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Suffolk City

Suffolk City Hall is located at 441 Market Street, Suffolk, VA 23434; phone: 757-514-4000.

Beginnings [1]

The City of Suffolk, established in 1742, is ideally located along the waterways of Lake Kilby, Lake Meade, the Nansemond River and Shingle Creek. The original town consisted of fifty acres of land based at the location of John Constant's tobacco warehouse. The access to major waterways proved essential to the commercial success of the town. By 1748, ferries connected Suffolk to the neighboring towns of Norfolk and Southampton, and by the eve of the Revolutionary War (1775-1781) Suffolk was a prospering commercial center relying on trade in lumber, tar, turpentine, staves, shingles and other by-products that could be extracted from nearby Dismal Swamp. During the Revolutionary War, the British destroyed the prospering commercial center in Suffolk, which was soon rebuilt. The majority of the earliest buildings in this area, known as "Old Town," are Federal-period wood-frame dwellings with a commercial enclave that was centered along Main Street. A fire destroyed most of Suffolk in 1837, prompting a second period of rebuilding that moved beyond Old Town to an area known as "Up Town." The main trade in Suffolk during the 19th century continued to focus on the lumber industry, while the more rural county trade was dedicated to the production of grains and other agricultural products. Between 1819 and 1822, steamboat lines between Suffolk, Norfolk, and Smithfield were opened and continued to operate until the turn of the 20th century. In 1835, Suffolk received the first of its six railways, the Seaboard Air Line, connecting Suffolk to Portsmouth and Wealdon, North Carolina. With the advent of the railways, Suffolk's prominence as a manufacturing and exporting town was established.

Suffolk's railroads and steamships made it an attractive prize during the Civil War (1861- 1865). In May 1862, the town of Suffolk was surrendered to Union forces which held the town until the summer of 1863. On April 11, 1863, 20,000 Confederate troops under Lieutenant General James Longstreet attacked the town in an attempt to re-capture Suffolk and re-establish the railways. The failed siege ended on May 4, 1863, when Longstreet withdrew his troops in an attempt to aid Robert E. Lee in Chancellorsville. During the Union occupation, troop encampments were set up in the fields to the east, south and west of the town, including the area which would subsequently become the West End neighborhood.

Suffolk experienced a steady growth in population during the Reconstruction period. Real estate development increased beyond Old Town and Up Town to the east and west of Main Street, with four new streets created to meet the growing residential demands of immigrating upper-class citizens. This second addition to Suffolk's central core was known as "New Town" and included some of the town's most elaborate and large-scale residences.

  1. Jana E. Riggle and Laura V. Trieschmann, architectural historians, EHT Traceries, Inc., West End Historic District, Suffolk, VA, nomination document, 2003, National Park Service, National Register of Historic Places, Washington, D.C.
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