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South Norfolk Historic District

Chesapeake City, Independent Cities, VA

The South Norfolk Historic District [‡] was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1989.


The South Norfolk Historic District covers about one-half of a square mile at the northern end of the City of Chesapeake in the area generally known as South Norfolk. Begun as a streetcar suburb and retaining its suburban residential character, the South Norfolk Historic District contains 795 buildings, 127 of which are non-contributing. The streets within the South Norfolk Historic District are laid out in a grid pattern; fully detached houses, most of them single family, line the majority of the blocks. The South Norfolk Historic District also includes several churches, a school, a park, and a small local business district. The Norfolk and Western Railroad forms one boundary of the district, yet it is an almost silent presence because loaded coal cars on the track move at a very slow speed. Poindexter Street, on which most of the businesses are located, is a busy thoroughfare, but like the railroad does not intrude upon the quiet residential nature of the district. Development within the South Norfolk Historic District took place in the few decades between 1890 and the 1930's, and the buildings exhibit the styles and construction methods that were popular at the time. Houses in modified Classical Revival and Queen Anne styles, as well as houses with Stick and Eastlake elements, are interspersed with early twentieth century houses in Bungalow, Cottage, Foursquare, and Colonial Revival styles, All houses have front and back yards, most with carefully tended gardens, lawn and shrubbery. In general the South Norfolk Historic District is a quiet residential area with an atmosphere little changed over nearly a century.

The South Norfolk Historic District is a turn of the century suburb that was once a part of the independent town of South Norfolk but is now a part of the City of Chesapeake in the lower Tidewater region of Virginia. The South Norfolk Historic District is only a few blocks from the Southern Branch of the Elizabeth River; small fingers of tidewater still reach nearly to the district although many have been filled in. The land in the South Norfolk Historic District is flat, and the streets are laid out in the grid pattern. The South Norfolk developers were contractors, developers, and lumber merchants, not followers of the landscape tradition of Frederick Law Olmsted who brought new planning ideas in the late nineteenth century to the nation through his work in Central Park, the Columbian Exposition in Chicago, and other suburbs and parks across the land. The South Norfolk developers were practical men following a much earlier tradition of placing as many houses as possible in a city block while creating comfortable and attractive homes for the rapidly expanding group of Americans who could purchase their own homes. They were little interested in community planning, incorporating the natural environment, or creating curving streets and pleasant vistas.

By the turn of the century increasing numbers of Americans could afford to buy their own homes. Local loan associations and banks promoted the concept and helped make it possible. The South Norfolk developers worked with local banking interests to create housing that would be within the means of many individuals and would appeal to the popular taste of the time. Originally the entire area was divided into 25-foot lots. Some houses occupied only one lot while larger buildings might occupy several.

The nearby city of Norfolk had long had an ordinance that required brick construction, but nearly every house in the South Norfolk Historic District was a wood-frame building. This was not simply a way to economize or evade the prevailing urban code. It was the natural choice of the developers who included in their group a lumber dealer. Although new aluminium or vinyl siding as well as earlier asbestos siding now covers many of the houses, the original exteriors were generally of wood shingle or weatherboard. Most of the houses are two or two and a half stories high and are large enough to accommodate a household with several children and perhaps even members of the extended family or boarders.

Most of the houses are at a uniform distance from the curb, creating a streetscape that is pleasantly symmetrical, but which has enough variety in house size, shape, and color to avoid boredom. The streets were laid out all at one time, but few houses were built on speculation. Prospective buyers were apparently given their choice of lot and house style. Thus, after the first wave of construction, houses appeared on lots scattered throughout the district rather than on one street or block at a time. This process of development continued, so that through the 1930s Bungalows, Cottages, Foursquares, and Colonial Revival houses appeared amidst the older houses.

There are now houses on nearly every buildable lot in the South Norfolk Historic District. Old insurance maps make it clear that a few of the original houses are no longer standing, but new ones have taken their places. Insurance maps also indicate that most of the houses in the South Norfolk Historic District were built by the 1930s. New construction tends to follow the size, scale, and, in many cases, the style of the existing houses so that the district continues to be a cohesive unit. Virginia has an almost ideal climate for gardening, and residents in the district, as elsewhere in the state, take full advantage of it. Lawns, shrubbery, and flower gardens add color and variety to nearly every lot.

The general appearance and character of the South Norfolk Historic District seems to have changed little over the years, although one small tidal inlet that stretched into Lakeside Park as late as 1900 has been filled in. Only a small portion remains to form the small waterway in the park. This rectangular park at the south end of the district is its major open space. Like the district, it does not display any unusual landscape architecture, but it is a pleasant and much-used space that provides a place to sit, walk, play, observe the resident ducks, and enjoy the water. The South Norfolk High School, now the Truitt Junior High School, stands beside the park, its grounds forming a continuation of the park's open space. This school continues a tradition in the district, for the South Norfolk School once stood on Jackson Street, and the later Rena B. Wright School stood just outside the district on the north.

Churches now, as in the past, are an important feature of the South Norfolk Historic District. The South Norfolk Baptist Church, a large brick structure is the outgrowth of a much smaller wooden church that burned in 1913. The present church was built in 1915 and has an unusual oval interior. The Chesapeake Avenue Methodist Episcopal Church at Chesapeake and Ohio avenues, built in 1970 replaced the earlier church erected in 1920 on the site of the house of Foster Black, operator of the knitting mills.[1] The South Norfolk Christian Church, the large brick Colonial Revival building at Jackson and Guerriere Streets was built in the twentieth century, and the South Norfolk Church of Christ, now called the Chesapeake Church of God is a small wooden structure also built in the twentieth century. Commercial buildings have been a part of the South Norfolk Historic District since before 1900.

Commercial activity has always been concentrated along Poindexter Street. Only a few small stores exist in the residential area of the district. Some of the older buildings have disappeared from Poindexter Street, having been replaced by fast-food restaurants, a modern post office, and other businesses. A number of early twentieth century commercial buildings still remain although many have new fronts and other alterations. Nearly all of the buildings within the South Norfolk Historic District still serve the purpose for which they were originally built.

One dominant feature of the South Norfolk Historic District is not a building but the Norfolk and Western Railroad. The track forms the eastern boundary of the district, and grade crossings at nearly every street connect the district to the streets on the other side of the track. Usually there is a long coal train on the track, slowly and almost silently making its way to its destination at the nearby terminal. When the district first developed, a second track also ran through it. This was the Berkley Street Railway, which ran across Holly Avenue to Chesapeake Avenue and then up Chesapeake Avenue and on to Berkley Avenue. Initially a horsecar line, near the turn of the century it began to operate electrically. Although the streetcar line no longer exists, the streets on which the tracks ran, including Chesapeake Avenue, are still very wide.

The buildings within the South Norfolk Historic District are generally in very good condition; only a few have undergone heavy alteration. Asbestos, aluminium, and vinyl siding now cover the exterior of many houses, yet the wood trim has often been retained. The owners of some buildings are proceeding with renovation and restoration work. The buildings within the South Norfolk Historic District create a cohesive effect quite different from the random diversity of surrounding areas. Indeed, the South Norfolk Historic District comprises an unusually large group of houses in a few selected styles popular between 1890 and the 1930s.

The period when the South Norfolk Historic District developed is now beginning to capture the attention of American historians and other scholars, particularly those with an interest in popular taste. South Norfolk is a veritable museum of popular taste in architecture for a period of four decades when builders, architects, and developers were scrambling to please the burgeoning numbers of Americans who could afford to purchase their own homes. The South Norfolk Historic District is not a collection of high-style architecture, but rather of houses belonging to what some have called the age of confidence, "The Tasteful Interlude,"[2] or the era of "The Comfortable House."[3] The time fell close on the heels of what Mark Twain called "The Great Barbecue," the era of corporate and private excess, and the "Brown Decades" upon which Louis Mumford looked with disdain.

Despite the financial panic of 1893, the Spanish-American War in 1898, the assassination of President William McKinley in 1901, the enactment of Prohibition, World War I, and other world-shaking events, American taste was gradually but unalterably changing as the products of the machine age encouraged increasing consumption. While the machine spelled the doom of the hand craftsman, it also made a new and wider variety of furniture, house trim, and decorative items available to everyone. In 1890 the machine age was not new, but it had a special impact in South Norfolk which finally was recovering from the Civil War because of its newly successful railroad routes. What better way to express a new prosperity and optimism than through new houses in the latest styles? The Columbian Exposition in Chicago in 1893 is credited with reviving an American interest in classical forms. Certainly, there is no question that from the 1890s through the 1920s Americans adapted classical columns and motifs to all matter of items from houses to utensils. Americans did not, however, immediately abandon the Queen Anne and Gothic styles they had so recently embraced. Instead, they mixed the old with the new. Always ready to satisfy their customers' appetites, housing developers, who produced the largest item that could have "style," offered houses to suit all tastes and pocketbooks.

The Sanborn Atlas of 1910 tells which of the extant houses were then standing in the district. The largest houses in the district had some Queen Anne elements. The house at 1049 Chesapeake Avenue has now lost many of its original details but still retains the tower characteristic of the Queen Anne style. The hallmarks of the style — a variety of surface materials, windows in many shapes and sizes, prominent chimneys, bay windows, and a variety of gables — appear on a number of houses in the South Norfolk Historic District, even though they date from well after the heyday of the Queen Anne style in America. Unfortunately the various trims that usually adorned Queen Anne style houses are often the first elements to be removed during remodeling. The houses are stripped of their personalities in the process of modernization.

In South Norfolk, details of the Queen Anne style appear on a number of houses that also display other stylistic elements. The Tilley House at 1106 Chesapeake Avenue was the home of E.M. Tilley, a lumber manufacturer and one of the developers of the area. The house includes the tower, irregular shape, and prominent chimneys of the Queen Anne style. As could be expected, the building material is wood. The porch with its spindle frieze and open brackets is more in the Eastlake style. This is a prominent house in the South Norfolk Historic District and is locally known as the home of Q.C. Davis, a judge. Another large house at 1203 Chesapeake also has the tower and prominent chimney of the Queen Anne style but because of alterations appears to be more in the Foursquare mode. Other houses, like 1532 Chesapeake Avenue, are simplified versions of the Queen Anne style. The houses at 1315 Seaboard Avenue and 1007 Ohio Street have trim that seems to be the local builder's combination of both Queen Anne and Shingle styles.

Most houses in the South Norfolk Historic District that are in the Queen Anne style have a simple bay window or porch pediment, such as 1118 Rogers Street, or a simplified tower, like 1136 Rogers Street, but one house stands out as the most flamboyant example of Queen Anne. This is the large house at 1146 Rogers Street. Although a late example of the style, it includes most of the usual Queen Anne features. It has an irregular shape and combines a variety of materials. Local tradition says that the owner, the proprietor of a feed business, made the concrete blocks that form the first floor with his own hands. The tradition further states that he also personally constructed the first floor level himself but stopped when his family insisted that he hire an architect or contractor. Although its architect is unknown, the house is one of the few in the South Norfolk Historic District that appears to be a custom design. Its walls are concrete block, brick, and shingle with a roof of slate. Prominent chimneys, gabled pediments and a tower extend above the main eave line. A porch with pediments above the entrances wraps around two sides of the house. This house is not only the most prominent example of the Queen Anne style in the South Norfolk Historic District, it is the most flamboyant house in any style.

Near the turn of the century, the Queen Anne style fell out of favor except for occasional appearances in diluted versions. In its full bloom it was not readily adaptable to the patterns that builders and architects distributed widely through mail-order concerns and popular magazines. Classical styles of an earlier America proved easier to adapt to practical houses; they also appealed to an American yearning for the past. The classical styles of the earlier nineteenth century were to some a symbol of American democracy. Originally the result of Thomas Jefferson's enthusiasm for Roman forms and Nicholas Biddle's rediscovery of ancient Greek forms, early-nineteenth century forms seemed to be designs that fitted neatly into the deep narrow lots that nineteenth century developers preferred.

For a time it seems that this turn of the century version of the Classical Revival house must have grown like grass across the American landscape. It appeared from coast to coast and in rural areas as well as in cities. It became by far the most popular style of house in South Norfolk in its first years of development. In The Comfortable House Alan Gowans calls them Homestead-Temple houses, houses with vaguely classical elements. As Gowans explains, "it was the near architects and mail-order builders of the 1890-1930 decades" who made the dream of a home or temple a reality for so many Americans.[4]

The Homestead-Temple house with its gable end to the street might be embellished with a one- or two-story porch across the facade or even an ell projecting at one side. It was nevertheless a practical design with a comfortable interior for family living. Many of the houses in the South Norfolk Historic District were undoubtedly the designs of local architects or contractors like John Jones, the contractor who built many houses in the area. A similar design appears again and again on Chesapeake Avenue, Seaboard Avenue, Jackson Avenue, and Park Avenue where the earliest houses were built. Sometimes a porch with Stick or Eastlake style trim embellishes the facade, and frequently cross gables enliven the sides of the roof. This design did not lose its popularity after the first wave of construction in South Norfolk. For nearly three decades after housing began in the district, the Homestead-Temple house continued to be a popular design.

There are only a few houses in the South Norfolk Historic District that might even be remotely classified in the "picturesque" mode advocated by Andrew Jackson Downing, a style somewhat out of date by the turn of the century. However, the house of the major contractor in the area, at 1130 Chesapeake Avenue, appears to have been influenced by that style although modern alterations have simplified it. There is hardly a house in the district that does not have a porch. Porches were generally a part of the Homestead-Temple house; they were also a natural place to add fanciful trim in the Eastlake or Stick styles. Round classical columns such as those on 1338 Seaboard Avenue or square classical columns like the ones on 1402 Seaboard Avenue were also popular throughout the South Norfolk Historic District.

Similar style porches also trim some houses in the South Norfolk Historic District that followed older vernacular forms. The house at 1126 Seaboard Avenue is a fine example of a simple hip-roofed house with a porch with heavy turned posts and brackets meeting to form a shallow arch between the posts. A number of similar houses appear in the district and seem to be carrying on a popular tradition.

The first streets to develop in the South Norfolk Historic District were Chesapeake, Seaboard, Jackson, and sections of Rogers, Stewart, and Park. Although the Temple house continued to be popular after 1910, houses in newer styles began to fill many of the empty lots. The Foursquare house was a plain, roughly square-shaped house with hip roof. It generally had hip-roofed dormers and a generous front porch. Plans for this type of house were readily available by mail; the complete house could even be purchased by mail and constructed on the owner's lot. It was popular in urban, small-town, and rural America. The interior departed from the old central- or side-hall plan and frequently had four rooms of equal size, one being the main stair hall. Part of a reaction against the complicated Queen Anne style, the simple design of this form made it relatively inexpensive and easily adaptable to many environments.[5] The houses at 1248 Jackson Avenue, 1316 Jackson Avenue, 1334 Jackson Avenue, 1414 Jackson Avenue, 1516 Jackson Avenue, 912 Rogers Street, 1133 Rogers Street, and 1214 Rogers Street are examples of the style within the district.

Other early twentieth century styles followed the Foursquare style and filled the empty lots in the South Norfolk Historic District. The Colonial Revival style was not particularly popular for houses in the district, although both the South Norfolk Christian Church and the South Norfolk Baptist Church feature Colonial Revival details.

The Bungalow was as popular in South Norfolk as it was elsewhere in America during the first quarter of the twentieth century. "I'll build a bungalow, big enough for two my honey, big enough for two" was a line in a popular tune, and that is exactly what many Americans did. Although most bungalows were large enough for a family, and some were very large, they all had similar characteristics. Bungalows actually came in a number of sub-styles, but the true bungalow was a one-story house in which a dormer permitted use of the second floor and on which the gable roof extended to cover a recessed porch. As Marcus Whiffen wrote in American Architecture Since 1780, "the word bungalow is a corruption of the Hindustani adjective Bangla which means belonging to Bengal."[6] The British brought the word and the idea of a low house with a veranda from India. Its various versions in America generally featured sloping gable roofs and porches. The bungalow was extremely popular in the 1920s, though many examples date from earlier or later years. Their cozy appearance appealed to many people, and bungalow plans were directly available from contractors and popular magazines.

The cottage was another house style that became very popular in South Norfolk as well as elsewhere in America in the early twentieth century. Today we usually think of a cottage as a small vacation house, often for summer use. Architecturally, the term derived from A.J. Downing's mid-nineteenth century designs for cottages. Downing believed that the simplest cottage could be designed in what he considered to be good taste by incorporating Gothic, picturesque, and his other favorite motifs. Through the years Downing's designs were popularized, adapted, and made available in inexpensive published plans. Many of the cottages in the South Norfolk Historic District are one-story houses with low-pitched gable roofs — gable end toward the street — often embellished with a porch, knee brackets, large chimney, or features more commonly associated with the bungalow.

Bungalows and cottages are most numerous in the western and southern blocks of the district that developed later. Today they blend with the earlier houses to create a cohesive residential neighborhood where the buildings themselves tell the history of the South Norfolk Historic District.


The South Norfolk Historic District in the City of Chesapeake, Virginia, is significant because it represents the establishment and growth of a primarily residential community between 1890 and 1937. This was an important period for Norfolk and its surrounding communities because railroads finally reached their full potential here and other industries developed along the waterfront, creating complete recovery from the depression that followed the Civil War. The South Norfolk Historic District is a cohesive area of houses, churches, schools, and commercial buildings that help illustrate the rapid development of South Norfolk from a streetcar suburb of Norfolk to an independent town. South Norfolk contains a large group of houses and other buildings constructed within a few decades in a variety of current popular styles. Professional contractors and developers built all the houses, which range from the simplest popular versions of the Colonial Revival to elaborate examples of Queen Anne style. Stick and Eastlake elements adorn many houses. The later house styles of the 1920s and 1930s include Cottages, Bungalows, and Foursquares and occur in a range of sizes. As an architectural entity the South Norfolk Historic District conveys not only a sense of the styles that were popular there between 1890 and 1937, but also something of the resident's tastes and styles of life.

History and Background

The area that was to become South Norfolk experienced some settlement during colonial days, but it remained a rural area until the late nineteenth century. The City of Norfolk, located directly across the Eastern Branch of the Elizabeth River from South Norfolk, did not reach its full potential until after the post-Civil-War depression, when railroads began to bring coal and produce from the west and south. The new railroads were a boon, not only to the city of Norfolk but also to the farms and villages of Norfolk County. Norfolk's location on the Elizabeth River gave it a prime position for shipping, but also prohibited a natural expansion across the river's Eastern Branch. When the Norfolk and Western and other railroads came through Norfolk County they encouraged development all along the line. New industries grew up along the Eastern and Southern Branches of the Elizabeth River, and new businesses and housing appeared near the railroad lines.

The site directly across the Eastern Branch from Norfolk was named Berkley for Lycurgus Berkley, a dry goods dealer in Norfolk. Berkley laid out streets and developed housing on land he owned. Berkley became an incorporated town, but failed to become an independent city.[7] Soon after the development of Berkley, South Norfolk arose as one of its suburbs. City directories for 1889 and the next few years included the residents of South Norfolk in the Berkley listing and referred to it as a suburb of Berkley.[8]

Late-nineteenth-century maps clearly indicate that developers began to make plans for the development of South Norfolk as early as 1889. An atlas of that date shows the area bounded by Poindexter, Eighteenth, Liberty, and B streets as a section called "Elmsley," where streets and lots had been laid out but no houses yet existed. Most of the land within the South Norfolk Historic District was still open land; the portion between B and D streets belonged to W.S. Butt.[9]

By 1900 South Norfolk and Berkley appear as two separate areas on the atlas. By this date nearly the entire historic district of South Norfolk had been divided into housing lots. Although the old County Road continued to run diagonally through the district, most of the present streets had been laid out. Quincy Place was the name of the section bounded by Park Avenue, the old County Road, and Stewart Street. It covered a large part of the southern section of the district near present-day Lakeside Park, which did not then exist. According to local sources, the land at one time belonged to the Quincy farm. By 1900 there were only two houses in Quincy Place.

The Elizabeth Land Improvement Company owned the area bounded by Bainbridge, Stewart, Holly, and Poindexter streets on the western side of the district. The company had laid out streets and lots, but there were no houses on their holdings, which continued for several blocks to the west. Their land did, however, include the Elizabeth Knitting Mills south of Park Avenue and two blocks west of Bainbridge Avenue outside the district.

Only one part of the district, a triangular shaped section bounded by Stewart, Park, and the old County Road, did not have street and lot divisions. This section included a lot (which had a house and outbuildings on it) owned by J.P. Andrew Mottu, and three open lots carrying the names "Whitehead," "Tilley," and "Woodard." The most developed section of the district in 1900 was the "Synon and Frost Addition," a large triangular section bounded by the old County Road, Poindexter Street, and Seaboard Avenue. In this section there were about sixty-five houses scattered along Chesapeake Avenue, Jackson Avenue, and Seaboard Avenue. The Baptist Church stood at the corner of Guerriere Street and Chesapeake Avenue, and there was a school in the middle of the east side of what is today the 1100 block of Jackson Avenue.[10] A prominent feature on the map of 1900 is the Berkley Street Railway, which ran on Holly Street from Bainbridge Avenue to and along Chesapeake Avenue. The complete lime started in the village of Portlock and ran north to the ferry that operated between Berkley and Norfolk.[11]

The developers of the Synon and Frost Addition were Thomas H. Synon and Daniel E. Frost, real estate developers with offices at 17 Granby Street in Norfolk. Synon was also the president of the Berkley Street Railway.[12] There seems to be little question that at the time development started within the area now known as the South Norfolk Historic District, it was to have been at least in part a streetcar suburb. The pattern was similar to what Sam Bass Warner describes in Streetcar Suburbs, his study of the process of growth in Boston. As was the case in other American cities, Norfolk was changing from the old walking city where everyone lived and walked to work. It was becoming a city in which the central core was the place for business and housing the poor, while the rest of the population lived in the suburbs and rode the streetcar to and from work. In the South Norfolk Historic District, as elsewhere, the ever-popular, convenient, and unimaginative grid plan was the basis for street and lot layout.[13]

South Norfolk developed into something slightly different from most streetcar suburbs, however. Census and other records show that the largest percentage of its residents did not take advantage of the streetcar to ride to work in Norfolk or Berkley. The two railroads that passed through South Norfolk created employment, as did new industries that located along the Southern Branch of the Elizabeth River. Furthermore, the streetcar trip combined with a ferry ride may have been long and hard enough to discourage commuting to Norfolk. That city's annexation of Berkley in 1906 apparently caused the residents of South Norfolk to consider independent status for themselves.[14]

At the turn of the century, a number of people with interests in the Berkley Street Railway Company lived within the South Norfolk Historic District. Thomas H. Synon, president of the line, resided in South Norfolk before he moved to Norfolk. J. Herbert Norton, foreman of the line, lived on Chesapeake Avenue in a house that no longer stands. William Tilley, secretary-treasurer of the Street Railway Company, lived on Chesapeake Avenue, apparently with one of his relatives.[15] Soon a number of people who worked for the streetcar line also moved into the district. Eugene Hodges, a street car conductor, lived on B Street; John Sturges and Grover Velline, motormen, lived on Chesapeake Avenue; and John Howell, another motorman, lived on Jackson Avenue. The house that Velline owned at 1030 Chesapeake Avenue is still standing.[16]

One member of the Tilley family was associated with the Berkley Street Railway Company, but other members of the family were more directly involved in the development of the area that is now the South Norfolk Historic District. Edward M. Tilley lived at 1106 Chesapeake Avenue in an elaborately trimmed Eastlake style house that is still one of the showplaces of the district. According to Colonel Stewart, an early twentieth century historian, Tilley was one of the "founders and substantial citizens of Berkley."[17] He was born in New York State, served in the Union Army, and settled in Norfolk immediately after the end of the Civil War. In Norfolk he bought timber, built sawmills, and converted the timber into finished lumber. Fire destroyed his mill in 1876, but Tilley rebuilt and by 1889 was advertising as a manufacturer of lumber at the Montalant Saw and Planing Mills. He evidently sold other building materials, for his advertisement mentioned bricks and lime as well as flooring.[18]

Tilley's son, William M. Tilley, eventually took over the management of the lumber company, allowing his father to pursue his interests in local cotton mills and other ventures. William M. Tilley lived in the large and impressive house at 1007 Ohio Street until 1910. William's sister Clara married John W. Jones, a contractor and builder. Jones, a native of Norfolk County, started as an apprentice carpenter and expanded to become an independent contractor. He built many houses in the South Norfolk Historic District, but he also built the Memorial Methodist Episcopal Church in Berkley, the People's Bank Building in Berkley, commercial buildings in Elizabeth City, and other buildings including several schools. Jones had a financial connection with the Tilley lumber business and was a director of the Berkley Permanent Building & Loan Association.[19] The house where Jones lived with his wife, children, and a black servant, William Wilson, stands at 1130 Chesapeake Avenue. Although many of its original elements are missing, the house probably originally incorporated many Stick style elements. According to a local resident, the house was built about 1888.[20]

George Thomas Tilley, Edward's son and William's brother, lived in South Norfolk. After starting in his father's business, he established a real estate, insurance and investment business, and became a director of the Merchants' and Planters' Bank of Norfolk and the secretary of a building and loan association.[21] Thus, all the Tilley interests coincided to promote the development of South Norfolk. By 1902 Colonel Stewart could write of a thriving community where farms and strawberry fields had been just a few years earlier. Stewart estimated that South Norfolk then had a population of about 2,000, and was "somewhat more desirable than Berkley" because the land had been laid off into large lots and broad streets.[22]

The Berkley city directories for 1900 and 1901 listed a number of businesses in the area that would later become South Norfolk (and near the South Norfolk Historic District). On Liberty Street near Poindexter were retail businesses including confectioners, dry goods merchants, a laundry, an eating house, a fish-and-oyster dealer, a furniture dealer, and a saloon. John Jackson, a physician, lived on Chesapeake Avenue, and the Berkley Street Railway Company had its offices just outside the district at the corner of Avenue C and 13th Street. Miss Rena B. Wright was the principal of the South Norfolk Public School on Jackson Street, and the Reverend Samuel Robinson was pastor of the South Norfolk Baptist Church. Even at this early date, some industry was moving into South Norfolk just outside the South Norfolk Historic District. The Chesapeake Knitting Mills were located at the corner of Twelfth and B streets, and the Elizabeth Mills were operating two blocks west of Bainbridge.[23]though there is no separate city directory or other source listing of all the residents of South Norfolk for the time, it is evident that the relatively small number of houses within the district were the homes of people with diverse occupations, few of which required riding the streetcar and ferry to Norfolk.[24]

Although the streetcar in South Norfolk was certainly a boon in many ways and some residents probably commuted to Norfolk or Berkley, South Norfolk did not attract residents simply because it was a suburban area where people could live and yet still work in the city. In fact, many residents undoubtedly used the streetcar to travel to the local industries where so many of them worked. Interestingly enough, another member of the Tilley family, Jennie, married Foster Black, who leased and operated both the Chesapeake Knitting Mills and the Elizabeth Cotton Mills. William Sloane took over the Elizabeth Knitting Mills just after the turn of the century, and many local residents worked there manufacturing union suits.[25]

Columbia Guano Company was located in South Norfolk before the turn of the century, and by 1910 the Pocomont Guano Company, and A.S. Lee and Sons, Lime Manufacturers were also on the waterfront. As the 1910 census indicates, many residents of the South Norfolk Historic District worked in these and other nearby industries. By the early twentieth century Berkley had become a part of Norfolk, so for a few years South Norfolk was the closest suburb to Norfolk on the south. The number of houses steadily increased in the South Norfolk Historic District. More houses appeared on Chesapeake Avenue and on scattered lots through the southern section of the district, although an inlet from the Southern Branch continued to reach as far as Lakeside Park. There were a large number of houses in the blocks bounded by B Street, D Street, 18th Street, and 22nd Street; Seaboard Avenue was probably the most populated street.

The 1910 residents of Seaboard Avenue included carpenters and others in the building trades. The street was also home to grocery merchants, ship carpenters, and employees of the local guano, lumber, knitting, creosote, and dredging businesses. White collar workers on the street included an insurance agent and a photographer. The people who lived on Seaboard Avenue, like the rest of the people in the district were nearly all native-born. One exception was Emmanual Price, a house carpenter born in Sweden.[26]

Chesapeake Avenue, which runs parallel to Seaboard Avenue one block farther from the Norfolk and Western Railroad tracks, had the next largest number of houses by 1910. Many professional people and independent businessmen lived here. Residents included Josey C. Brother, superintendent of the knitting mill and James A. Stephenson, who had his own insurance business and owned his house at 1500 Chesapeake Avenue. The Reverend Richard B. Scott lived at 1129 Chesapeake Avenue, and William B. Ashburn, a physician, lived with his wife and children at 1144 Chesapeake Avenue. Dr. Ashburn had graduated from medical school in Virginia and practiced and lived in South Norfolk from 1902 until his death in 1923. He was eventually succeeded by his son, Horace Godwin Ashburn, who established the Ashburn Clinic at 1301 Ohio Avenue in 1927.[27]

James B. Lane, a retail drug merchant, owned the house where he lived at 1050 Chesapeake Avenue. Glenn R. LeRoy was a retail grocery merchant, as was Thomas Miningder, who lived at 1137 Chesapeake Avenue. W.H. Lane, who built the house at 1130 Chesapeake Avenue in 1895, was probably a relative of his neighbor James B. Lane and was also a grocery merchant. A house contractor, Fred Sherman, lived at 1238 Chesapeake Avenue, the large house on the corner of Chesapeake Avenue and Jefferson Street. William Sykes, a real estate agent, lived at 1416 Chesapeake Avenue. A majority of the houses on Chesapeake Avenue were owner-occupied, but there were a few renters. As elsewhere in the district, the majority of the occupants were families, many of whom had members of the extended family — mothers-in-law, uncles, nieces, or nephews — living with them. A few of the homes had boarders, and a very small number had live-in servants.[28]

One of the most impressive houses in the South Norfolk Historic District is the large Queen Anne style house at 1146 Rogers Street. Built in a combination of cement block, brick, and wood, this house was the home of the John Cuthrell family. According to a local informant, Cuthrell made the cement himself and built the house to the second floor level. At that point his family told him that they were afraid to have him go any further and that he must hire an architect and contractor to finish the job.[29] The Census of 1910 listed Cuthrell as the owner of a feed store. He lived in the house with his wife, children, a boarder, and one white female servant, Mary E. Addington.

There were a number of houses on Jackson Avenue by 1910, and the residents had a variety of occupations. There were employees of the guano company and the box factory, people in the building trades, streetcar employees, and lumber-mill workers. There were also retail and wholesale grocery merchants, an electrician, and a navy yard worker. There were a few houses on Holly Avenue, Hull Street, Jefferson Street, Ohio Street, Park Avenue, Stewart Street, and Jefferson Street. The residents there had, for the most part, a similar variety of occupations.

In 1910 members of one of the oldest families in Norfolk County, the Portlocks, moved into the South Norfolk Historic District, living for many years in the house at 1007 Ohio Street. Bettie M. Poindexter and her brother Park, a county justice, lived on Ohio Street. They were the children of the Poindexter for whom Poindexter Street is named.[30]

By the second decade of the 20th century South Norfolk had churches, a school, stores, and a large number of residents who owned their own homes and either had businesses or were employed by nearby companies. It is not surprising that the residents soon wished to become an independent town. In 1919 the town of South Norfolk was incorporated, and three years later it became a "city of the second class," meaning that it had a population of under 10,000. Its industries continued to expand, as did the shipments of coal over the Norfolk and Western and the Virginian railroads. By 1920 The F.S. Royster Guano Company, the Pocomont Guano Company, and the Swift and Company Fertilizer Works still provided employment as did two creosote companies and the James G. Wilson Manufacturing Company, which made steel shutters and woodwork. The Norfolk and Southern Railroad shops and the other local railroad facilities also helped to an economic base for the community.[31]

A few of the earliest houses in the district either burned or were demolished, to be quickly replaced by new houses. New construction continued in the district through the 1920s and 1930s. The decade of 1920s was a period of national prosperity, and by 1928 most of the houses now standing within the South Norfolk Historic District were in place. By that time many new stores were beginning to appear on Poindexter Street, providing a larger local shopping district. The Baptist Church was joined by other denominations and a new school in the block bounded by A Street, B Street, 20th Street and 22nd Street replaced the old Jackson Street school. During the 1920s, remodeling created many of the duplexes — two-family houses — that still exist in the district. World War I probably provided the first impetus for this method of creating more housing, and additional double units were created during World War II. Despite these conversions, the South Norfolk Historic District remains predominantly a community of single-family, fully-detached houses.

After South Norfolk became a city of the second class with its own government, it installed sewers and gradually paved the streets, many of which had not previously had curbs and gutters. In the 1930s federal aid helped the town make these improvements and refurbish Lakeside Park, including the construction of the arched bridge that graces it today. The town boundaries were then the Norfolk Belt Line Railroad to the north, the Norfolk Southern Railroad to the east, the Virginian Railway to the south, and the Southern Branch of the Elizabeth River to the west. It was unquestionably a town to which railroads were very important.

Although South Norfolk developed outside the South Norfolk Historic District, it is the area within the district that retains the most cohesive unit of houses whose architectural characteristics convey the growth of the town from the 1890s to the late 1930s. These buildings executed in popular contemporary styles clearly convey the taste and preferences of the residents as well as that of the developers and contractors. Although some individual houses are architecturally distinctive, it is as a group of houses that the district has the greatest architectural significance. The most prevalent style is probably the late version of Classical Revival, the Temple House as Alan Gowans would call it, or what some would simply call a vernacular house.[32] The larger houses in Queen Anne, Stick, and Eastlake styles represent the earlier stage of building in the district. The porch trim on many of these houses was apparently created by local millworks. As the district continued to develop after the turn of the century, houses in Foursquare, Bungalow, Colonial Revival, and Cottage styles continued the tradition of single-family homes on lots with front and rear yards. The architecture in the district thus represents a continuity that creates a unified whole.

There have been some alterations to the houses in the South Norfolk Historic District, particularly in the widespread addition of modern siding, but the buildings as a group convey the scale and feeling of the period in which they were built. As the Sanborn insurance maps indicate, nearly all the houses are of wood, reflecting not only the taste of the residents but also the preference of the developers who had a financial interest in the lumber industry.

There are few intrusions into the district other than the modern commercial buildings along Poindexter Street. Most of the buildings that are non-contributing to the significance of the district are simply new, yet most of these continue the South Norfolk Historic District's tradition of detached single-family houses. In general, the buildings in the South Norfolk Historic District are in very good physical condition. There is still a large percentage of owner-occupied houses, and the maintenance of both buildings and yards remains high.

The boundaries for the South Norfolk Historic District were selected to include a large and cohesive group of houses built between the 1890s and the late 1930s that convey the sense of time and place that existed in South Norfolk in those years. Although the railroad is an integral part of the community, the Norfolk and Western Railroad, which is the boundary on the east, seems to establish a natural boundary. On the west the rear property lines of the houses on Hull Street form a boundary between the district and the Bainbridge Avenue area, which had a slightly different pattern of development and is now influenced by the super-highway near it. The northern boundary essentially extends to the original boundary with Berkley, and the southern boundary was selected to include houses that are within the period of significance for the district.

Despite the fact that there is nearly always a train with loaded coal cars on the Norfolk and Western tracks and despite the fact that there is still an industrial waterfront within a few blocks, the South Norfolk Historic District is a quiet neighborhood of residential streets where homeowners still raise their families, tend their gardens, and go about their daily routines much as homeowners have done for nearly one hundred years.


  1. Data on earlier church from interview with Frank Portlock.
  2. William Seale, The Tasteful Interlude. Second Edition (Nashville: American Association for State and Local History, 1975). Seale's book is devoted to American Interiors 1860-1917 with an emphasis on popular taste of those years. The phrase is his.
  3. Alan Gowans, The Comfortable House (Cambridge: M.I.T. Press, 1986). Gowans uses the term to describe the houses and the era.
  4. Gowans, The Comfortable House, 94.
  5. Thomas W. Hanchett, "The Four Square House in America," Perspectives in Vernacular Architecture. Ed. Camille Wells. (Annapolis: Vernacular Architecture Forum, 1982), 51-53.
  6. Marcus Whiffen, American Architecture Since 1780, (Cambridge, M.I.T. Press, 1969), 218.
  7. Charles B. Cross Jr. and Eleanor Phillips Cross, Chesapeake, A Pictorial History (Norfolk The Downing Company 1985), 68-69.
  8. Norfolk, Portsmouth, and Berkley Directory of 1900, and Sam W. Bowman, Atlas of Norfolk, Portsmouth, and Berkley (Norfolk, 1900).
  9. G.M. Hopkins, Atlas of the City of Norfolk & Vicinity, 1889.
  10. Bowman, Atlas of Norfolk, Portsmouth, and Berkley.
  11. Bowman, Atlas of Norfolk, Portsmouth, and Berkley. Also interview with Frank Portlock, April 1987.
  12. Norfolk. Portsmouth, and Berkley Directory of 1900.
  13. Sam Bass Warner, Jr., Streetcar Suburbs, the Process of Growth in Boston (1870-1900). Second Edition (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1978). The entire book is devoted to this subject and is considered to be the most important source on the topic.
  14. Rogers Dey Whichard, The History of Lower Tidewater Virginia (New York: Lewis Historical Publishing Company, 19-59), 48.
  15. The census, city directories and biographical information indicate that this William Tilley was probably the son of George Thomas Tilley. See Lyon Gardiner Tyler, Encyclopedia of Virginia Biography (1915), 513.
  16. By studying the original numbers shown on the 1910 Sanborn Atlas and coordinating it with the current numbers and then matching names shown at the old numbers in the 1910 census it is possible to determine who the early owners and occupants of some of the extant houses in the district were. Other names here are from the 1910 Census.
  17. William H. Stewart, History of Norfolk County, Virginia and Representative Citizens (Chicago: Biographical Publishing Company, 1902), 720.
  18. 1889 City Directory for Norfolk and Portsmouth. p.488. Stewart, History of Norfolk County, 720. Gardiner, Virginia Biography, 513.
  19. Stewart, History of Norfolk County, 814.
  20. 1910 Manuscript Census. Interview with Frank Portlock.
  21. Gardiner. Virginia Biography, 513.
  22. Stewart. History of Norfolk County, 403.
  23. Hill's City Directory for Norfolk, Portsmouth, and Berkeley, 1900.
  24. City Directory, 1900. This directory lists South Norfolk Residents in the section on Berkley, but does not give precise street addresses.
  25. Sam Bowman, Atlas of Norfolk, Portsmouth, and Berkley, 1900 and Sanborn Atlas of 1910.
  26. Manuscript Census with number translated to current numbers by using old Sanborn Atlases.
  27. Whichard. The History of Lower Tidewater Virginia, 120.
  28. 1910 Manuscript Census.
  29. Sanborn Atlas of 1910 shows the house in place, and Cuthrell is listed in the 1910 census. Other information from interview with Frank Portlock.
  30. All information from 1910 Manuscript Census.
  31. 1920 Sanborn Atlas.
  32. Alan Gowans, The Comfortable House (Cambridge, M.I.T. Press, 1986). 94. The name seems appropriate for the turn of the century modified version of Classical Revival.


Chesapeake Fine Arts Commission. Chesapeake Historic Structures. n.d.

Cross, Charles B. and Eleanor Phillips. Chesapeake, A Pictorial History. Norfolk The Downing Co., 1985.

Lambie, Joseph T. From Mine to Market. The History of Coal Transportation on the Norfolk and Western Railway. New York: New York University Press, 1954.

Maury, M.F. Physical Survey of Virginia, Geographical Position of its Commercial Advantages and National Importance. Richmond, 1868.

Rosenberg, Ron. Norfolk and Western Steam. New York: Quadrant Press, 1973.

Stewart, Col. William. History of Norfolk County, Virginia and Representative Citizens. Chicago: Biographical Publishing Co. 1902.

Tyler, Lyon Gardiner. Encyclopedia of Virginia Biography. 1915.

Wertenbaker, Thomas Jefferson. Norfolk, Historic Southern Port. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, Second Edition 1961.

Whichard, Richard Dey. The History of Lower Tidewater Virginia. New York: Lewis Publishing, 1959.


Bache, A.D., Map of Virginia and part of North Carolina showing railroads, 1862.

Norfolk Harbor, Elizabeth River and Branches, 1875, Carlile P. Patterson, Superintendent.

Bowman, Sam W. Atlas of Norfolk, Portsmouth, and Berkley, 1900.

Hopkins, G. M. Atlas of the City of Norfolk & Vicinity, 1889.

Norfolk, Portsmouth, and Berkley Directory of 1900 (and other years).

Sanborn Property Atlas of Norfolk, 1910, 1921, 1928.

Sykes and Swathmey. Map of Norfolk County Made for Board of Supervisors, 1887.

United States Census in Manuscript on Microfilm for 1880,1900, and 1910.

Interviews: Frank Portlock, Rev. Frank Hughes, Bessie Briggs, Virginia Branch, Julian Parcell, N.J. Babbe and other representatives of the South Norfolk Baptist Church.

‡ Priscilla M. Thomson, The History Store and Dr. Barbara E. Benson, editor, South Norfolk Historic District, Chesapeake, VA, nomination document, 1987, National Park Service, National Register of Historic Places, Washington, D.C.

Nearby Neighborhoods

Street Names
18th Street • 19th Street • 20th Street • 21st Street • 22nd Street • A Street • B Street • Buchanan Street • Butt Street • Chesapeake Avenue • D Street • Decatur Street • Guerriere Street • Holly Avenue • Hull Street • Jackson Avenue • Jefferson Street • Liberty Street • Ohio Street • Park Avenue • Poindexter Street • Rogers Street • Seaboard Avenue • Stewart Street