Portsmouth is located on the western side of the Elizabeth River directly across from the City of Norfolk. In 1620, the future site of Portsmouth was recognized as suitable shipbuilding location by John Wood, a shipbuilder, who petitioned King James I of England for a land grant. The surrounding area was soon settled as a plantation community.
The Olde Towne section features one of the largest collections of historically significant homes between Alexandria, Virginia and Charleston, South Carolina. Also located in Olde Towne is Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church (AME), which was built by slaves and free men and is the second-oldest building in Portsmouth and the city’s oldest black church.
The city contains a number of historic buildings including the Pass House which was built in 1841 by Judge James Murdaugh and occupied by Union troops from 1862 to 1865. Federal forces required Portsmouth residents to obtain a written pass to travel across the Elizabeth River and beyond. These passes were issued from the English basement and thus the name “Pass House” was derived.
The city has a radically limited tax base.A large portion of the city is controlled by the U.S. Navy; when Navy facilities are combined with schools, churches, and other tax-exempt entities, over half of Portsmouth’s assessed valuation is off the tax rolls. The APM “MAERSK” marine terminal for container ships opened in 2007 in the West Norfolk section. Virginia has funded millions of dollars in railroad and transportation improvements to serve it.
One visit to Portsmouth and you’ll be hooked. Amble along our famous Seawall. Stroll through three centuries of historic neighborhoods. Go antiquing. Take in some art. Stand inside a giant soap bubble at the largest children’s museum in the state. And did we mention that Portsmouth is home to some of the most delightful restaurants in the region? Many of Portsmouth’s attractions are clustered within easy walking distance of each other, making it the perfect place to spend a day. And with its central location, it’s easy to get to just a quick ferry ride from downtown Norfolk, a 20-minute drive from Virginia Beach, and less than an hour from Colonial Williamsburg.