Portsmouth, Virginia History 

Portsmouth celebrated its 250th birthday in 2002.

Portsmouth Founding

Portsmouth was founded as a town in 1752, on 65 acres of land on the shores of the Elizabeth River. The town was founded by William Crawford, a wealthy merchant and ship owner who at various times had held office as the Norfolk County presiding court judge, high sheriff, militia lieutenant colonel and representative to the House of Burgesses. Because of his militia service, he is frequently referred to as "Colonel Crawford." The 65 acres were part of Colonel Crawford's extensive plantation and were constituted as a town by an enabling act of the General Assembly of Virginia. The town was named after the English naval port of that name, and many of the streets of the new town reflected the English heritage.

The town already had a rich history by the time it was separated from the county government and given status as an independent city in 1858. Its location as an East Coast deepwater port has been the common denominator of the City's development throughout its centuries of growth.

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Portsmouth Historic Sites

Olde Towne – The Olde Towne section features one of the largest collections of historically significant homes between Alexandria, Virginia and Charleston, South Carolina. For example, located in Olde Towne is Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church (AME), which was built by slaves and free men and is the second-oldest building in Portsmouth and the city’s oldest black church.

The city contains a number of other historic buildings, as well, including the Pass House, which was built in 1841 by Judge James Murdaugh and occupied by Union troops from 1862 to 1865. Federal forces required Portsmouth residents to obtain a written pass to travel across the Elizabeth River and beyond. These passes were issued from the English basement and thus the name “Pass House” was derived.

The Hill House – Four-story 1825 English basement home furnished entirely with original family belongings. It is evident from the furnishings that the Hill families were avid collectors and lived graciously over a period of 150 years. The house remains in its original condition, with limited renovation through the years.

Cedar Grove Cemetery – Established in 1832, Cedar Grove is the oldest city-owned cemetery in Portsmouth. Listed on the Virginia and national registers of historic sites, the cemetery is noted for its funerary art and the civic, business, maritime, religious and military leaders who are buried there. Historical markers placed throughout the cemetery allow for self-guided tours. The cemetery is located between Effingham Street and Fort Lane in Olde Towne Portsmouth. Entrance is through the south gate to the cemetery, located on London Boulevard.

Portsmouth Education

Secondary schools – There are three public high schools in Portsmouth, Virginia, located at three corners of the city. In the northwest section of the city, off Cedar Lane, is Churchland High School. In the downtown section of the city, off London Blvd/High Street, is I.C. Norcom High School. In the southwest section of Portsmouth, on Elmhurst Lane, is Woodrow Wilson High School.

Higher education – There are a number of institutions of higher education in and within close proximity to Portsmouth. The city is home to the Tri-Cities Higher Education Center of Old Dominion University (ODU), a public research university founded in 1930 whose main campus is located in Norfolk, Virginia. Portsmouth is also home to the Fred W. Beazley Portsmouth Campus of Tidewater Community College, a two-year higher education institution founded in 1968 in South Hampton Roads with additional campuses located in Chesapeake, Norfolk, and Virginia Beach.

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