Hampton Roads

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Missing image
Hampton Roads, the world's greatest harbor, from state map of pre-civil war Virginia circa 1858

Hampton Roads is the name of both a body of water and the land areas which surround it in southeastern Virginia in the United States.

Officially known as the Virginia Beach-Norfolk-Newport News, VA-NC MSA, the Hampton Roads area has a population about 1.6 million and is the fourth largest metropolitan area in the southeastern United States between Washington, D.C. and Atlanta. Other less-popular names for the area include Tidewater Virginia, Virginia's Waterfront, and "Seven Cities" (because of the seven primary cities in the area: Chesapeake, Hampton, Newport News, Norfolk, Portsmouth, Suffolk, and Virginia Beach).

While combined into a single Metropolitan Statistical Area (MSA) for economic purposes, most of the land area of Hampton Roads is geographically divided into 2 regions, the Virginia Peninsula and South Hampton Roads. A small portion of Virginia's Middle Peninsula region and part of North Carolina are also included in the MSA definition.



The term "Hampton Roads" is a centuries-old reference that originated when the region was a struggling British outpost nearly 400 years ago. Designated in the 17th Century as the name of the harbor, "Hampton Roads" honors one of the founders of the Virginia Company and a great supporter of the colonization of Virginia, Henry Wriothesley, 3rd Earl of Southampton. Signifying the safety of a port, "roads" in nautical terminology means "a place less sheltered than a harbor where ships may ride at anchor." Although perhaps by that definition the label harbor is technically incorrect, Hampton Roads has become well-known as the "world's greatest harbor."

The entrance from Chesapeake Bay was defended by Fort Monroe, built in 1819 on Old Point Comfort, and by Fort Wool, built as Fort Calhoun in 1829, on a small island called the Rip Raps near the middle of the channel. The famous Battle of Hampton Roads between USS Monitor and CSS Virginia (ex-USS Merrimack) during the US Civil War took place here, off Sewell's Point, on March 8-9, 1862. The Jamestown Exposition was held at Sewell's point on Hampton Roads in 1907. A major naval display was featured.

Note: This section provides history of the water area known as Hampton Roads. For the histories of the various communities which make up the Hampton Roads region, please refer to the articles on the Virginia Peninsula and South Hampton Roads subregions, and individual articles for each shire, county, town, or city in the following section.

Political subdivisions

Independent cities (current)

Counties (current)

Incorporated towns (current)

Unincorporated towns and communities not in cities (current)

Extinct shires, counties, cities, towns

As the current communities in Hampton Roads Region were formed and grew from the Colonial period to statehood and modern times, the political structure of many areas in Virginia changed. In the mid 20th century, a wave of consolidations of local governments led to almost the entire southeastern portion of Virginia consisting of a group of adjoining independent cities.

Many incorporated (formally constituted) localities became legally extinct, through mostly not abandoned by their citizens, with the notable exception of Jamestown. For search of genealogical, land, and other historical records, it may be necessary to find these old names.

The following is a partial listing of extinct political subdivisions in the Hampton Roads area with approximate formation and exinction dates. Note: Former towns which grew to became cities of the same name are not listed separately. More information about dates and dispositions may be found in most individual articles by following the links.

In order of date founded:

See also article Lost counties, cities and towns of Virginia


Missing image
Hampton Roads from space

The water area known as Hampton Roads is a channel through which the waters of the James River, Nansemond River, and Elizabeth River pass (between Old Point Comfort to the north and Sewell's Point to the south) into the Chesapeake Bay and the Atlantic Ocean.

The region has extensive natural areas, including 26 miles of Atlantic Ocean beaches, the Chesapeake Bay, the Great Dismal Swamp, picturesque rivers, state parks, wildlife refuges, and botanical gardens.

The land portion of Hampton Roads is divided into two regions, the Peninsula, on the north side, and South Hampton Roads, on the south side, where most of the area's population lives.

In addition, the Middle Peninsula counties of Gloucester and Mathews, which are not part of the geographical Hampton Roads area, but is part of the vast metropolitan region's population.


Highways, bridges, tunnels, bridge-tunnels, ferry system

The Hampton Roads area has an extensive network of Interstate Highways, including the Interstate 64, the major east-west route to and from the area, and its spurs and bypasses of I-264, I-464, I-564, and I-664.

The Hampton Roads Beltway extends 56 miles on a long loop through the region, crossing the harbor on two toll-free bridge-tunnel facilities. These crossings are the Hampton Roads Bridge-Tunnel between Phoebus in Hampton and Willoughby Spit in Norfolk and the Monitor-Merrimac Memorial Bridge-Tunnel between Newport News and Suffolk. The Beltway connects with another Interstate highway and three arterial U.S. Highways at Bower's Hill near the northeastern edge of the Great Dismal Swamp.

Other major east-west routes are U.S. Highway 58, U.S. Highway 60, and U.S. Highway 460. The major north-south routes are U.S. Highway 13 and U.S. Highway 17.

A third crossing of Hampton Roads is the James River Bridge, carrying US 17 from Newport News to Isle of Wight County.

There are also two other tunnels in the area joining Portsmouth and Norfolk, as well as the 17-mile-long Chesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel, a toll facility which links the region with Virginia's Eastern Shore which carries US 13.

The George P. Coleman Memorial Bridge is a major toll bridge connecting U.S. Highway 17 on the Peninsula at Yorktown with Virginia's Middle Peninsula region.

The Jamestown Ferry (also known as the Jamestown-Scotland Ferry) is an automobile ferry system on the James River connecting Jamestown in James City County with Scotland in Surry County. It carries Virginia State Highway 31. Operated by VDOT, it is the only 24-hour state-run ferry operation in Virginia and has over 90 employees. It operates four ferryboats, the Pocahontas, the Williamsburg, the Surry, and the Virginia. The facility is toll-free.

Local public transportation

Local Public transit is provided by an extensive bus network operated by the Transportation District Commission of Hampton Roads and Williamsburg Area Transit, both of which are public agencies. Several light rail service proposals are under development.

Hampton Roads Transit

An extensive regional transit bus system and paratransit services are provided by Hampton Roads Transit (HRT), a regional public transport system headquartered in Norfolk.

Williamsburg Area Transit

A smaller transit bus system and paratransit services are provided by Williamsburg Area Transit, based in the Williamsburg area, which serves Williamsburg, James City County, and a portion of York County.

Light rail, bus rapid transit, maglev projects

A light rail service is in planning stages at Norfolk. There has also been a study in the Hampton - Newport News areas.

The resort city of Virginia Beach is implementing a Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) system similar that in use in Las Vegas. There is a small experimental maglev project under development on campus at Old Dominion University in Norfolk.

Intercity bus

Intercity bus service is provided by Greyhound Lines and Carolina Trailways.

Passenger Rail

The area is served by passenger rail service provided by Amtrak, with stations in Williamsburg and Newport News, and connecting bus service to Norfolk and Virginia Beach.

The Department of Rail and Public Transportation of the State of Virginia has studies underway for extending high speed passenger rail to the Virginia Peninsula and South Hampton Roads areas with a rail connection at Richmond to both the Northeast Corridor and the Southeast High Speed Rail Corridor.


The Hampton Roads is served by 2 major airports Norfolk International Airport and Newport News-Williamsburg International Airport. Norfolk International Airport is the main air passenger and cargo transport hub in the region.

Harbor: commerce, shipping, military

Hampton Roads' economic base is port-related, including shipbuilding, ship repair, naval installations, cargo transfer and storage, and manufacturing related to the processing of imports and exports. Associated with the ports' military role are almost 50,000 federal civilian employees.

The harbor of Hampton Roads is an important highway of commerce, especially for the cities of Norfolk, Portsmouth, and Newport News.

In Portsmouth, a few miles up the Elizabeth River, Norfolk Naval Shipyard is located. Newport News Shipbuilding and Drydock Company (NNS) is located a short distance up the James River. There are also several smaller shipyards, numerous docks and terminals.

Massive coal loading piers and facilities were established in the late 19th and early 20th century by the Chesapeake & Ohio (C&O), Norfolk & Western (N&W), and Virginian (VGN) Railways. The latter two were predecessors railroads of Norfolk Southern Corporation, a Fortune 500 company which has its headquarters in Norfolk, and continues to export coal from a large facility at Lambert's Point on the Elizabeth River. CSX Transportation now serves the former C&O facility at Newport News.

Hampton Roads is also a chief rendezvous of the United States Navy. The Hampton Roads area has the largest concentration of military bases and facilities of any metropolitan area in the world. The area is home to the Allied Command Transformation, which is the only major military command of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). The Norfolk Navy Base is located at Sewell's Point near the mouth, on the site used for the tercentennial Jamestown Exposition in 1907. For a width of 500 feet the Federal government during 1902 through 1905 increased its minimum depth at low water from 25.5 feet to 30 feet, and the channel has now been dredged to a depth of 55 feet in some places. NASA Langley Research Center is located on the Peninsula adjacent to Langley Air Force Base, in Hampton, which is home to scientific and aerospace technology research.

Other area military facilities include:

Area attractions and historical sites

Historic Triangle: Jamestown, Williamsburg, and Yorktown

The Historic Triangle is located on the Virginia Peninsula and includes the colonial communities of Jamestown, Williamsburg, and Yorktown, with many restored attractions linked by the Colonial Parkway.

Colonial Parkway

The National Park Service's Colonial Parkway joins the three popular attractions of Colonial Virginia with a scenic and bucolic roadway carefully shielded from views of commercial development. This helps visitors mentally return to the past, and there are often views of wildlife and waterfowl. This two lane roadway is the best (but nor quickest) way to move between the three points. Near the James River and York River ends of the parkway, there are several pull-offs, where some families allow their children to feed bread to the seagulls. (Warning: No trucks are allowed).

For an even better experience, approach the area from the south by water from Surry County with a ride aboard one of the Jamestown Ferrys, which include the Pocahontas and Williamsburg. As passengers cross, they can can walk about the boat or go up to an enclosed viewing level with restrooms. Weather and daylight permitting, passengers usually see the Jamestown Island much as the first colonists may have approached it. In fact, the replicas of Christopher Newport's the three tiny ships, Susan Constant, Godspeed, and Discovery are docked near the northern ferry landing. Both the Jamestown Ferry and Colonial Parkway are toll-free.


The first permanent English settlement in the New World which was established at Jamestown in 1607. Today, you can visit the Jamestown Festival Park and Jamestown Island attraction. Included are recreations of a native american village and colonial fort, and archaeological sites where current work is underway.


In 1699, the first capital of Virginia was moved to Middle Plantation at the suggestion of students from the College of William and Mary (established 1693). It was soon renamed to Williamsburg, but became a largely forgotten little town after the capital was moved to Richmond in 1788. Largely due to the 20th century preservation efforts of the Reverend Dr. W.A.R. Goodwin, rector of Bruton Parish Church and the generosity of Standard Oil heir John D. Rockefeller Jr., today Colonial Williamsburg is a large living museum of early American life. It has dozens of restored and recreated buildings and reenactors. It is one of the most popular tourist destinations in the world. The Visitor's Center (right off the Colonial Parkway) features a short movie and is an excellent place to start (and leave automobiles, which are restricted from the restored area, where wheelchair-accessible shuttle bus service is provided).


The third point of the triangle is Yorktown where General Cornwallis surrendered to George Washington in 1781, ending the American Revolution. There are two large visitor centers, battlefield drives, and a waterfront area.

Commercial enterprises

Notwithstanding the amazingly successful efforts to provide a non-commercial atmosphere at the three Historic Triangle areas (and on the Colonial Parkway between them), there are many hotels, motels, campgrounds, restaurants, shops and stores, gasoline stations, and amusements close by.

Other points of history

There's also a wealth of other points of history to explore in the Hampton Roads area.

Virginia Peninsula

South Hampton Roads


The callsign of WGH, an early radio station in Newport News, stand for World's Greatest Harbor.

The 3.5 mile long Hampton Roads Bridge-Tunnel was the first bridge-tunnel complex in the world when it first opened as a 2-lane toll facility in 1957.

See also

External links

Template:Virginiade:Hampton Roads


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