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Portsmouth History


Portsmouth first explored by Capt. John Smith from Jamestown.


July 12th - Site recognized as suitable shipbuilding location by John Wood, a shipbuilder, who petitioned King James for a land grant. Also beginning of regional land grants and settlement as a plantation community.


May 15th - County government established.


June 15th - Site first patented by Captain William Carver, a patriot in Bacon’s Rebellion, who was hanged in 1676 for opposing autocratic government. Carver’s second patent was dated 15 September 1664.


Site re-patented by Col. William Crawford.


February 27th - established as the Town of Portsmouth by act of General Assembly and named for Portsmouth, England, by its founder – Col. William Crawford – who dedicated the four corners of High and Court Streets for a church, a market, a courthouse, and a jail.


March 5th - Portsmouth Parish established by Act of General Assembly and Portsmouth Parish Church, now Trinity Church (corner of High and Court Streets), built in 1762.


May 19th - First annexation by Town of Portsmouth.


November 1st - Gosport Shipyard, adjoining Portsmouth, established by Andrew Sprowle.


Lord Dunmore, last Royal Governor, driven from Williamsburg, sought refuge at Gosport with Sprowle, a Tory. After his defeat at the Battle of Great Bridge, his ships bombarded Norfolk. He made his final stand at Hospital Point, Portsmouth, before being driven from the harbor. Portsmouth was then occupied by the 4th Virginia Regiment, and Fort Nelson was built at Hospital Point.


May 11th - Fleet of Sir George Collier with 1,800 British troops under Gen. Matthews invaded Portsmouth, captured Fort Nelson, burned 137 vessels and the Gosport Shipyard, "The Most Considerable in America."


Gen. Leslie, with 3,000 British troops and 60 ships, invaded and fortified Portsmouth.


January 2nd - Benedict Arnold, the traitor, with 2,500 British troops occupied and fortified Portsmouth. He was reinforced by Gen. Phillips with 2,000 troops, and later by the Army of Lord Cornwallis, who assumed command, and in August evacuated Portsmouth for Yorktown, where he surrendered to American and French forces on October 19th.


October 18th - Second annexation (Gosport) by Town of Portsmouth.


December 10th - Keel of U.S. Frigate CHESAPEAKE, sister ship of the CONSTITUTION, laid at Gosport Shipyard. First ship built here for the U.S. Navy.


January 20th - Portsmouth authorized as seat of Norfolk County.


June 22nd - Portsmouth and Navy Yard attacked by British under Adm. Sir John B. Warren and Brigadier Gen. Sir Sydney Beckwith, who were defeated at the Battle of Craney Island.


May 24th - First steamboat entered Portsmouth harbor.


July 14th - the first lightship in the U.S. was stationed off Craney Island.

October 20th - Navy Yard launched its first 74-gun ship-of-the-line, the U.S.S. DELAWARE.


October 25th - Portsmouth welcomed General LaFayette.


May 9th - First Portsmouth newspaper established


Portsmouth Naval Hospital built and commissioned; oldest in the United States.


March 8th - Portsmouth and Roanoke Railroad, Incorporated, one of the first railroads in the South, was established; was predecessor of the Seaboard Airline Railway (now CSX Transportation).


June 17th - U.S.S. DELAWARE was first ship drydocked in the United States. She entered Drydock No. 1 at the Portsmouth (Gosport) Navy Yard. This drydock is still in use at the Norfolk Naval Shipyard, and is a National Historic Landmark and National Historic Civil Engineering Landmark.


April 2nd - Ferry landing changed from foot of North Street to High Street.


February 17th - Portsmouth public schools authorized by law; opened in 1847.


July 20th - First court held in new court house.


February 17th - Portsmouth authorized to elect Mayor and council in place of board of trustees.


April 14th - ship NEPTUNE’S CAR launched in Portsmouth and Page and Allen Shipyard, the only clipper ship built in the South.


Ocean House, later named Hotel Monroe, built by Col. Watts and Arthur Emerson. President Franklin Pierce was entertained here. The hotel has served as quarters for Confederate officers and as a Federal Hospital. It was destroyed by fire 9 August 1957.


March 1st - Portsmouth separated from county government and chartered as an independent city.


April 20th - Navy Yard and 11 warships burned by evacuating Federal forces. Navy Yard and city occupied, first by Virginia forces, followed by Confederate forces. Portsmouth, with only 900 voters, gave 1,400 men to the Confederate armed forces.


March 8th - CSS VIRGINIA, built from the burned U.S.S. MERRIMAC at Navy Yard from designs of Portsmouth Naval Constructor John L. Porter, attacked and defeated the Federal Squadron in Hampton Roads, the world’s first ironclad ship to engage in a naval battle. She engaged the U.S.S. MONITOR the following day. This two-day battle by a Portsmouth ship changed the course of Naval history and pronounced the doom of the world’s wooden navies.

May 10th - Navy Yard burned and Portsmouth evacuated by Confederate forces. The beginning of eight years of bayonet rule under Federal occupation.


June 28th - First Navy battleship launched at Navy Yard.


February 23rd - Third annexation (Park View) by Portsmouth.


Portsmouth sent volunteer companies to the Spanish-American War.


Dr. George H. Carr is the first Portsmouth automobile owner.


Fourth annexation (Scottsville and Prentis Place).


February 19th - Portsmouth adopted city manager form of government.


World War I. Navy Yard greatly expanded; three new drydocks and 24 ships built. National Guard units from Portsmouth joined the A.E.F. in France.


Navy Yard built the Navy’s first airplane carrier, U.S.S. LANGLEY, converted from collier JUPITER.

March 21st - Fifth annexation (Port Norfolk and Prentis Park)


World War II. Naval Shipyard doubled in size: 43,000 at peak employment and 101 new ships were built for the fleet. National Guard units and men and women from Portsmouth served in all theatres of war.


Radio broadcasting began in Portsmouth with station WSAP, which was succeeded in 1953 by WAVY.


January 1st - Sixth annexation (Westhaven and Waterview)


Portsmouth celebrated her bi-centennial.

May 23rd - Elizabeth River Tunnel opened for operation.


August 31st - Portsmouth-Norfolk ferries made last crossing after more than 300 years of continuous operation.


Portsmouth’s Curtis-Dunn Marine Shipyard built the first full-scale replicas of SUSAN CONSTANT, GODSPEED and DISCOVERY, the three ships which came to Jamestown, Virginia in 1607, the first permanent English colony in America.

Naval Shipyard’s largest drydock, No. 8, was altered to enable docking the largest ships afloat, passenger or naval.


September - First Portsmouth television station (WAVY TV 10).


January 1st - Seventh annexation (Cradock, Alexander Park, Simonsdale, Elizabeth Manor and other developments)

April 22nd - Portsmouth’s new $15 million Naval Hospital building was dedicated.


April 29th - Portsmouth’s new Federal Building and Post Office was opened. Houses headquarters of the Fifth Coast Guard District.


The Naval Shipyard began repair work on nuclear submarines.

September 6th - Midtown Tunnel opened


The Portsmouth Naval Shipyard Museum, founded in the Shipyard in 1949, was transferred to the Portsmouth waterfront at the foot of High Street.


The Lightship PORTSMOUTH was placed on exhibit as a museum on the waterfront near the Naval Shipyard Museum. The Lightship was declared a National Historic Landmark in 1989.

September 20th - Portsmouth Marine Terminal began operation.


January 1st - Eighth annexation (West Norfolk, Craney Island, parts of Churchland and Western Branch district of old Norfolk County).


Work began on the seawall and concrete walk along the eastern waterfront of downtown Portsmouth.


Revitalization of downtown business district, many capital improvement projects, including new streets and lighting, a new waterfront park and renovated City Park with boat ramp, landscaping and several beautification projects.


December 10th - newly expanded Children’s Museum of Virginia opened. With over 60 interactive exhibits, the museum is the largest of its kind in the state.


Portsmouth is selected by the State’s Dept. of Historic Resources as one of four regional preservation offices strategically located throughout the Commonwealth. The office will focus on historic preservation, restoration and economic development projects. The service area includes Hampton Roads, the Eastern Shore, the Northern Neck, the Peninsula and parts of Southside.


July 18th - High Street Landing opened, celebrating construction of the new permanent ferry portal and docking facility.


Children’s Museum of Virginia expanded to 63,000 square feet, with more than two dozen interactive exhibits and an antique toy and train collection.


April 30th - Naval Regional Medical Center dedicated new building


Opening of the nTelos Pavilion at Harbor Center, an outdoor cultural arts amphitheater, comparable in size and quality to Wolf Trap in Northern Virginia, and Chastain Park in Atlanta.

Located just 18 miles from the Atlantic Ocean, Portsmouth’s Ocean Marine Yacht Center weighs in with a 1,250-ton syncrolift, an 80-ton marine travelift and a state-of-the-art indoor repair and paint facility, where the engines, shafts and propellers of the world’s largest pleasure ships can be repaired. Additional amenities include 122 floating slips, indoor dry storage for 320 boats and more than 1,000 of alongside dockage. Completion of the center is scheduled for the first quarter of 2002.


The official rededication of Building Number One, at the Naval Medical Center, Portsmouth. Building Number One, is the nation’s oldest naval hospital, and has been a significant place for the treatment of the nation’s military and their dependents since early 1800’s.

Portsmouth, Virginia celebrates its 250th birthday.


The First Order Fresnel Lens from the Hog Island Lighthouse came out of storage after nearly four decades to light up the Portsmouth waterfront. The Fresnel Lens is on loan to the City of Portsmouth by the US Coast Guard.

Hurricane Isabel made landfall in the Outer Banks of North Carolina. The worst of the effects of Isabel occurred in Virginia, especially in the Hampton Roads area.


The first 211 bricks were laid for the city’s new “Path of History,” a walking trail that tells the story of Portsmouth’s unique relationship with the local military and, especially, the Norfolk Naval Shipyard.


The Virginia Sports Hall of Fame (VSHF) opened its new state-of-the-art facility. VSHF is one of only about 16 official state sports halls of fame in the country and a member of the International Association of Sports Museums and Halls of Fame.


APM Terminals North America, Inc. opens terminal located on the Elizabeth River in Portsmouth, Virginia. The largest private port development in the United States.

ODU Tri Cities Center opens a 50,000 square foot facility designed to support a variety of graduate and undergraduate programs.


The United States Coast Guard designates Portsmouth as “Coast Guard City”

Tidewater Community College opens Portsmouth campus. The new state-of-the-art facility, is located in the Victory Village business park.

City of Portsmouth, Virginia · All Rights Reserved · Portsmouth City Hall · 801 Crawford Street · Portsmouth, VA 23704 · 757-393-8000