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The ferry "Berkley" going out on its trial run in June of 1935 before entering into service. The ferry operated
between Portsmouth and the Berkley section of Norfolk. (Image courtesy of Norfolk Public Library)


Carrol Walker's Old Norfolk

The Village of Berkley

By Peggy Haile McPhillips
Norfolk City Historian

The story of Berkley begins around 1700, when it was called Powder Point, after the powder magazine located there.

Its harbor was convenient for ships to enter, and ship repair yards became one of the area's earliest industries. In 1787, the first United States Marine Hospital (later the US Public Health Hospital) was built there, and it was the Norfolk County seat from 1790 to 1803. Later names for Berkley were Ferry Point, Herbertsville and Washington Point, or Washington. It was one of the first communities in the country to be named to honor the nation's first president. Five-star General Douglas MacArthur was almost a native of Berkley. His career-Army father was stationed in Arkansas when Douglas was due to enter the world, and his mother, Mary Pinkney Hardy MacArthur, planned to travel to her childhood home in Berkley in time to give birth. But Mother Nature had other plans and Baby MacArthur was born in Arkansas. Still, the future general always considered Norfolk to be his true home, and he would choose to be buried here in 1964, in the beautiful 1850 former city courthouse that now bears his name.

Industry played an important part in Berkley's development. In the 1860s, pine forests in eastern Virginia and North Carolina began to be milled commercially. Lumber was brought by barge and schooner to Berkley, where more than a dozen lumber mills and box factories provided employment and helped the community to prosper. In 1852, a businessman named Lycurgus Berkley set up a dry goods business in Norfolk and proceeded to buy up most of the property in Norfolk County that is now Berkley.

After the Civil War, he had the land surveyed and laid out streets. Berkley donated land and money to encourage churches to build there, and invited capital from investors to help the little village grow. A report published in the Norfolk Public Ledger of 7 March 1884 boasted that "Berkley is a village of more than 2,000 inhabitants and presents the strange phenomenon of running itself without the slightest form of municipal government." Berkley was incorporated as a town on 3 March 1890 and was annexed to Norfolk on 9 January 1906, as the city's 8th ward. The Berkley North District was placed on the Virginia Landmarks Register in 1999, and was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2000.

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