Hopewell is an independent city in the Commonwealth of Virginia. The population was 22,591 at the 2010 Census. It is in Tri-Cities area of the Richmond-Petersburg region and is a portion of the Richmond Metropolitan Statistical Area (MSA). The Bureau of Economic Analysis combines the city of Hopewell with Prince George County for statistical purposes.
The city was founded to take advantage of its site overlooking the James and Appomattox Rivers. City Point, the oldest part of Hopewell, was established in 1613 by Sir Thomas Dale. It was first known as "Bermuda City," which was changed to Charles City, lengthened to Charles City Point, and later abbreviated to City Point. (At this time, Bermuda, the Atlantic archipelago, was considered part of the Colony of Virginia and appeared on its maps.)
"Charles City Point" was in Charles City Shire when the first eight shires were established in the Colony of Virginia in 1634. Charles City Shire soon became known as Charles City County in 1637. In 1619 Samuel Sharpe and Samuel Jordan from City Point, then named Charles City, were burgesses at the first meeting of the House of Burgesses.
The burgesses separated an area of the county south of the river, including City Point, establishing it separately as Prince George County in 1703. City Point was an unincorporated town in Prince George County until the City of Hopewell annexed the Town of City Point in 1923.
During the American Civil War, Union General Ulysses S. Grant used City Point as his headquarters during the Siege of Petersburg in 1864 and 1865. Grant's headquarters, which President Lincoln visited, were located at Appomattox Manor, one of the three plantations of Richard Eppes, who cultivated wheat and other grains and held 130 slaves at the beginning of the war.
His property included Eppes Island, just offshore. Richard Slaughter, a former slave of Eppes, escaped to a Union ship during the Civil War, as did all but 12 of Eppes' 130 slaves, choosing freedom. Slaughter recounted his life story for a Works Progress Administration interviewer in 1936.
The City Point Railroad, built in 1838 between City Point and Petersburg, was used as a critical part of the siege strategy. It is considered the oldest portion of the Norfolk and Western Railway, now a part of Norfolk Southern.
Hopewell, part of the Eppes' plantation, was developed by DuPont Company in 1914 as Hopewell Farm, an incorporated area in Prince George County. DuPont first built a dynamite factory there, then switched to the manufacture of guncotton during World War I.
Nearly burned to the ground in the Hopewell Fire of 1915, the city prospered afterward and became known as the "Wonder City". Unlike most cities in Virginia, Hopewell was never incorporated as a town, but it was incorporated as an independent city in 1916.
After DuPont abandoned the city after World War I, moving its manufacturing facilities elsewhere and specializing in other products, the area briefly became a ghost town. In 1923 Tubize Corporation established a plant at the old DuPont site. The same year, the city of Hopewell annexed the neighboring town of City Point, which enabled it to expand and thrive.
1935 bus tragedy
Hopewell made national news when, on December 22, 1935, a bus plunged through the open draw of the Appomattox River Drawbridge on State Route 10 just outside Hopewell's city limits. Only one of the 15 occupants of the bus survived. The modern twin spans of the Charles Hardaway Marks Bridges were built to replace that bridge and cross the river nearby.
Hopewell is the host city of large chemical plants owned by the Honeywell Corporation and Hercules Chemical, as well as a paper mill owned by Smurfit-Stone Container Corporation (Recently acquired by Rock Tenn). Such industries have required the city and residents to deal with many environmental issues over the years, particularly as they learned more about the effects of the industries. The kepone debacle of the 1970s received the most national attention.
In 1977, Hopewell made the national news when a tanker hit the Benjamin Harrison Memorial Bridge.
In 1983, Hopewell made the national news when it was discovered that Evelyn Rust Wells, an elderly woman, had been held captive in her home in the City Point section. Her captors, mostly male teenagers under 18, cashed her Social Security checks at local groceries. A local grocer noted a change in purchases from when neighborhood kids assisted Wells, and called the police. They investigated and freed Wells.
Although still an important industrial city, Hopewell has struggled with transitions through loss of jobs, changes in residential housing patterns, and the costs of environmental clean-up. Much of its middle class moved to Prince George County for newer housing during suburban development. The city's housing stock is dominated by aged rental properties and low-income housing projects.
Hopewell has encouraged renewed development of its large waterfront areas to reconnect the city with the water, the downtown areas, and the City Point Historical District. The city has a surviving group of Sears Catalog Homes, with several available for exterior viewing on a self-guided tour. The city also has numerous Aladdin Kit Homes; at one time, it may have had the most such homes in the nation. Because residents moved to newer houses and the Aladdin Homes were abandoned and deteriorated, many have had to be razed.
In late 2012, press reports indicated the city had the highest rate of violent crime on a per captia basis in the state.