview, "this was definitely a significant part of the downtown area."

The new designation doesn't place any additional restrictions on property owners, but it does open the door for tax credits that can help finance historic renovations.

And downtown isn't the only part of Roanoke with a new historic designation.

The Melrose-Rugby Historic District in northwest Roanoke, and the Riverland Historic District in southeast have also been added to the Virginia Landmarks Register.