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Norfolk History

Norfolk is an independent city in the Commonwealth of Virginia, located on the Elizabeth River at Chesapeake Bay. The bay forms a large natural harbor, which has given the city a long history as a strategic military location and trade center. Norfolk is one of seven cities that form the Hampton Roads metropolitan area, serving as the area's urban and cultural center. As it is surrounded by various bodies of water, Norfolk is connected to its neighbors by a network of highways, bridges, tunnels, and pedestrian ferries. The city is home to the Norfolk Naval Base, the largest of its kind in the world, and also houses the Navy's Atlantic Fleet and NATO's Allied Command Atlantic.

In 1682, the Virginia House of Burgesses purchased 50 acres from a carpenter named Nicholas Wise for the price of 10,000 pounds of tobacco, and laid out "Norfolk Towne." On New Year's Day, 1776, the British shelled Norfolk, destroying almost two-thirds of the town. The fleeing colonists completed the job, burning the rest of Norfolk to the ground to keep any of it from falling into British hands. Norfolk was the only U.S. town completely destroyed and rebuilt, and a cannonball in the wall of St. Paul's Church still remains there today as a reminder of the Revolutionary War.

In 1862, during the Civil War, the ironclads Virginia and Monitor met in the Battle of Hampton Roads near Norfolk. That same year, Norfolk surrendered to Union troops, who occupied the city until 1865. 1870 marked the end of Reconstruction in Norfolk, when the city was readmitted to the Union. Because of its rich waterways and fertile farmland, Norfolk was able to recover quickly from the destruction. 1883 saw the first shipment of coal by means of the Norfolk and Western Railway (which eventually became Norfolk Southern), which began a new era of prosperous trade for the city.

As the cultural center of the Hampton Roads, Norfolk is home to the Virginia Symphony, Virginia Opera, and the Virginia Stage Company. The Virginia Waterfront International Arts Festival is held for 18 days every spring, and features classical and contemporary music, as well as dance and theater performances. Norfolk also boasts a number of museums, including the Chrysler Museum of Art, the Hermitage Foundation Museum, and the Hampton Roads Naval Museum. Finally, for shopping or dining, the Waterside Festival Marketplace is a waterfront pavilion that offers over 90 shops and restaurants to choose from.