“Bite-Size Bits of Local, National, and Global History”
“Bite-Size Bits of Local, National, and Global History”
Portsmouth, Virginia — The American South (Mid-Atlantic)

Olde Towne Portsmouth

Southern Architectural Splendor

Olde Towne Portsmouth Marker image. Click for full size.
By Scott Rollins, June 23, 2009
1. Olde Towne Portsmouth Marker
Inscription. The one square block his­toric dis­trict before you is Portsmouth’s Olde Towne. The dis­trict dates to 1752 when Portsmouth was founded by William Craw­ford. Olde Towne con­tains one of the largest col­lec­tions of historic build­ings in Vir­ginia fea­tur­ing Colo­nial, Federal, Greek Revival, Geor­gian, and Vic­to­rian architec­tural styles.

Olde Towne is the cen­ter­piece of Portsmouth’s Civil War his­tory. Sev­eral of the buildings found through­out the dis­trict played an impor­tant role in events that unfolded in Portsmouth dur­ing the war.

The 1846 Cour­t­house was once the site of gov­ern­ment in old Nor­folk County. Before the Civil War, slaves were sold at the front of the build­ing, and it was here that a vote was taken approv­ing secession.

On April 19, 1861, the day before the Fed­eral evacuation of Gosport Navy Yard, mem­bers of Portsmouth’s mili­tia com­pa­nies slept with their weapons in the cour­t­house. The build­ing was used as a hos­pi­tal by Union troops from 1862 until 1865.

The Macon House Hotel knew both gai­ety and despair during the war. From its Mid­dle Street porch the Virginia Defend­ers, a local vol­un­teer infantry company, accepted a flag from the ladies of Portsmouth. After the Con­fed­er­ates evac­u­ated Portsmouth in 1862, the Fed­er­als used the Macon House as a troop quar­ters and hos­pi­tal. The names of Fed­eral sol­diers carved into the hotel’s floor are still visible.

Two houses, Pass House and the William H. Peters House, played a major role in the Union occu­pa­tion of Portsmouth. The William H. Peters House served as headquar­ters for Major Gen­eral Ben­jamin Franklin But­ler while he com­manded the Union forces in Portsmouth. Local leg­end claims that But­ler earned his nick­name of “Spoons” while in Portsmouth because of the sud­den disap­pear­ance of fam­ily sil­ver­ware when homes were occu­pied by his troops. The James Mur­dough Home, known as the Pass House, took on an omi­nous air when it became the head­quar­ters of the Union Adju­tant Gen­eral. In order to leave the city, cit­i­zens first had to report here and secure a pass.

These his­toric build­ings and the many oth­ers that line Olde Towne’s streets pro­vide a glimpse into what a South­ern city looked like dur­ing the Civil War.
Erected by Virginia Civil War Trails.
Marker series. This marker is included in the Virginia Civil War Trails marker series.
Location. 36° 50.414′ N, 76° 18.097′ W. Marker is in Portsmouth, Virginia. Marker is on Crawford Parkway west of Court Street, on the left when traveling west. Touch for map. Marker is in this post office area: Portsmouth VA 23704, United States of America.
Other nearby markers. At least 8 other markers are within walking distance of this marker. Arnold's British Defenses, 1781 (a few steps from this marker); Cornwallis at Portsmouth (a few steps from this marker); Fort Nelson (a few steps from this marker); Craney Island (within shouting distance of this marker); Crawford Bay (about 300 feet away, measured in a direct line); a different marker also named Arnold's British Defenses, 1781 (was about 700 feet away but has been reported missing. ); Elizabeth River (was about 700 feet away but has been reported missing. ); Portsmouth Naval Hospital (was about 700 feet away but has been reported missing. ). Touch for a list and map of all markers in Portsmouth.
More about this marker. On the left is a photo of The Brooks Benthal Row. On the lower right is a photo of the Leigh-Hodges Home.
Categories. War, US Civil
Credits. This page was last revised on June 16, 2016. This page originally submitted on July 26, 2009, by Kristin Rollins of Portsmouth, Virginia. This page has been viewed 1,174 times since then and 50 times this year. Photo   1. submitted on July 26, 2009, by Kristin Rollins of Portsmouth, Virginia. • Craig Swain was the editor who published this page.
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