Established in 1918, Hilton Village, in Newport News, Virginia, was the first public housing project built in the United States. Spurred on by Newport News Shipbuilding President Homer Ferguson, it was created to house shipyard workers during World War I. The village was the city’s first planned community and its first National Register of Historic Places district. Hilton’s distinctive cottage-style architecture, reminiscent of an English village, is one of the first examples of the New Urbanism and Garden City movements in America. Along the tree-lined streets are homes and shops that might have been pulled from a Dickens novel. The vision of the leaders who crafted Hilton VIllage-the shipyard’s Ferguson, Harvard University town planner/landscape architect Henry Hubbard, and world-renowned architect Francis Joannes-Remains apparent to this day.
In the months after America entered World War I in April 1917, few places saw such dramatic change as Hampton Roads.
Though already home to the Army’s biggest coastal fort and the Navy’s most vital shipyard, the region was reshaped by the birth of pioneering Langley Field in Hampton and a mammoth new naval base in Norfolk.
Then there was the new Hampton Roads Port of Embarkation in Newport News, which drew hundreds of thousands of soldiers from across the country for the war in Europe, plus thousands of additional officers, men and women to run the giant staging camps and keep the pipeline flowing.
More change swept through the Norfolk Navy Yard — which added not just one but three new dry docks — and the nation’s largest private yard in Newport News — which ramped up to meet contracts worth $2 billion in today’s dollars.
“Newport News was just so fortunate that all these visionaries showed up and made something like this happen,” says John V. Quarstein, author of two new books on the groundbreaking streetcar suburb.
“These were forward-thinking people — all trying to create what they saw as a perfect place to live.”
Just how many people swarmed over Hampton Roads during WWI may be impossible to calculate, but some sense of the overwhelming tide of soldiers, sailors, airmen, shipbuilders and construction workers can be seen in the following numbers:
Nearly 800,000 men moved through the staging camps of the HRPE, with some 275,000 passing through Camp Stuart in Newport News alone — making it the nation’s biggest single embarkation camp and requiring the labor of more than 6,000 builders before some 300 barracks were completed, the Daily Press reported.
Still, the pioneering project at Hilton ranked as the first of its kind — and it quickly became a benchmark for other wartime housing developments across the nation.
Cited in later years by both the SAH and the American Planning Association — which named it one of the nation’s “10 Great Neighborhoods” in 2009 — it joined the state and national landmark registers in the late 1960s.
Psst, I’m a real estate agent.
This post was authored by local resident and REALTOR, John Womeldorf. John is known around town as Mr. Williamsburg, for both his extensive knowledge of the Williamsburg/ Hampton Roads/ Richmond VA area and his expertise helping buyers and sellers in the local real estate market.
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