The historic market city of Roanoke in the Blue Ridge Mountains of southwest Virginia is known for many things, namely, Virginian natural wonders, rock climbing adventures, scenic hiking trails, and a long history as an industrial railroad hub ever since the late 1800s. Earning the nickname the 'Magic City,' this old metropolis is also famed for the Mill Mountain Star — also known as the Roanoke Star — the world's second-largest illuminated human-made star, which was built in 1949 at the top of Mill Mountain.
Though this bright point on Roanoke's map is quite literally the star of the show stealing the spotlight, there's another small dot illuminating the city that's deserving of attention, one found in downtown Roanoke inside the Center in the Square complex near the History Museum of Western Virginia, the Science Museum of Western Virginia, and the Harrison Museum of African American Culture.
Located on the second floor of the complex, an entirely unique and unusual interactive exhibit invites visitors to experience one of America's most adored pieces of classic entertainment that's kept kids and adults alike enthralled for generations.
The Roanoke Pinball Museum Is Epic
This fun-filled center of entertaining fascination is The Roanoke Pinball Museum, an interactive space devoted to the art, science, and history of pinball, touching on the game's technology, history, and culture in a flamboyantly geeky and cheerful manner.
First opening in 2015, the joyous museum represents a trip down memory lane and is now home to over 60 pinball machines, whose games are fully playable and span almost a century of production from 1932 right through to today.
In fact, one of the oldest pinball machines in the building is the Screwball, a highlight dating back to 1948 when machines' flippers used to be made to point outwards.
There was a time when these entertainment devices were made purely for luck-based gambling's sake, rather than as games demanding skill, which is what pinball as machines and games became later on.
Immediately upon entering, the colorful place evokes a sense of nostalgia for those who spent their youth playing arcade games in the 70s and 80s.
Its flashing lights, retro aesthetic, clashing pinball game sounds and fun flair mean visitors simply can't help but feel a sense of classic, vintage happy feels as they waltz through the machines that kept them and their friends entertained as kids.
Even whipper-snappers born after this time can soak up the old-time feel this museum grants as they get to know and enjoy the very games their parents and grandparents grew up on.
History Of The Roanoke Pinball Museum
The pinball project that resulted in Roanoke's very own museum dedicated to this timeless game began with a small collection of just ten pinball machines, which were donated by board member Steve Bowrey.
Everything found within the museum is a labor of love, finding itself present through the kind acts and pinball passion of volunteers. Much of the work undertaken on the machines and the construction of the hand-crafted museum bar was fulfilled by do-gooders who donated around $2,500 in their precious labor and time instead of money.
Over the last few years since it first opened its doors, the Museum has grown exponentially to become one of the coolest spots to visit in Roanoke and indeed one of the biggest pinball museums in the United States.
While it's not quite as colossal as the largest US pinball museum (The Pinball Hall of Fame, Las Vegas), this Roanoke arcade does deliver an entertaining experience for all ages and tickles the fancies of generations of gamers
Visit The Roanoke Pinball Museum
What makes The Roanoke Pinball Museum so awesome to visit isn't just its authentic retro vibe and collection of incredible machines spanning a century, which now stands around 60-strong.
Rather, it's the fact the establishment offers an entirely hands-on experience, in which every single exhibit is playable, not just viewable.
Not only does admission to the Roanoke Pinball Museum permit players to play at their leisure; they can also savor an educational experience.
Pinball players of all ages get the exclusive chance to learn all about the history of pinball as well as the intriguing and very functioning science behind the game.
At the same time, they can take in the eye-teasing colors, composition, and captivating designs of the illustrious back-glasses and play-fields, which make the machines all the more appealing to players, maximizing the gameplay and hooking players in for hours at a time (as arcade aficionados of the past will no doubt confirm).
Patrons can also reserve the museum for private parties, team-building activities, corporate events, or any other occasion.
To enhance its offering further, the establishment also extends its welcome to field-tripping school kids and their teachers; a pinball-oriented curriculum is available to educators intending on an educational day out at the museum for their classes.
The Museum is currently closed on Mondays, so plan your visit carefully.
Overall, thanks to the diverse experiences to be had at this fun-loving, lively establishment that's spreading pinball fever across Roanoke and beyond, the entire place and its team with a penchant and passion for pinball truly do achieve its mission on a daily basis.
The goal? To cultivate curiosity in science, art, and history through pinball, while simultaneously preserving and honoring the game's role in American pop culture.
Roanoke Pinball Museum Hours Of Operation
- Address: Roanoke Pinball Museum Roanoke VA, 1 Market Square, SE, 2nd Floor, Roanoke, VA 24011 540-342-5746
- Hours: Closed Monday, Tuesday to Saturday 11 am to 8 pm, Sunday: 1 pm to 6 pm
- Cost: 11 and over: $13.50, 10 and under: $10.00, Under 2: free