Then And Now: The Living History of Norfolk

By: Peggy Sijswerda

January 20, 2014

Norfolk, a lively East Coast city in the center of the Atlantic seaboard, has a rich history dating back to 1682, when immigrants from Britain first established it. Over the centuries, its strategic location, on a large natural harbour, has helped it grow into a major military hub and cargo port. And even though it’s a thriving, modern city today, you can still find traces of yesteryear. For example, you can head to the Ocean View Fishing Pier, a replacement for Harrison Fishing Pier, and catch stripers (striped bass), just as fishermen have done for over a century.


Granby Street | The Living History of Norfolk

Granby Street Parade (Circa 1932)/Granby Street Today © Sargeant Memorial Collection – Norfolk Public Library, VA/


Granby Street


The heart of Norfolk, Granby Street was the place to be in the first half of the 20th century, thanks largely to the sailors based at Norfolk’s large navy base, fresh off the ship, who would head to Granby to party and carouse. In the 1930s and 1940s patriotic parades would make their way between the high-rise buildings. Since then, Granby Street has experienced many iterations, including a stint as a pedestrian mall, but these days it’s full of young people, many students at nearby colleges, which has led to a proliferation of bars and restaurants, including The Norva, voted by Rolling Stone readers #1 in the US in the “Venues That Rock” category.


Ocean View Park | The Living History of Norfolk

Ocean View Amusement Park (Circa 1947)/Ocean View Beach Today © Sargeant Memorial Collection – Norfolk Public Library, VA/


Ocean View


Norfolk’s northern edge borders the Chesapeake Bay and offers miles of sandy beaches. This is where the relaxed and breezy Ocean View neighbourhood can be found. For most of the last century it was also home to Ocean View Amusement Park with thrilling rides for children, both large and small. The wooden roller coaster, known as The Skyrocket, became one of the park’s most popular attractions. The amusement park closed in 1979, but these days you can still enjoy bay breezes and concerts at Ocean View Park, including Sunday night big-band music with dancing in summer.


Hampton Boulevard | The Living History of Norfolk

Hampton Boulevard (Circa 1926)/Ted Constant Convocation Center © Sargeant Memorial Collection – Norfolk Public Library, VA/


ODU University Village


Hampton Boulevard, one of Norfolk’s main arteries, stretches for about six miles from the quaint neighbourhood of Ghent with its stately homes to the cargo port terminals and finally Naval Station Norfolk. The heartbeat of Hampton Boulevard is the neighbourhood known as University Village, a mixed-use development initiative by Old Dominion University, Norfolk’s largest university with 24,000 students. Here you’ll find apartments, art galleries, restaurants, coffee shops, and retail businesses. Anchoring the Village is the Ted Constant Convocation Center, where you can catch ODU’s basketball games as well as top artists in concert. Speaking of which, free outdoor concerts – Music on Monarch Way – are held on Saturday evenings in summer on a grassy lawn. Don’t forget your picnic basket!


Macarthur Memorial | The Living History of Norfolk

Norfolk’s former City Hall (Circa 1926)/MacArthur Memorial © Sargeant Memorial Collection – Norfolk Public Library, VA/


MacArthur Memorial

If you’re into history, you’ll want to check out the MacArthur Memorial, which commemorates the life of one of Norfolk’s heroes, General Douglas MacArthur, who played a major role in the Pacific in World War II and in the Korean War. His ever-present corncob pipe, along with artefacts and exhibits about his life, are on display, as well as his private limousine, a 1950 Chrysler Crown Imperial. The Memorial is located in Downtown Norfolk in a majestic building constructed in the 1850s, which served as Norfolk’s City Hall and Courthouse until 1937. Next door is the fabulous MacArthur Center, the city’s premier shopping mall with some great stores and restaurants.


Header photo: Old Harrison Fishing Pier/New Ocean View Fishing Pier © Sargeant Memorial Collection – Norfolk Public Library, VA/


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Written by Peggy Sijswerda


Peggy Sijswerda

Peggy Sijswerda lives in Virginia Beach and edits and publishes two regional magazines: Tidewater Women and Tidewater Family. She freelances on the side, combining her passion for travel, her love of writing, and her insatiable curiosity about everything from architecture to zydeco. Currently she’s planning a trip to Andalusia, where she will follow the brandy route and try not to get lost. Her Dutch husband, Peter, and their three sons sometimes accompany Peggy on her adventures, but she also loves traveling solo. She recently completed a memoir, Still Life with Sierra, which follows Peggy and her family as they lose themselves in Europe for six months, trying to find home.

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