Norfolk is an independent city in the Commonwealth of Virginia. As of the 2010 census, the population was 242,803 in 2013, the population was estimated to be 246,392, making it the second-most populous city in Virginia, behind neighboring Virginia Beach.
Norfolk is located at the core of the Hampton Roads metropolitan area, named for the large natural harbor of the same name located at the mouth of Chesapeake Bay. It is one of nine cities and seven counties that constitute the Hampton Roads metro area, officially known as the Virginia Beach-Norfolk-Newport News, VA-NC MSA. The city is bordered to the west by the Elizabeth River and to the north by the Chesapeake Bay. It also shares land borders with the independent cities of Chesapeake to its south and Virginia Beach to its east. One of the oldest of the cities in Hampton Roads, Norfolk is considered to be the historic, urban, financial, and cultural center of the region.
The city has a long history as a strategic military and transportation point. The largest Navy base in the world, Naval Station Norfolk, is located in Norfolk along with one of NATO's two Strategic Command headquarters. The city also has the corporate headquarters of Norfolk Southern Railway, one of North America's principal Class I railroads, and Maersk Line, Limited, who manages the world's largest fleet of US-flag vessels. As the city is bordered by multiple bodies of water, Norfolk has many miles of riverfront and bayfront property. It is linked to its neighbors by an extensive network of Interstate highways, bridges, tunnels, and three bridge-tunnel complexes—the only bridge-tunnels in the United States.
In 1619, the Governor for the Virginia Colony, Sir George Yeardley established four incorporations, termed citties, for the developed portion of the colony. These formed the basis for colonial representative government in the newly minted House of Burgesses. What would become Norfolk was put under the Elizabeth Cittie incorporation.
In 1622, Adam Thoroughgood (1604–1640) of King's Lynn, Norfolk, England, came to Virginia as an indentured servant. At the end of his contracted servitude, he earned his freedom and became a leading citizen of the fledgling colony.
In 1634 King Charles I reorganized the colony into a system of shires. The former Elizabeth Cittie became Elizabeth City Shire. After persuading 105 people to settle in the colony, Thoroughgood was granted a large land holding along the Lynnhaven River in 1636.
When the South Hampton Roads portion of the shire was partitioned off, Thoroughgood suggested the name of his birthplace for the newly formed New Norfolk County. One year later, it split into two counties, Upper Norfolk County and Lower Norfolk County (present day Norfolk), chiefly on Thoroughgood’s recommendation.
On New Year's Day, 1776, Lord Dunmore's fleet of three ships shelled the city of Norfolk for over eight hours. The damage from the shells, and fires started by the British and spread by the patriots, destroyed over 800 buildings, almost two-thirds of the city. The patriots destroyed the remaining buildings for strategic reasons in February. Only the walls of Saint Paul's Episcopal Church survived the bombardment and subsequent fires. A cannonball from the bombardment (fired by the Liverpool) remains within the wall of Saint Paul's.
Following recovery from the Revolutionary War's burning, the 19th century began inauspiciously for Norfolk and her citizens. In 1804, another serious fire along the city’s waterfront destroyed some 300 buildings and the city experienced a serious economic setback.
During the 1820s, agrarian communities across the American South suffered a prolonged recession, which caused many families to migrate to other areas. Many moved west into the Piedmont, or into Kentucky and Tennessee. Such migration also followed the exhaustion of soil due to tobacco cultivation in the Tidewater. Virginia made various attempts to phase out slavery, either through law (see Thomas Jefferson Randolph's 1832 resolution) or through "repatriation" of blacks to Africa. Many emigrants to Africa from Virginia and North Carolina embarked from the port of Norfolk. Joseph Jenkins Roberts, a native of Norfolk, was an emigrant who became the first president of Liberia.
On June 7, 1855, the 183-ft. vessel Benjamin Franklin put into Hampton Roads for repairs. She had just sailed from the West Indes where an outbreak of Yellow Fever had struck, so the port health officer ordered the ship quarantined. After eleven days a second inspection found no issues, so she was allowed to dock. A few days later, the first cases of Yellow Fever were discovered and a machinist died from the condition on July 8. By August several people were dying per day and a third of the city population had fled. With both Norfolk and Portsmouth being infected, New York banned any traffic from those sites. This was soon followed with bans by other neighboring cities. The outbreak spread through the city, effecting every family and causing widespread panic. The number of infected reached 5,000 in September, and by the second week 1,500 had died in Norfolk and Portsmouth. As the weather cooled the outbreak began to wane, leaving a final tally of about 3,200 dead.
In early 1861, Norfolk voters instructed their delegate to vote for ratification of the ordinance of secession. Virginia voted to secede from the Union. In the spring of 1862, the Battle of Hampton Roads took place off the northwest shore of the city's Sewell's Point Peninsula, marking the first fight between two ironclads, the USS Monitor and the CSS Virginia. The battle ended in a stalemate, but forever changed the course of naval warfare; from then on, warships were fortified with metal. In May 1862, Norfolk Mayor William Lamb surrendered the city to General John E. Wool and Union forces. They held the city under martial law for the duration of the Civil War. Thousands of slaves escaped to Union lines to gain their freedom and set up schools in Norfolk so they could start learning before the end of the war.
1907 brought both the Virginian Railway and the Jamestown Exposition to Sewell's Point. The large Naval Review at the Exposition demonstrated the peninsula's favorable location and laid the groundwork for the world's largest naval base. Commemorating the 300th anniversary of the founding of Jamestown, the exposition featured many prominent officials, including President Theodore Roosevelt, members of Congress, and diplomats from 21 countries. By 1917, as the US built up to enter World War I, the Naval Air Station Hampton Roads had been constructed on the former exposition grounds.
In the first half of the 20th century, Norfolk expanded its borders through annexation. In 1906, the city annexed the incorporated town of Berkley, which stretched the city limits across the Elizabeth River. In 1923, the city expanded to include Sewell's Point, Willoughby Spit, the town of Campostella, and the Ocean View area. The city included the Navy Base and miles of beach property fronting on Hampton Roads and Chesapeake Bay. After a smaller annexation in 1959, and a 1988 land swap with Virginia Beach, the city assumed its current boundaries.
With the dawn of the Interstate Highway System, new highways opened in the region. A series of bridges and tunnels constructed during fifteen years linked Norfolk with the Peninsula, Portsmouth, and Virginia Beach. In 1952, the Downtown Tunnel opened to connect Norfolk with the city of Portsmouth. In 1991, the new Downtown Tunnel/Berkley Bridge complex opened a new system of multiple lanes of highway and interchanges connecting Downtown Norfolk and Interstate 464 with the Downtown Tunnel tubes. Additional bridges and tunnels included the Hampton Roads Bridge-Tunnel in 1957, the Midtown Tunnel in 1962, and the Virginia Beach-Norfolk Expressway (Interstate 264 and State Route 44) in 1967.
In reaction to the Supreme Court ruling in the 1954 Brown v. Board of Education case which held that segregated schools were unconstitutional and ordered integration, Virginia pursued a policy of "massive resistance". The Virginia General Assembly prohibited state funding for integrated public schools. Norfolk's private schools had voluntarily integrated by choosing to comply with the Brown decision. In 1958, United States district courts in Virginia ordered schools to open for the first time on a racially-integrated basis. In response, Governor James Lindsay Almond, Jr. ordered the schools closed.
Six Norfolk public schools serving over 10,000 Norfolk children were closed. The Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals declared the state law to be in conflict with the state constitution and ordered all public schools to be funded, whether integrated or not. About 10 days later, Almond capitulated and asked the General Assembly to rescind several "massive resistance" laws. In September 1959, 17 black children entered six previously segregated Norfolk public schools. Virginian-Pilot editor Lenoir Chambers editorialized against massive resistance and earned the Pulitzer Prize for Editorial Writing.
After desegregation, and with new suburban developments beckoning, many white middle-class residents moved out of the city along new highway routes, and Norfolk's population fell. In the late 1960s and early 1970s, the advent of newer suburban shopping destinations along with freeways spelled demise for the fortunes of downtown's Granby Street commercial corridor, located just a few blocks inland from the waterfront. The opening of malls and large shopping centers drew off retail business from Granby Street.
Norfolk's city leaders began a long push to revive its urban core. While Granby Street underwent decline, Norfolk city leaders focused on the waterfront and its collection of decaying piers and warehouses. Many obsolete shipping and warehousing facilities were demolished. In their place, planners created a new boulevard, Waterside Drive, along which many of the high-rise buildings in Norfolk's skyline were erected.
The city and The Rouse Company developed the Waterside festival marketplace in 1983 to attract people to the waterfront and catalyze further downtown redevelopment. Other facilities opened in the ensuing years, including the Harbor Park baseball stadium, home of the Norfolk Tides Triple-A minor league baseball team. In 1995, the Park was named the finest facility in minor league baseball by Baseball America.
Norfolk's efforts to revitalize its downtown have attracted acclaim from economic development and urban planning circles throughout the country. Downtown's rising fortunes helped to expand the city's revenues and allowed the city to direct attention to other neighborhoods. In 2006, Norfolk became the first major city on the east coast to be declared "Tsunami ready".