Photo: East Mellen Street, Phoebus Historic District, Hampton, VA. Photographed by user:Kubigula (own work), 2013, [cc-by-3.0 (creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons, accessed March, 2015.
The Phoebus Historic District was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2006. Portions of the content of this web page were adapted from a copy of the original nomination document. [‡]
The Phoebus Historic District is located within the city of Hampton, Virginia. Phoebus was originally an independent town within Elizabeth City County dating from 1874 to 1952. Elizabeth City County and the town of Phoebus were annexed to the city of Hampton in 1952. The town developed from a 17th century settlement along Mill Creek which is situated to the southeast of the town boundaries. Mill Creek was a navigable waterway providing access to the lands within Elizabeth City County. The town of Phoebus is located northwest of Old Point Comfort (also call Point Comfort), which was a strategic military and port location on the north side of Hampton Roads from the 17th century until the present day, and serves as the home of the 19th century Fort Monroe. The town grew during the Reconstruction period with the addition of a railroad line, streetcar line, commercial corridor, and supporting residential building. Its proximity to the ferries that operated from Old Point Comfort facilitated its growth and development.
The years between 1952 and 1957 marked two major events in the history of Elizabeth City County, and the cities of Hampton and Phoebus. For years, Hampton had sought to annex Elizabeth City County, and this annexation finally occurred in 1952. Like the adjacent city of Newport News and regional cities of Norfolk and Portsmouth, annexation of county land had become frequent through the first half of the 20th century. Norfolk and Portsmouth had begun annexations in the 19th century, as had Hampton and Phoebus. Additional lands that developed around the growing towns and cities were annexed, thus allowing newly enlarged towns and cities to take advantage of new revenues and an increased landmass. It also enabled cities who offered services to the outlying counties and towns to consolidate control over the facilities. On April 1, 1952 the town of Phoebus and Elizabeth City County were officially annexed by the city of Hampton.
The Phoebus Historic District reflects Reconstruction-era town development using town planning ideas rooted in the 17th century. Streets oriented in a gridiron pattern were platted east and west of the County Road, leading from the City of Hampton to Old Point Comfort. The commercial corridor of the town was planned on Mellen Street southwest of County Road creating a dog-leg intersection at the northwest end of the town. Mellen Street was the main road leading to the bridge to Old Point Comfort.
The southernmost lots southwest of Mellen Street were divided into irregular rectangular shapes and sold off to buyers for the erection of houses. In the blocks to the north four lots were platted within each block occupying each corner. During the late 19th and early 20th centuries, lots were subdivided for the erection of buildings, but maintained the gridiron patterning established in the original plan.
Most building within the Phoebus Historic District was made during the period of 1900 to 1930. This period represents the development of the commercial corridor along Mellen and Mallory Streets, and the construction of domestic buildings within the grid pattern of the historic district.
Domestic buildings that served as residences represent eighty percent of the built environment within the Phoebus Historic District. Most domestic buildings constructed in the Phoebus Historic District that remain date to the turn of the 20th century. Most are modest, frame, one to two story single-family dwellings. They employ popular turn of the 20th century styles such as Italianate, Victorian, Colonial Revival, and Craftsman. The Italianate and Victorian styles are based in European sources, while the Colonial Revival and Craftsman styles are more typical of American styles.
Within the Phoebus Historic District, the Colonial Revival, Queen Anne, Craftsman and Bungalow styles represent a majority of the building styles employed. As the period between 1900 and 1930 reflected the most construction, the styles that were most popular and employed most often are found the most frequently. The range of architectural styles reflected the varying taste of Americans to architectural design. The common thread among a majority of the housing styles found is that they are particularly American and reflect the independence of American thought and taste.
In the post-1940 period, architectural style changed dramatically from the pre-World War II architectural styles that relied upon European sources with building articulation and decoration. In the post-World War II period, domestic architecture shifted away from the highly ornate styles in favor of styles that were more simplified. Partially due to the need for housing and the popularity of the Colonial Revival style, single family houses took on simpler forms with minimal articulation. Though grounded in the Colonial Revival style, they were more commonly one to one-and-one-half stories in the period after World War II. The last half of the 20th century is defined by an adaptation of the Colonial Revival style. This is found mainly among the modest Colonial Revival houses with little or no articulation and most of one to one-and-one-half stories, such as those with a Cape Cod form, and Ranch-style houses. These styles are much more simplified and typical of building forms during the mid-20th century.
The commercial buildings date to the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Many are frame construction typical of the late 19th century. There are a few that are brick construction that date to the early 20th century. Stylistically the buildings exhibit the Commercial style with a few featuring Romanesque Revival and Art Deco characteristics. One exceptional example is the American Theatre, a Beaux Arts theater constructed in 1908. The American Theater has the swags, Mansard roof, decorative window crowns typical of the Beaux Arts style from the late 19th to the early 20th century. Most of the commercial buildings comprise a one-part commercial block form, typical of modest commercial development of buildings of one or two stories. They are sited on the sidewalks that line the streets and are primarily two stories in height. The commercial corridor along Mellen and Mallory Streets are reflective of commercial development at the turn of the 20th century.
Additional buildings were added in the 1920s through the 1940s typical of the changing character of the transportation and entertainment businesses. A gas station was added on Mellen Street with the removal of a 19th century house in the 1920s. It is a typical one-story building oriented to the corner with a hipped roof and canopy on the facade. These buildings are typical of the turn of the 20th century one- and two-part commercial blocks developed in American urban cores.
The Phoebus Historic District reflects typical turn of the 20th century styles common throughout Virginia and southeastern Virginia. Most are modest and are not exemplary. The town originally occupied by the merchant and middle classes reflects architectural trends of these groups.
The Phoebus Historic District is an example of town development during the Reconstruction era in a response to the growth of port cities in southeastern Virginia. The historic district retains its original plan, commercial corridor integrity and residential building stock, and reflects the character and vitality of the town of Phoebus during the late 19th century to mid-20th century.
‡ Marcus R. Pollard, Historian, Commonwealth Preservation Group, Phoebus Historic District, Hampton, Virginia, nomination document, 2006, National Park Service, National Register of Historic Places, Washington, D.C.
Bickford Street • County Street East • Curry Street South • Downes Street • Home Place • Hope Street South • Howard Street East • Lancer Street • Mallory Street South • Mellen Street East • National Avenue • Segar Street • Willard Avenue South • Williams Street