Suffolk

Suffolk

Suffolk

About

The Nansemond Nation inhabited this area long before the arrival of the first English settlers.
They lived in villages on the banks of the Nansemond River where they fished and harvested oysters. The surrounding forests was used for hunting and the fertile soil was used for farming. In fact, Nansemond is a Native American word that means “fishing point.”

In 1608, Captain John Smith along with other colonists from the Jamestown settlement explored
the river and attempted to start a farming community in 1609 and again in 1618. It wasn’t until 1720 when John Constant began a trading center along the river, at where the Hilton Garden Inn Riverfront is today, that a successful settlement began.

In 1742, approximately fifty acres surrounding the wharfs were chartered as the Town of Suffolk, named for Suffolk, England, the home of then Royal Governor William Gooch.

The Town of Suffolk prospered in the following decades until the Revolutionary War brought British forces here in May of 1779 and set fire to the town. All along the wharf barrels of tar and turpentine were set afire and rolled into the river creating a frightful sight as the marsh grass and surrounding buildings burned. The town was slow to rebuild but by 1785 the town grew by another 100 acres.

In 1834, the first railroad came to Suffolk. Transportation and businesses began to move a few blocks south of the river eventually creating the downtown we know today. Since 1834, railroads have played an important role in Suffolk’s history and was once a railroad hub with over five different railroads crossing its boarders. For 190 years that very first railroad, although the name has changed many times since then, still crosses Main Street passing by an old depot built by the Seaboard Railroad
(now CSX) in 1885 which now serves as a museum dedicated to preserving Suffolk’s railroad heritage.

During the American Civil War, the Union Army occupied the town in 1862. General John Peck seized the most impressive house in town to use as his headquarters. The house, known as Riddick’s Folly for size and design, still stands today and has been restored to its 1837 grandeur and is open for tours.
In the years following the civil war, many African Americans in the Hobson village of Suffolk began working oyster beds in the Nansemond River and Chuckatuck Creek.

Peanuts have been part of Suffolk’s history for over a century. The first successful peanut company,
in Suffolk was founded in 1898. It was soon followed by many others including Planters Peanut. Italian Immigrant, Amadeo Obici, brought his Planters company here to Suffolk in 1913. The world famous Mr. Peanut is said to have been created by a local schoolboy in Suffolk. Suffolk was once referred to as the Peanut Capital of the World due the number of peanut related business. The first Suffolk festival celebrating the peanut was held in January 1941. The Suffolk Peanut Festival now draws over 65,000 people and has won the accolades of professional festival organizations and national magazines.

The first Ruritan Club was chartered May 21, 1928, in the Holland Village of Suffolk. Ruritan has grown throughout the United States and in doing so, has become “America’s Leading Community Service Organization. Every year in May the Holland Village celebrates Ruritan Founders Day with a parade.

Suffolk has been visited by many historical notables. Those figures include the likes of George Washington during his time as surveyor of the Great Dismal Swamp. The Marquis de La Fayette on his grand tour of the United States in 1825. Lady Bird Johnson on her Whistle Stop Tour to help elect her husband President Lyndon Johnson. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. gave a speech to over 7,000 people gathered in Peanut Park. Two months after that visit, King delivered his “I have a Dream” speech on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in D.C..

Suffolk was incorporated as a city in 1910 in Nansemond County. In 1973 Nansemond County became a city and on January 1, 1974 the two square mile City of Suffolk merged with the 428 square mile City of Nansemond to create today’s City of Suffolk. Modern day Suffolk encompasses 430 square miles, making it larger in area than Indianapolis or Dallas. Suffolk consists of several unique historic villages – Chuckatuck, Crittenden, Eclipse, Hobson, Driver, Holland, and Whaleyville.

Local Events

While there are currently no events listed specifically for City of Suffolk, search the VA250 Statewide Calendar of Events for a comprehensive listing of programs across the state.

Contact

Theresa Earles



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