Hopewell is an independent city in the Commonwealth of Virginia. As of the 2010 census, the population was 22,591. 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.) Hopewell/City Point is the oldest continuously inhabited English settlement in the United States, Jamestown no longer being inhabited.
"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 most of the present day city of Hopewell and Eppes Island, a plantation across the James River from City Point. 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 following World War I, moving its manufacturing facilities elsewhere and specializing in other products, Hopewell briefly became a ghost town until 1923 when Tubize Corporation established a plant on 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. The Tubize plant was later acquired by Firestone Tire and Rubber Company and was a major employer in Hopewell for decades. Allied Chemical and Dye Corporation and Hercules Chemical also established plants on portions of the old DuPont site.
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, Hercules Chemical, Goldschmidt 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 again made the national news due to an accident involving a drawbridge when the tanker S.S. Marine Floridian outbound under the command of a James River pilot suffered a steering malfunction just after dawn on February 24 that caused it to veer out of the channel and hit the Benjamin Harrison Memorial Bridge just east of town. The accident caused serious damage to the bridge and it was closed for months.
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 due to plant closures, several failed attempts at redevelopment, changes in residential housing patterns, and the costs of environmental clean-up. Much of its middle class population moved to neighboring Prince George and Chesterfield Counties for newer housing during the suburban expansion of the 1960s and 1970s. The city's housing stock is dominated by small, aged, rental properties many of which were hastily constructed by DuPont to house plant workers during the First World War, and low-income housing projects.
Hopewell has encouraged re-development along its waterfront areas along the James and Appomattox Rivers, in the downtown area, and the City Point Historic District, as well as the sites of several long vacant industrial plants. Due to its hasty construction as a mill town during the First World War, Hopewell had a large number of kit homes that were hauled in and erected in neighborhoods laid out by DuPont known as "A Village" and "B Village". 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 been razed.
In late 2012, press reports indicated the city had the highest rate of violent crime on a per captia basis in the state.
In September 2010 a series of explosions occurred at a new ethanol plant that had recently been constructed on a site formerly occupied by a Firestone facility. The plant had not yet become fully operational when the explosions occurred. There was no loss of life due to the accident, but shortly after the explosion Osage BioEnergy, the owners of the $150 million facility, announced that the plant was for sale. The ethanol plant never became operational nor did it bring the jobs and tax revenue to the city that its promoters promised. As of 2013 the facility was sitting idle and the city of Hopewell was taking legal action to recoup unpaid taxes on the property.