Our history: it’s as old as America.
In April, 1607 three small ships – the Susan Constant, Godspeed and Discovery – found a safe harbor at Cape Comfort near the entrance to the great Chesapeake Bay.
The English colonists aboard reveled in the beauty of the unspoiled land and enjoyed “fine and beautiful strawberries” and a “good store of mussels and oysters.”
These Englishmen went on to establish a settlement at nearby Jamestown. . . but not before they savored the bounty of Phoebus and – after a winter crossing of the Atlantic Ocean – the shelter of our harbor.
Three years later, the colonists returned to found another settlement known as Hampton, which is the oldest continuous English-speaking settlement in the United States.
This small community on the banks of Mill Creek survived the Revolutionary War, when British troops plundered the village.
During the Civil War, four thousand Union troops were garrisoned on nearby land. Locals witnessed the battle of the Monitor and Merrimac; the burning of Hampton by the Confederacy, the visit of President Lincoln to Fort Monroe and, at war’s end, the imprisonment of Jefferson Davis.
In the aftermath of the Civil War, the U.S. Freedman’s Bureau sent Union Brigadier General Samuel Armstrong to the Virginia Peninsula to help the ex-slaves who had fled behind Union lines during the war.
General Armstrong founded the Hampton Normal and Agricultural Institute in 1868 to educate African-Americans who would become the leaders and teachers of future generations. Two years later, in 1870, the federal government established a home for disabled volunteer soldiers on property adjacent to Mill Creek.
In 1871 the government broke up the Civil War camp site, building lots were sold, and streets were named after prominent citizens – Mallory, Curry, Hope, Mellen. The village quickly grew to town status and changed its name from Mill Creek to Chesapeake City.
The railroad line extended from Richmond to Newport News and on to Chesapeake City in 1882. The railroad station and the first post office in the community were both named Phoebus in honor of Harrison Phoebus, the prominent owner of the Hygeia, a luxurious 1,000-room resort hotel – a forerunner of today’s venerable Chamberlin Hotel.
In 1900, the town incorporated and took the name of Phoebus. Its corporate seal displays a sun rising over ocean waves. Many believe the sun symbol was chosen because Phoebus is the Greek word for Apollo, the sun god.
During World War I and again during World War II, thousands of troops passed through Phoebus to the port of embarkation at Fort Monroe. In the roaring twenties, there was reportedly a saloon on every corner. Phoebus became a popular liberty spot during World War II, and the hotels, saloons, restaurants and businesses all flourished.
In 1952, the town was consolidated into the city of Hampton. . . but has never lost its strong sense of identity and pride.
Today, a vital Phoebus stands at the crossroads of the proud institutions that helped forge the community: Fort Monroe, once the headquarters of the U.S. Training and Doctrine Command, a portion of which is now a national monument; the Hampton Normal and Agricultural Institute, now the prestigious Hampton University; and the Veterans Administration Medical Center.
Phoebus is also the hometown of Christopher Kraft, who played a vital role in America’s space program and ultimately became the director of NASA.
Rich and diverse historical influences have played a crucial part in shaping Phoebus during its 400 year history – a unique, colorful crossroads community that thrives today.
To learn more about our heritage, explore links to the left.