About Norfolk, Virginia
Norfolk, Virginia is nearly surrounded by the Chesapeake Bay and is located at the southeastern corner of the state where the Elizabeth and James rivers meet. Spanning approximately ninety-seven square miles, Norfolk is part of Hampton Roads, which encompasses six other cities, Virginia Beach, Chesapeake, Newport News, Hampton, Portsmouth and Suffolk. This metropolitan area is the thirty-fourth largest in the United States, with a total population approximating 1,576,370. While Virginia Beach is primarily a center of tourism, Norfolk is recognized as the central business district of these cities, with a citywide population approximating 234,220.
Just eighteen miles west of the Atlantic Ocean, Norfolk has an extensive amount of bayfront resort property, riverfront property and beaches in the Willoughby Spit and Ocean View communities. The area doesn’t experience climatic extremes, but rather four moderate seasons with an annual average precipitation of 45.74 inches. Snow falls every winter, but averages only seven inches per season. Fortunately, Norfolk is typically south of the average path of storms coming from higher altitudes and north of the hurricanes and other tropical storms. The National Weather Service ranked Norfolk’s climate as "one of the most desirable in the nation."
Native Americans first inhabited the city of Norfolk thousands of years before English colonists settled there. The Chesepians occupied Virginia Beach, Portsmouth and Chesapeake as well. In December of 1606, Captain Christopher Newport set sail along with 105 other men to establish what is now Virginia. Four months later, in April of 1607, the voyagers landed at Cape Henry in Virginia Beach and made their way to Norfolk. Tobacco was introduced to the colony in 1613 and became the center of the colonial economy.
A "Half Moone" fort, which is now the Town Point area of Norfolk, was constructed in the late 1600's. This addition aided the city’s growth. In 1680, The House of Burgesses established Towne of Lower Norfolk County and later split to form Norfolk County. During the American Revolution, on New Year’s Day of 1776, Lord Dunmore commanded English ships to open fire on Norfolk for over eight hours – nearly destroying the entire city. Today a British cannonball is still lodged in the wall of St. Paul’s Church.
Norfolk has an abundance of area attractions. From various outdoor activities to prime shopping spots and historical sites – there’s something for everyone. The city has a number of parks and open spaces, as well as community pools and three beaches in the Ocean View area on its north shore. Some of the parks have playgrounds for kids and picnic facilities. Towne Point Park, in the downtown area, hosts many annual events from early spring through late fall. The largest of these is Harborfest, a three-day festival full of music concerts, regional food and a large fireworks display. One of the main events, "The Parade of Sail," consists of numerous tall ships from around the world forming a line and sailing past downtown before docking at the marina.
One of the city’s most beautiful sights is The Norfolk Botanical Garden. The grounds, which opened in 1939, include numerous theme gardens spread over 155 acres. Another local favorite, The Virginia Zoological Park, has been around for over 100 years and has hundreds of animals on display. Norfolk is also known for its "Mermaids on Parade," where seventeen colorful mermaid statues can be spotted downtown as part of a public art program launched in 2002. MacArthur Center is a 1,100,000-square-foot shopping mall located in the heart of downtown Norfolk adjacent to The General Douglas MacArthur Memorial. It boasts upscale department stores, restaurants, a movie theater and even an ice skating rink during the winter season.
The "Norfolk City Public Schools" system is comprised of five high schools, eight middle schools, thirty-four elementary schools and nine special-purpose/preschools. In 2005, the city’s public school system won the one-million-dollar Broad Prize for Urban Education award. This achievement came from having demonstrated "the greatest overall performance and improvement in student achievement while reducing achievement gaps for poor and minority students." The city had also been nominated the two years prior.
Norfolk is also home to a number of private schools. Norfolk Academy is the oldest of these, founded in 1728. It’s the oldest secondary school in the state and the eighth oldest in the nation. Some of these private institutions are religious schools including: St. Pius X Catholic School, Holy Trinity Parish School, Alliance Christian School, Christ the King School, St. Patrick Catholic School and Norfolk Christian School. Norfolk also hosts the Governor’s School for the Arts at Wells Theatre. There are three public universities, one private and a community college in the city – Old Dominion University, Eastern Virginia Medical School, Norfolk State University, Virginia Wesleyan College and Tidewater Community College.