Heritage by the Sea
The establishment of Virginia Beach began as early as John Smith's brave voyage from England to the New World.
On April 26, 1607, after a long journey across the treacherous Atlantic Ocean, the famous pioneer John Smith and his crew stepped ashore the sands of Virginia Beach and spent several days scouting the area before heading north to colonize Jamestown. Their landing site – where the Chesapeake Bay meets the Atlantic – was claimed for England, named Cape Henry in honor of the Prince of Wales and marked with what is now known as the First Landing Cross.
As more people left Europe in search of new opportunities, America and its new inhabitants began to prosper. In 1635, a former indentured servant named Adam Thoroughgood petitioned for a grant of more than 5,300 acres based on a 50-acre "headright" for transporting 105 men and women from England. His sprawling farm became an inspiration to other hard-working colonists and today, his house still stands on land that was part of the original grant. Other historic homes constructed later during the Colonial period also still stand, including the Lynnhaven House (1725) and the Francis Land House (late 1700's), and offer a variety of special programs and events that allow visitors to experience life as an early colonist.
In 1691, Princess Anne County was created, named for Princess Anne of England. Less than a century later, in 1781, Cape Henry once again made history during the Revolutionary War when a French fleet of 24 ships staved off an attack by 19 British ships. The victory ensured the capture of General Cornwallis and 7,500 troops at Yorktown, thereby ending the war. Today, the Battle off the Capes Monument marks this great feat.
Shortly thereafter, the Cape Henry Lighthouse was built, making it the first federally-funded lighthouse under the constitutional government. Serving as a beacon for ships bound for northern ports, the structure was operated until 1881 when its cast-iron replacement was built a mere stone's throw away. The "new" Cape Henry lighthouse is still in use today by the U.S. Coast Guard, while the "old" lighthouse is open for public tours.
Perhaps the most famous and enduring symbol of Virginia Beach is the Oceanfront Boardwalk. Originally constructed from wooden planks in 1888, the bustling thoroughfare has seen it all – Prohibition and German U-boats, big bands and surfer girls, presidents and actors. From the late 1930s, through the 40s and 50s, some of the biggest names in show business took the bandstand facing the boardwalk to perform at the Cavalier Beach Club, still in existence today -- Glenn Miller, Cab Calloway, Tommy Dorsey, Lawrence Welk, Bing Crosby and Judy Garland, just to name a few. Even today, the promenade continues to serve as the focal point of this booming tourist destination.
In 1906, the oceanfront resort area known as Virginia Beach received town status, and in 1963, the Virginia General Assembly approved the merger of the county and town into the modern-day city of Virginia Beach. Covering 310 square miles and home to almost half a million residents, Virginia Beach now is the largest and most populated city in Virginia. Maybe those early settlers were onto something back then; adventurers continue to travel from near and far to Virginia Beach.