Hampton Roads is the common name for the metropolitan area that surrounds the body of water of the same name. The land portion of Hampton Roads is divided into two regions, the Virginia Peninsula or Peninsula on the north side, and South Hampton Roads on the south side. (Locally, South Hampton Roads is commonly called the Southside, which is not to be confused with Southside Virginia, which is a separate region of the south central portion of Virginia located farther inland).
The Virginia Peninsula is part of the Virginia Beach-Norfolk-Newport News, VA-NC MSA (Metropolitan Statistical Area) with a population about 1.6 million. The Hampton Roads MSA is the fourth largest metropolitan area in the southeastern United States between Washington, D.C. and Atlanta, Georgia.
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The Virginia Peninsula is rich in colonial American history. The first permanent English settlement in North America was established in 1607 at Jamestown. The first continuously occupied settlement was in Elizabeth City County what is now the City of Hampton. Fort Monroe, the country's oldest military base still in use is located at Old Point Comfort. Virginia's first capital was in Williamsburg; much of the historic district of that city has been restored. Also, the decisive battle of the American Revolution, the Battle of Yorktown in 1781, took place on the Virginia Peninsula.
In 1862 during the American Civil War, the Union Army invaded the peninsula as part of the Peninsular Campaign to capture Richmond. The Battle of Hampton Roads between the first ironclad warships took place near the mouth of the James River off the eastern tip of Warwick County. The 1862 Battle of Yorktown took place along the York River. The world's largest shipyard is located in Newport News.
In Colonial times, and even in the first 150 years of the United States, much like Virginia as a whole, the Virginia Peninsula was in an almost constant state of change in terms of local government, largely due to growth, as counties were divided and towns were formed as the population grew. Some towns grew to become cities. Under the state constitutional changes in 1871, extant and future cities in Virginia became independent cities of the counties they had formerly been located within.
However, in the second half of the 20th century, an unprecedented wave of city-county-town local government consolidations took place in South Hampton Roads and on the Virginia Peninsula. Nowhere else in Virginia have rural areas and more dense cities been combined in such a manner as these two areas. The changes resulted in the two areas having Virginia's cities with the largest land areas and the most farming, even over 30 years after the consolidations in some instances.
Current cities, counties and towns
The Virginia Peninsula subregion includes four independent cities and two counties. There are currently no incorporated towns. There were also a number of political subdivisions which are now extinct, primarily due to both growth of communities and consolidation of local government (see section below).
Extinct political subdivisions
Many incorporated (formally constituted) localities became legally extinct, through mostly not abandoned by their citizens, with the notable exception of Jamestown. Exclusive of towns which became cities and still have the same name, no less than 4 shires, 2 counties, 4 towns, and 1 city no longer exist in the Virginia Peninsula area under, at least not under their earlier names. For search of genealogical, land, and other historical records, it may be necessary to find these old names.
The following is a listing of these 11 extinct shire, counties, towns, and cities, with the approximate dates they existed:
- Jamestown, Virginia (1607) largely abandoned as a Town after 1699
- Kecoughtan, Virginia (1610), became part of Town and City of Hampton
- Middle Plantation (1632), became Williamsburg after 1699
- Elizabeth River Shire (1634–1643)
- Warwick River Shire (1634–1643)
- Charles River Shire (1634–1643)
- James City Shire (1634–1643)
- Elizabeth City County (1643–1952)
- Warwick County (aka Warwick River County) (1643–1952)
- Town of Phoebus(1900–1952) (earlier known as unincorporated towns of Millwood, Roseland Farms,Chesapeake City)
- City of Warwick (1952–1958)
Major bridges, bridge tunnels, ferry system
Generally surrounded by water, the Virginia Peninsula The region is linked to other areas across the surrounding water barriers of the James and York Rivers, and the harbor of Hampton Roads by 2 bridge-tunnels, 2 large drawbridges, and a state-operated ferry system. These are:
- Hampton Roads Bridge-Tunnel
- Monitor-Merrimac Memorial Bridge-Tunnel
- James River Bridge
- George P. Coleman Memorial Bridge
- Jamestown Ferry
Interstate highways and Expressways
U.S. Highways and State Highways
- U.S. Highway 17
- U.S. Highway 60
- U.S. Highway 258
- Virginia State Highway 5
- Virginia State Highway 31
- Virginia State Highway 32
- Virginia State Highway 143
- Virginia State Highway 199 (Williamsburg Beltway)
Scenic, low speed parkways
U.S. military installations
The Virginia Peninsula is home to several United States Military bases.
City of Hampton
Fort Monroe and Langley Air Force Base are located in Hampton. The now-decommissioned Fort Wool, located on a man made island called Rip Raps across the mouth of Hampton Roads from Fort Monroe, is also in Hampton.
City of Newport News
York County is home to the U.S. Navy's Yorktown Naval Weapons Station and a supply depot at nearby Cheatham Annex.
- Historic Triangle
- Colonial Williamsburg
- Jamestown Festival Park (1957-present)
- Battle of Hampton Roads
- Jamestown Exposition (1907)
- Mariner's Museum
- Chesapeake and Ohio Railway