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Newport News City

Independent Cities, Virginia

Newport News City Hall is located at 2400 Washington Avenue, Newport News VA 23607.
Phone: 757‑926‑8411.


Beginnings [1]

Newport News lies within the original Kecoughtan area, which extended from the Chesapeake Bay westward to Skiffe's Creek and northward to the Back River. In 1607 the first English settlers entering the James River named the apex of the triangle Point Hope. In 1611 Robert Salford, with his wife and son, came to the creek now in the eastern part of the city. The name of the stream, Salford Creek, was changed through usage to Salter's. Other land within the limits of the present Newport News was patented in 1621 by the Newce brothers, Thomas and Sir William, who came from Ireland. Sir William Newce had offered to transport 1,000 persons to Virginia, but brought 'only a few weak and unserviceable people, ragged and not above a fortnights provisions, some bound for three years, and most upon wages.' For his failure William Capps immediately dubbed him 'Sir William Naughtworth.' But there was some reason for Sir William's failure to bring the thousand persons — he died in 1621.

Daniel Gookin, an Englishman who had moved to Port Newce in County Cork Ireland, followed the Newces to this area, bringing with him 'fifty men of his owne, and thirty Passengers, exceedingly well furnished with all sorts of Provision.' It was he who probably named the community — some say for his home in Ireland; others, to honor Newce and Captain Christopher Newport; and still others for the good news that Newport brought the starving colonists — the most likely origin since old inhabitants still call the city Newport's News. That the name was current in 1626 is attested by the minutes of the general court, which record a transfer to Daniel Gookin of land 'situate above Newport's News at a place called Marie's Mount.'

Though tracing its ancestry to Kecoughtan and sharing in Colonial and American vicissitudes, Newport News was merely an area of farm lands and fishing village until the coming of the railroad and the subsequent establishment of the great shipyard. In 1852 an act of general assembly 'to legalize the wharf at Newport News,' gave the Warwick County Court 'the same powers in regard to said wharf as are possessed by the county court of James City in regard to the Grove Wharf in the lands of Thomas Wynne.' In 1873 Major Robert H. Temple surveyed a railway line from Richmond to the mouth of the James River. Seven years later Collis P. Huntington, the industrialist, found Major Temple's wooden markers intact and undertook to build the road along that route. The railroad was completed in 1882, and a town was plotted without formal authorization by the general assembly. Four years later the Chesapeake Dry Dock and Construction Company (now the Newport News Shipbuilding and Dry Dock Company, was begun and boom years followed. In 1900 the population was 19,635; and in 1920, 35,596.

Humanity's flotsam and jetsam landed upon an area that came to be known significantly as Hell's Half Acre, a district between 18th and 23rd Streets, now occupied by a railway yard. When Newport News was incorporated as a city in 1896, Hell's Half Acre lay outside its limits. Shacks were hurriedly built to house its motley population, estimated during the World War at about 2,000 persons almost equally divided between Negroes and whites, whose barrooms and brothels catered to water-front workers and visiting seamen. It is said that the area then averaged a murder a week. At the end of the war, however, Newport News annexed Hell's Half Acre and the adjacent Negro district known as Poverty Row, and instituted a program of law enforcement. Between 1925 and 1927 all the land of both sections was bought by the Chesapeake and Ohio Railway, and the disreputable shacks were razed.

Now, in addition to the giant shipyard and the sea terminus of a great railway, the city's industries include the manufacture of soft drinks, ice and ice cream, mattresses and pillows, metal fixtures, automobile parts, caskets, hotel and hospital supplies, and building accessories.

  1. Works of the Writer's Program of the Works Progress Administration in the State of Virginia, Virginia: A Guide to the Old Dominion, American Guide Series, 1940, Oxford University Press, New York

Nearby Towns: Grafton • Tabb •