Norfolk, Virginia, is known for having a large navy base, but did you know that this coastal city also holds a lot of history? Check out these lesser-known historical sites and learn something new about the city!
Sitting right on the Elizabeth River on the East end of Ghent at 801 Front Street is Fort Norfolk. This fortress was one of 19 commissioned by President George Washington in 1794. It spans four acres to protect Norfolk, and the standing structures date back to 1810. These include barracks, a dungeon, earthwork embankments, a guardhouse, officer’s quarters, powder magazine, and ramparts. This fort stood through the Civil War, where the Confederate forces seized the fort. It was reseized by the Union Army and used as a prison. After it was used to store weapons for the Navy. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers took ownership in 1923 and still holds their occupation. The site is free to take self-guided tours every day of the week. Enjoy guided tours on the first Sunday in between June and September.
To celebrate the 300th anniversary of the founding of the first English settlement in the United States, this location held the Jamestown Exposition. This was a celebration put on by the Association for the Preservation of Virginia Antiquities. Twenty one states provided a house that bore their state’s name. Each served to provide an example of the state’s history and industry. The Pennsylvania House serves as a scaled-down model of Independence Hall, the infamous site of the signing of the Declaration of Independence and the drafting of the Constitution. While many of the buildings donated to this cause were meant as homes, the Pennsylvania House is unique to be a public building. It sits at 1625 Dillingham Blvd., at building site G-29 by Willoughby Bay. Since the Navy took over in 1917, the site has stood for Norfolk Naval Station and a reception hall and an officer’s club. Renovations in the future plan to convert it into a conference center.
Moses Myers was a prominent early American entrepreneur. He built this home in the nineteenth century to accommodate for his growing family and social prominence. The Moses Myers House held five generations of Myers family members between 1795 and 1931. The family held a strong social influence in Norfolk and made significant contributions to the city’s infrastructural development. This house gives insight into an influential family and their interesting lives by preserving their personal artifacts and period furniture. Take one of their free tours offered on the weekend at 323 E. Freemason Street!
Former home to the Hunter family, this house now stands as a museum and event center. Here, you can become familiar with James Hunter, Lizzie Barnes, and their three children. Learn about the family as you browse the many Victorian artifacts that line the home. Several events set them apart throughout the year, including craft shows, literary programs, community partnerships, and their most popular afternoon teas. They will reopen soon in April with guided tours at 240 W. Freemason Street. Check their website in a few months to see what they have planned!
Everyone who knows Norfolk, Virginia, knows the Ghent district, but do they know that Ghent also serves as the historic district? Founded in the early 1800s, Ghent is allegedly named after the Treaty of Ghent, signed at around the same time. Transforming from farmland to the vibrant streets we know today, Historic Ghent District has become a city’s staple. Between Doumar’s Cone and BBQ, home to the world’s first waffle cone, and Mermaid Winery, Virginia’s first urban winery, there is a lot to be explored. With shows at Chrysler Museum of Art, the Naro Expanded Cinema, or Virginia Symphony Orchestra, there is something for everyone!
What is your favorite historical site in downtown Norfolk?