Petersburg, Virginia facts for kids
|Nickname(s): The Cockade City|
Location in the state of Virginia
|County||None (Independent city)|
|Founded||December 17, 1748|
|• Independent city||23.2 sq mi (60 km2)|
|• Land||22.9 sq mi (59 km2)|
|• Water||0.2 sq mi (1 km2)|
|Elevation||134 ft (40 m)|
|• Independent city||32,420|
|• Density||1,397/sq mi (539.5/km2)|
|Time zone||EST (UTC-5)|
|• Summer (DST)||EDT (UTC-4)|
Petersburg is an independent city in the U.S. state of Virginia. As of the 2010 census, the population was 32,420. The Bureau of Economic Analysis combines Petersburg (along with the city of Colonial Heights) with Dinwiddie County for statistical purposes. It is located on the Appomattox River and 21 miles (34 km) south of the state capital of Richmond. The city's unique industrial past and its location as a transportation hub combined to create wealth for Virginia and the region.
Early in the colonial era, Petersburg was the final destination on the Upper Appomattox Canal Navigation System because of its location on the Appomattox River at the fall line (the head of navigation of rivers on the U.S. east coast) was a strategic place for transportation and commercial activities. It connected commerce as far inland as Farmville, Virginia to shipping on the Chesapeake Bay and Atlantic Ocean. For similar reasons, Fort Henry was built at Petersburg to protect the river.
As railroads were constructed in the state in the 1830s, Petersburg was developed as a major transfer point for both north-south and east-west competitors. The Petersburg Railroad was one of the earliest predecessors of the modern-day CSX Transportation system. Several of the earliest predecessors of the area's other major Class 1 railroad, Norfolk Southern, also met at Petersburg. Access to railroads stimulated industry in the city, which was already established because of the water power available at the fall line, as the river plunged from the Piedmont to lower lands.
During the American Civil War, because of the railroad network, Petersburg was key to Union plans to capture the Confederate capital at Richmond. Nine months of trench warfare were conducted by Union forces during the 1864–65 Siege of Petersburg. Battlefield sites are located throughout the city and surrounding areas, partly preserved as Petersburg National Battlefield.
The city is also significant for its role in African-American history. Petersburg had one of the oldest free black settlements in the state at Pocahontas Island. Two Baptist churches in the city, whose congregations were founded in the late 18th century, are among the oldest black congregations and churches in the United States. In the 20th century, these and other black churches were leaders in the national Civil Rights Movement. In the post-bellum period, a historically black college which later developed as Virginia State University was established nearby in Ettrick in Chesterfield County. Richard Bland College, now a junior college, was originally established here as a branch of Williamsburg's College of William and Mary.
Petersburg remains a transportation hub, with the network of area highways including Interstate Highways 85, 95, and 295, and U.S. highways 1, 301, and 460. Both CSX and NS rail systems maintain transportation centers at Petersburg. Amtrak serves the city with daily Northeast Corridor trains to Norfolk, Virginia, and long-distance routes from states to the south.
In the early 21st century, Petersburg leaders were highlighting the city's historical attractions for heritage tourism, and the industrial sites reachable by the transportation infrastructure. Military activity has been expanded by the federal government at nearby Fort Lee, home of the United States Army's Sustainment Center of Excellence, and the Army's Logistics Branch, Ordnance, Quartermaster, and Transportation Corps.
Archaeological excavations at Pocahontas Island have found evidence of a prehistoric Native American settlement dated to 6500 BCE. This is in the early third of the Archaic Period (8000 to 1000 BCE). Varying cultures of indigenous peoples lived in the area for thousands of years.
When the English arrived in Virginia in 1607, the region was occupied by the Appamatuck, a significant tribe of the Powhatan Confederacy. They were governed by a weroance, King Coquonosum, and by his sister, Queen Oppussoquionuske. This Algonquian-speaking people later had a town at Rohoic Creek (formerly Rohowick or Indian Towne Run), on the western edge of present-day Petersburg.
Petersburg was founded at a strategic point at the fall line of the Appomattox River and settled by English colonists. By 1635 they had patented land along the south bank of the Appomattox River as far west as present-day Sycamore Street, and about 1 mile (1.6 km) inland. In 1646, the Virginia Colony established Fort Henry a short distance from the Appamatuck town, near the falls. It provided water power for mills and later industrialization. Col. Abraham Wood sent several famous expeditions out from here in the following years to explore points to the west, as far as the Appalachian Mountains. Some time around 1675, Wood's son-in-law, Peter Jones, who then commanded the fort and traded with the Indians, opened a trading post nearby, known as Peter's Point. The Bolling family, prominent tobacco planters and traders, also lived in the area from the early 18th century. In 1733, Col. William Byrd II (who founded Richmond at the same time) conceived plans for a city at Peter's Point, to be renamed Petersburgh. The Virginia General Assembly formally incorporated both Petersburg and adjacent Blandford on December 17, 1748. Wittontown, north of the river, was settled in 1749, and became incorporated as Pocahontas in 1752. Petersburg was enlarged slightly in 1762, adding 28 acres (110,000 m2) to "Old Town".
During the American Revolutionary War, the British drive to regain control erupted in the Battle of Blanford in 1781, which started just east of Petersburg. As the Americans retreated north across the Appomattox River, they took up the planks of the wooden Pocahontas bridge to delay the enemy. Although the British drove the Americans from Blanford and Petersburg, they did not regain a strategic advantage in the war. Cornwallis' forces surrendered at Yorktown soon after this battle. After the war, in 1784 Petersburg annexed the adjacent towns of Blandford (also called Blanford) and Pocahontas and the suburb of Ravenscroft, which became neighborhoods of the city. An area known as Gillfield was annexed in 1798. Residents' devotion to the cause during the War of 1812 led to the formation of the Petersburg Volunteers—who distinguished themselves in action at the Siege of Fort Meigs on May 5, 1813. President James Madison called Petersburg "Cockade of the Union" (or "Cockade City"), in honor of the cockades which Volunteers wore on their caps.
Because of the availability of jobs in Petersburg, many free people of color in Virginia migrated to the growing urban community. They established First Baptist (1774) and Gillfield Baptist Church (1797), the first and second oldest black congregations in the city and two of the oldest in the nation. The black churches were the first Baptist churches established in Petersburg. For years the center of the free black residential area was Pocahontas Island, a peninsula on the north shore of the Appomattox River. With access to waterways and a population sympathetic to refugee slaves, this neighborhood was an important site on the Underground Railroad.
The Port of Petersburg became renowned as a commercial center for processing cotton, tobacco and metal, then shipping products out of the region. The city became an important industrial center in a mostly agricultural state with few major cities. Flourishing businesses helped the city make improvements. Starting in 1813, the city paved its streets. A development company created a canal to bypass the Appomattox Falls, in order to promote traffic upriver. Next came railroad lines to link the city to all points of the compass. As travel technology developed in the mid-19th century, Petersburg became established as a railroad center, with lines completed to Richmond to the north, Farmville and Lynchburg to the west, and Weldon, North Carolina to the south. The last major line was completed in 1858 to the east, with the Norfolk and Petersburg Railroad connecting to the ocean port of Norfolk. In 1851 the city introduced gaslights and by 1857 installed a new municipal water system. All these civic improvements helped attract and hold a substantial business community, based on manufacture of tobacco products, but also including cotton and flour mills, and banking.
At the time of the American Civil War, Petersburg was the second-largest city in Virginia after the capital Richmond, and the seventh-largest city in the Confederacy. Petersburg's population had the highest percentage of free African Americans of any city in the Confederacy and the largest number of free blacks in the Mid-Atlantic region. When the Civil War began in 1861, Petersburg was strategic in supporting the Confederate effort. The city provided several infantry companies and artillery units to the Confederate Army, along with three troops of cavalry. In April 1861 more than 300 free African Americans of Petersburg volunteered to work on the fortifications of Norfolk, Virginia under their own leader. Slaveholders also contributed the labor of numerous of their black slaves.
In 1864, Petersburg became a target during the Overland Campaign of Union General Ulysses S. Grant. The numerous railroads made Petersburg a lifeline for Richmond, the Confederate capital. After his defeat at the Battle of Cold Harbor, Grant remained east of Richmond and moved south to Petersburg. Grant intended to cut the rail lines into Petersburg, stopping Richmond's supplies. On June 9, troops led by William F. "Baldy" Smith of the 18th Corps, attacked the Dimmock Line, a series of defensive breastworks constructed to protect Petersburg. Lee arrived with the fabled Army of Northern Virginia, and the 292-day Siege of Petersburg began. Due to botched Union leadership and arrival of Confederate General William Mahone, the Union forces suffered a disastrous defeat at the Battle of the Crater, suffering over 4,000 casualties. In early April 1865, Union troops finally managed to push their left flank to the railroad to Weldon, North Carolina and the Southside Railroad. With the loss of Petersburg's crucial lifelines, the Confederate forces had to retreat, ending the siege in a victory for the Union Army. The fall of Petersburg meant that Richmond could no longer be defended, and Lee attempted to lead his men south to join up with Confederate forces in North Carolina. Hopelessly outnumbered, he was surrounded and forced to surrender at Appomattox Court House, Virginia, on April 9, 1865.
In the years after the Civil War, many freedmen migrated to Petersburg, founding numerous churches, businesses and institutions. The Freedmen's Bureau established new facilities for freedmen, including a mental health hospital in December 1869, at Howard's Grove Hospital, a former Confederate unit. In 1870 the General Assembly incorporated the Central Lunatic Asylum as an organized state institution, as part of an effort by the Reconstruction-era legislature to increase public institutions for general welfare. Also in 1882, the state legislature authorized moving the asylum facility to the Mayfield Farm and developing a new campus there. This is the site of the present-day Central State Hospital, which provides a variety of mental health services. The legislature also founded the state's first system of free public education.
During the 1880s, a coalition of black Republicans and white Populists held power for several years in the state legislature. This resulted in two major public institutions in Petersburg, as the legislature invested for education and welfare. In 1882, the legislature founded Virginia State University in nearby Ettrick as Virginia Normal and Collegiate Institute. It was one of the first public (fully state-supported) four-year historically black colleges and universities (HBCU) in the Mid-Atlantic. This was part of a drive to improve public education that started with the Reconstruction legislature. In 1888, its first president, John Mercer Langston, was elected to the US Congress on the Republican ticket, the first African American to be elected to Congress from Virginia.
The limitations of Petersburg's small geographic area and proximity to Richmond were structural problems which hampered it in adapting to major economic changes in the 20th century. Other forces in the mid-20th century acted to pull people and jobs from the city. It suffered from competition with nearby Richmond, which grew to dominate the region in a changing economy as industries restructured. World wars led to major federal institutions being constructed near Petersburg, which created local jobs. Soon after World War I started, the US Army established Camp Lee just outside of Petersburg in Prince George County for training draftees. The facility was used again during World War II. In 1950 the camp was designated Fort Lee, and additional buildings were constructed to house the U.S. Army Quartermaster Corps Center and School. During WWII Camp Picket was established west of Petersburg near the small rural town of Blackstone, and the Defense Supply Center, Richmond opened in neighboring Chesterfield. In the 1950s, Petersburg became the southern terminus of the Richmond-Petersburg Turnpike, predating the U.S. Interstate Highway System.
In the late 19th and early 20th century, Virginia's conservative white Democratic Party–dominated legislature instituted Jim Crow laws, including imposing racial segregation. It also approved constitutional changes that effectively disfranchised most blacks and many poor whites. Those disfranchised suffered major losses in the ability to exercise their rights as citizens. With many African Americans having served the nation and cause of freedom in WWII, in the postwar years they pressed for social justice, an end to segregation and restoration of voting power.
In 1949 Petersburg businessmen and politician, Remmie Arnold, the president and owner of the Arnold Pen Company, at the time one of the largest manufacturers of fountain pens, launched a campaign for Governor of Virginia. As a Petersburg city councilman, Arnold had pushed through a budgetary increase earmarked for equality and fair access for public housing and recreational facilities for everyone including people of color, and increased budgetary considerations for the black schools in Petersburg. In a highly unusual move for a Democratic politician in the Jim Crow South, Arnold promised to 'deal with all Virginians fairly' whatever their ethnicity which won him the endorsement of Arthur Wergs Mitchell, the first African American to be elected to the United States Congress as a Democrat. Arnold ultimately lost the Democratic primary to John S. Battle who went on to win the gubernatorial election.
Even after the Great Migration of blacks to northern jobs and cities, Petersburg was 40 percent black in 1960. Under state segregation and Jim Crow laws, those citizens were barred from free use of public spaces and facilities.
Major black churches, such as First Baptist and Gillfield Baptist, formed the moral center of the Civil Rights Movement in Petersburg, which gained strength in mid-century and was a major center of action. Dr. Wyatt Tee Walker, the pastor of Gillfield Baptist Church, had become friends with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in the early 1950s when they were both in divinity school in New York. In 1957 they co-founded the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), an important force for leadership of the movement in the South. Walker also founded the Petersburg Improvement Association (PIA), modeled on the Montgomery Improvement Association in Alabama. According to Walker and other close associates of King, Petersburg had played an important role, a kind of blueprint for the national civil rights.
African Americans in Petersburg struggled, with federal government support, to desegregate public schools and facilities. Through sit-ins in the bus terminal in 1960, the PIA gained agreement by the president of the Bus Terminal Restaurants to desegregate lunch counters in Petersburg and several other cities. White Virginia officials at the top levels resisted school integration following the 1954 US Supreme Court ruling in Brown v. Board of Education and initiated the program of Massive Resistance. For instance, rather than integrate, the school board of neighboring Prince Edward County closed public schools for five years, starting in 1959.
Retail and industry prospered until about the early 1980s. De-industrialization, restructuring of railroads and national structural economic changes cost many jobs in the city, as happened in numerous older industrial cities across the North and Midwest. The post-World War II national construction of highways encouraged development outside cities and suburbanization added to problems. In addition, reacting to racial integration of schools in the 1960s, many middle-class families moved to newer housing in the predominantly white suburbs. They also move to the Richmond metro area, where the economy was expanding with jobs in new fields of financial and retail services. Some companies shifted industrial jobs to states further south, where wages were lower, or out of the country altogether.
The declining economy increased the pressure of competition and racial tensions. These flared from 1968 to 1980. Following the assassination of King in 1968, Petersburg was the first city to designate his birthday as a holiday, an observance that is now a national holiday. Projected industrial development of large tracts of vacant land in the annexed areas did not materialize. In the late 1980s, numerous remaining retail merchants relocated from downtown to the new Southpark Mall area in adjacent, and predominately white, Colonial Heights. In a typical postwar US pattern, suburban development through the late 20th century drew off retail from the former downtown area. During the 1993 Virginia tornado outbreak, Petersburg suffered an F4 tornado that swept into the downtown, seriously damaging a number of historic buildings and businesses.
As of 2007, Petersburg has continued to evolve as a small city, even as the nature of its commercial activities changed. Downtown Petersburg, known as Old Towne, has had new businesses established as people appreciate the compact core. The Army has expanded activities at nearby Fort Lee, home of the United States Army's Sustainment Center of Excellence, as well as the Army's Logistics Branch, Ordnance, Quartermaster, and Transportation Corps.
In 2016, Petersburg faced the prospect of large-scale cuts to public services after a state audit found a $12 million budget shortfall and the prospect of insolvency by the end of the year.
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According to the United States Census Bureau, the city has a total area of 23.2 square miles (60.1 km2), of which 22.9 square miles (59.3 km2) of land and 0.2 square miles (0.5 km2) (1.1%) is water.
Petersburg is located on the Appomattox River at the fall line, which marks the area where the Piedmont region (continental bedrock) and the Atlantic coastal plain (unconsolidated sediments) meet. The fall line is typically prominent where a river crosses its rocky boundary, as there are rapids or waterfalls. River boats could not travel any farther inland, making the location the head of navigation. The need of a port and abundant supply of water power causes settlements to develop where a river crosses the fall line.
Located along the Eastern Seaboard, approximately halfway between New York and Georgia, Petersburg is 23 miles (37 km) south of Virginia's state capital, Richmond, and is at the juncture of Interstates 95 and 85. The city is one of 13 jurisdictions that comprise the Richmond-Petersburg Metropolitan Statistical Area (MSA).
The U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis combines the city of Petersburg with the cities of Colonial Heights and Hopewell, and neighboring Dinwiddie and Prince George counties for statistical purposes. Petersburg is also a part of the Tri-Cities regional economy known as the "Appomattox Basin", which includes a portion of southeastern Chesterfield County.
Adjacent counties/independent city
- Chesterfield County, Virginia—north
- Colonial Heights, Virginia—north
- Dinwiddie County, Virginia—west, south
- Prince George County, Virginia—east, southeast
National protected area
- Petersburg National Battlefield Park (part)
|U.S. Decennial Census
As of the 2010 United States Census, there were 32,420 people residing in the city. 79.1% were Black or African American, 16.1% White, 0.8% Asian, 0.3% Native American, 0.1% Pacific Islander, 1.8% of some other race and 1.8% of two or more races. 3.8% were Hispanic or Latino (of any race).
As of the census of 2000, there were 33,740 people, 13,799 households, and 8,513 families residing in the city. The population density was 1,474.6 people per square mile (569.4/km²). There were 15,955 housing units at an average density of 697.3 per square mile (269.2/km²). The racial makeup of the city was 79.00% African American, 18.5% White, 0.20% Native American, 0.70% Asian, 0.03% Pacific Islander, 0.59% from other races, and 1.00% from two or more races. Hispanics or Latinos of any race were 1.37% of the population.
There were 13,799 households out of which 27.6% had children under the age of 18 living with them, 30.1% were married couples living together, 26.1% had a female householder with no husband present, and 38.3% were non-families. 32.2% of all households were made up of individuals and 11.7% had someone living alone who was 65 years of age or older. The average household size was 2.38 and the average family size was 2.98.
The age distribution was 25.1% under 18, 8.9% from 18 to 24, 27.5% from 25 to 44, 22.9% from 45 to 64, and 15.6% who were 65 or older. The median age was 37 years. For every 100 females there were 84.2 males. For every 100 females age 18 and over, there were 78.7 males.
The median income for a household in the city was $28,851, and the median income for a family was $33,955. Males had a median income of $27,859 versus $21,882 for females. The per capita income for the city was $15,989. About 16.7% of families and 19.6% of the population were below the poverty line, including 27.1% of those under age 18 and 15.8% of those age 65 or over.
As noted above, Petersburg is on the CSX and Norfolk Southern rail lines. These lines host Amtrak services. There is a bus station with Greyhound desk. A regional bus between Petersburg and downtown Richmond is active. Richmond International Airport, located less than 30 miles north of city, serves passengers from the city. Also close by is Chesterfield County Airport, and the Dinwiddie County Airport lies a few miles west of the city. Interstate highway I-95 forks with I-85.
Architecture and Arts
|Petersburg Old Town Historic District|
Intersection of Sycamore and Bollingbrook
|Location||U.S. 1 and VA 36, Petersburg, Virginia|
|Area||190 acres (77 ha)|
Since the departure of the tobacco company Brown & Williamson, Petersburg has invested heavily in historic preservation of its rich range of architecture. The city's numerous 18th-, 19th- and 20th-century structures in its historic neighborhoods provide unique character of place. Groups such as Historic Petersburg Foundation and Association for the Preservation of Virginia Antiquities have worked to restore many of the city's buildings and recognized important districts.
The Petersburg Old Town Historic District is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, as are other historic districts. People appreciate the preserved historic buildings and pedestrian scale of the downtown, as well as their architectural variety. The buildings are being adapted for new uses. Many restaurants, specialty shops, and up-scale apartments and condos have been developed, with more underway. Southern Living magazine featured this area, as did HGTV's What You Get For The Money.
The area has become a vibrant arts center. It has an Arts League and a performing arts center, Sycamore Rouge, "Petersburg's Professional Theatre for the Community". Sycamore Rouge produces a five-show mainstage theatre season and a "black box" theatre season, supplemented with live music and cabaret performances. The city celebrates a "Friday of the Arts" on the second Friday of each month, in which many locations feature local artwork and live music.
Numerous historic properties and districts are associated with the downtown area. Pocahontas Island, a historically black community, is listed as a historic district on the National Register. Among the city's most architecturally refined properties is Battersea, a Palladian-style house built in 1767–1768. On the city's western edge above the Appomattox River, the house is situated on 37 acres (150,000 m2). It is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. A non-profit group is working with the city to develop a long-term plan for the property.
Petersburg is home to the Petersburg Generals of the Coastal Plain League, a collegiate summer baseball league. The Generals play at the Petersburg Sports Complex. The Generals began play in 2000 and won a league championship in their inaugural season.
City government and politics
The city of Petersburg has a council-manager form of city government. Therefore, the city is subdivided into seven wards and each ward elects one member each to the city council. The city council then hires a city manager.
The city council elects one of its members to serve as mayor and one member to serve as vice mayor, but generally those positions only have the authority of being chair and vice chair of the city council.
The members of city council:
- Ward One: Treska Wilson-Smith
- Ward Two: Darrin Hill
- Ward Three: Samuel Parham (Mayor)
- Ward Four: Brian A. Moore
- Ward Five: W. Howard Myers
- Ward Six: Ray Coleman
- Ward Seven: John Hart (Vice Mayor)
Because Petersburg has a predominant black population (which votes heavily Democratic), the city has been a Democratic stronghold. It is represented by Joseph Preston in the House of Delegates (63rd District) and Rosalyn R. Dance in the State Senate (16th District). Both Preston and Dance are Democrats. Six of the City Council representatives are confirmed Democrats including the mayor and vice-mayor. All the local constitutional officers are also Democrats. In 2008, Petersburg gave the second-largest percentage of votes for the Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama than any other municipality in the nation.
In 2009 for the first time in decades, the local Republican party actually nominated a candidate for the 63rd district and a local constitutional office. Susan McCammon chairman of the Petersburg Republican party and Jerry Dyson III acting vice-chairman of the Dinwiddie Republican party both challenged Rosalyn R. Dance for her seat. With Jerry Dyson III dropping out in April Susan McCammon received the Republican nomination but later dropped out if the race in September leaving the Republican party with no candidate. When it became apparent that Petersburg's treasurer was going to lose the Democratic primary, Patrick N. Washington (former campaign manager for Jerry Dyson III) initiated a campaign to nominate Tammy Alexander as the Republican candidate for treasurer. In November, Tammy Alexander was defeated but captured a quarter of the votes, the largest percentage for a Republican in Petersburg in over thirty years.
The city has many Baptist churches, including the oldest African-American congregation in the United States (First Baptist Church on Harrison Street). The two largest churches are Good Shepherd Baptist Church on Crater Road and Mount Olivet Baptist Church on Augusta Avenue.
There are various religious traditions that have historic congregations in Petersburg. The Methodist Episcopal Church, South (known as the Southern Methodist Church denomination) was started in Petersburg on Washington Street.
There is also Edgehill Church of Christ and Petersburg Church of Christ
Jehovah's Witnesses have two kingdom halls located in the area.
Two of the oldest Pentecostal churches in Petersburg are Bethesda Bible Way Church on Harding Street and Zion Memorial Apostolic Church on Youngs Road.
The Petersburg Ward, a congregation of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, meets on Johnson Road. It is part of the Richmond Virginia Chesterfield Stake, established in the 20th century. Members of this Ward are assigned to the Washington, D.C. LDS Temple.
Congregation Brith Achim is an established Jewish synagogue that meets on W. South Boulevard.
Several Hebraic-rooted, Black Jewish associations meet in various locations throughout the city.
The climate in this area is characterized by hot, humid summers and generally mild to cool winters. According to the Köppen Climate Classification system, Petersburg has a humid subtropical climate, abbreviated "Cfa" on climate maps.
Petersburg, Virginia Facts for Kids. Kiddle Encyclopedia.