Norfolk And Its Neighborhood

Over on the southern side of Chesapeake Bay is the Elizabeth River, in reality a tidal arm of the sea, curving around from the south to the east, and having Norfolk on its northern bank and Portsmouth opposite. The country round about is flat and low-lying, and far up the river are Gosport and the Navy Yard, the largest possessed by the United States. There are probably sixty thousand population in the three towns. The immediate surroundings are good land and mostly market gardens, but to the southward spreads the great Dismal Swamp, covering about sixteen hundred square miles, intersected by various canals, and yielding cypress, juniper and other timber. It is partly drained by the Nanosecond River, on which, at the edge of the swamp, is .the little town of Suffolk, whence the Jericho Run Canal leads into Lake Drummond, a body of water covering eighteen square miles and twenty-one feet above tidewater. Mrs. Harriet Beecher Stowe has woven much of the romance of this weird fastness and swamp into her tale of bred. The Dismal Swamp Canal, twenty-two miles long, and recently enlarged and deepened, passes through it from Elizabeth River to the Pasquotank River of North Carolina, and the Albemarle Canal also connects with Currituck Sound. This big swamp was first explored by Colonel William Byrd, of Westover, in 1728, when he surveyed the boundary between Virginia and North Carolina.

All about the Norfolk wharves are cotton bales, much timber, tobacco and naval stores, and immense quantities of food and garden products, not forgetting a profusion of “goobers,” all awaiting shipment, for this, next to Savannah, is the greatest export port for food and other supplies on the Southern Atlantic. The “goober,” or peanut, is the special crop of this part of Virginia and Carolina. The cotton compresses do a lively business in the cotton season, the powerful hydraulic pressure squeezing the bale to barely one-fourth its former size, and binding it firmly with iron bands, thus giving the steamers increased cargo. In the spring the shipment North of early fruits and vegetables is enormous, vast surfaces being devoted to their growth, the strawberry beds especially covering many acres. The oyster trade is also large. The settlement of Norfolk began in 1680, and in 1736 it was made a borough. Portsmouth was established later, but the starting of the navy yard there, which has become so extensive, gave it great impetus. Portsmouth claims that in the Civil War, in proportion to size, it sent more soldiers to the Southern armies and had more dead than any other city. The capacious naval hospital and its fine grove of trees front Portsmouth towards the harbor. Norfolk has St. Paul’s Church, founded in 1730, as its chief Revolutionary relic—an ancient building, with an old graveyard, and having in its steeple the indentation made by a cannon-shot, when a British fleet in 1776 bombarded and partly burnt the town. An old-fashioned round ball rests in the orifice; not, however, the one originally sent there by the cannoneers. Relic-hunters visiting the place have a habit of clandestinely appropriating the cannon-ball, so the sexton, with an eye to business, has some on hand ready to put into the cavity, and thus maintain the old church’s patriotic reputation. A novel sight in Norfolk is its market, largely served by negroes—old ” mammies ” with bright bandannas-tied about their heads and guarding piles of luscious fruits; funny little pickaninnies who execute all manner of athletic gyrations for stray pennies, queer old market wagons, profusions of flowers, and such a collection of the good things of life, all set in a picture so attractive that the sight is long remembered.