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Chesapeake Bay -
Our History and Our Future
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in part by:
Bank of America
The Modern Period, 1877-Present

After the war, many of the newly freed slaves turned to jobs on the Bay, fishing, working as oyster tongers, working in seafood processing houses, and selling seafood. For some of these ex-slaves it was an opportunity to be self-employed. In the years immediately after the Civil War there was a surge in the per capita income of the black residents of the Chesapeake Bay region and the rest of the Southern states.

A waterman selling a catch to an oyster speculator. Oyster shells being converted into lime. Late 19th century magazines, like Harper's Weekly, ran prints showing newly freed blacks employed in post-slavery occupations. An old man peddling oysters on the streets.
A waterman selling a catch to an oyster speculator. Oyster shells being converted into lime. Late 19th century magazines, like Harper's Weekly, ran prints showing newly freed blacks employed in post-slavery occupations. An old man peddling oysters on the streets.
This unidentified schooner hauls cordwood from the Chesapeake Bay region to New England.
This unidentified schooner hauls cordwood from the Chesapeake Bay region to New England.
Shipping on the Bay was a major part of the economic recovery and by the end of the century sailing vessels and steamers were hauling cargoes of wood, livestock, seafood, and produce to markets everywhere.
Deckhands haul sheep up the gangway of a Chesapeake Bay steamboat.
Deckhands haul sheep up the gangway of a Chesapeake Bay steamboat.

The lure of the water also attracted tourists, and day trips to attractions such as Buckroe Beach and Ocean View Beach became popular leisure activities. Old Point Comfort and the Hygeia Hotel (destroyed by fire and replaced by the Chamberlain Hotel), located at Fortress Monroe in Hampton, Virginia, was a nationally known tourist destination. The Bay steamers called at the dock there and transported visitors to locations up and down the Bay.
The Chesapeake Bay steamboat City of Norfolk
The Chesapeake Bay steamboat City of Norfolk
Special trains ran excursions to and from the beaches. All over the Bay, recreation on the water became a popular pastime. Swimming and pleasure boating were and continue to make the Bay a tourist attraction. The Chesapeake is also a popular destination for hunters, as a major part of the seasonal migration route of many ducks and geese.
This view of Ocean View Beach, Norfolk, taken July 4, 1928 shows the beach alive with swimmers, boaters, and sightseers.
This view of Ocean View Beach, Norfolk, taken July 4, 1928 shows the beach alive with swimmers, boaters, and sightseers.

As industry recovered from the war years, Collis P. Huntington began sending coal from his mines in West Virginia on trains that traveled the lines he built from the western part of the state to the shores of the Chesapeake Bay. Ending at the terminus in Newport News, Virginia, these coal trains delivered the fuel that heated homes and ran the industrial machinery of the North. Exported to other cities and countries, the coal was carried on ships that called at the docks at the lower end of Newport News.

An old Chessie System coal train headed to a Hampton Roads port to off load coal.
An old Chessie System coal train headed to a Hampton Roads port to off load coal.
To deliver coal from the western part of the state, the Chesapeake & Ohio railroad had developed some of the most powerful steam locomotives of all time to haul the heavy coal trains over the mountains. In 1981, the Chesapeake & Ohio's Chessie System merged with Seaboard System to form CSX Transportation, America's third largest railroad in route miles and the largest in terms of revenue.

To further expand his business, Mr. Huntington sought to build a shipyard to repair and service the ships that haul the coal brought to Newport News on his railroad line.
The Atlantic Terminus of the Chesapeake and Ohio Railway System at Newport News, Virginia, 1892
The Atlantic Terminus of the Chesapeake and Ohio Railway System at Newport News, Virginia, 1892
1902 view of the Newport News Shipbuilding and Drydock Company
1902 view of the Newport News Shipbuilding and Drydock Company
The new yard, called the Chesapeake Dry Dock & Construction Company, was chartered in 1886.
In 1891 Newport News Shipbuilding and Drydock Company built the tugboat Dorothy
In 1891 Newport News Shipbuilding and Drydock Company built the tugboat Dorothy
Later named Newport News Shipbuilding (NNS), in 1891, the shipyard built and delivered its first ship, the tugboat Dorothy. Within six years Newport News Shipbuilding built three warships for the U.S. Navy. As new demands for ships mounted, the yard prospered. By 1920 the NNS employed over 12, 000 workers. In 1940, the yard was purchased by a syndicate that took it public and stock was traded on the New York Stock Exchange. That same year the shipyard built the liner America for the United States Lines. In 1951 The SS United States was christened at NNSB&DD and became an important symbol of American industrial might.
The SS United States The SS America
The SS United States The SS America

Train locomotive engine being hoisted onto a ship for transport overseas.
Train locomotive engine being hoisted onto a ship for transport overseas.
World War II brought increased demand for ship construction and NNS delivered 239 Liberty ships between 1941 and the end of the war in 1945. At its peak in 1943, more than 50, 000 shipyard employees worked to deliver ships to the Navy.

The economic mainstays of the Chesapeake Bay region since 1877 have been shipbuilding and repair, ports with their import and export capabilities, a growing tourism trade, service jobs, and an expanding military presence. Nearly a third of the region's workers earn a paycheck from the Department of Defense or a defense contractor. Norfolk has the world's largest Navy base, and Portsmouth is home to the world's biggest ship-repair yard.

Imported cars coming down the ramp of a roll-on roll-off car carrier. Longshoremen prepare break bulk cargo to be lifted onto a ship. Cargo being loaded into the cargo hold of a break bulk cargo ship. "Launched"
Imported cars coming down the ramp of a roll-on roll-off car carrier. Longshoremen prepare break bulk cargo to be lifted onto a ship. Cargo being loaded into the cargo hold of a break bulk cargo ship. "Launched"


 

 

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