The area of the Hague was originally known as Smith’s Creek, Paradise Creek and Puddin’ (Puttin Creek).” The residential part of The Hague in Norfolk has had a very interesting history since its creation by two Dutch men at the end of the 19th century. The men, J.P. Andre Mottu and Adolph Boissevain, worked for the Norfolk Company, a real estate firm connected with the Norfolk and Western railroad. The firm’s goal was to build up Norfolk from an industrial city to contain upper-class suburbs as well.
They began their project on Mowbray Arch by filling in marshland with dirt to create new waterfront land. The waterway was known as Smith’s Creek before the two renamed the area “The Hague” after the capital city of the province of South Holland in the Netherlands.
The houses built along Mowbray Arch were all upscale homes modeled after European architecture of the time period. They were all completed between 1890 and 1910.
In 1897, a seawall, or bulkhead, was constructed to “reduce wind and water movement” onto properties in the Hague. A contractor named Captain Bolton won the $12,000 construction bid for the wooden bulkhead that spanned 1380 feet.
Sometime before the 1880s a wooden footbridge known as Drummond Bridge connected downtown Norfolk to the farmland where Ghent is now.
In 1897, the Norfolk Company replaced the wooden footbridge with an iron bridge that was also a toll road allowing cars to drive from downtown straight to Ghent. The bridge spanned 100 feet and took seven months to build and its planned appearance was to be “tourist-friendly.” The bridge had two trolley lines going across the bridge at one time allowing public transit riders to take advantage of the bridge as well.
Although this area was designed to be “tourist friendly” there was a substantial amount of local oyster selling from Smith’s Creek. The Norfolk Virginian reported in 1897 that the Board of Health would debate on the legality of the local [oyster] packers.
By the 1950s, the streetcar tracks had been removed and replaced with asphalt for automobile traffic only. In 1963, automobile traffic was discontinued on the bridge and only foot travel was allowed on the bridge from then on. In 1976 the bridge was replaced with a more modern bridge encompassing parts from the older bridge to keep its historic appearance. This bridge still remains today.
Ghent was a thriving neighborhood, until the majority of houses and apartments were used as wartime housing in WW2. These housing projects turned into slums as suburbia began to grow after the war was over and people left the cities. The houses fell into disrepair and the 1949 National Housing Act sought to fix the problems.
The Norfolk Redevelopment and Housing Authority’s goal was to clear the slums and build nicer houses with higher standards of modern living. The project was aimed to “make Norfolk a nicer place” but some people, such as author Alex Marshall, felt it was primarily to get rid of slums and remove low-income housing out of the area and push poorer residents away from nicer neighborhoods. Luckily the historic sections of Ghent with European architecture, including the homes along Mowbray Arch, were saved under the National Registrar of Historic Places. In the long run this project did make the area around The Hague a much nicer place.
At the east end of The Hague stands the Chrysler Museum of Art, which houses many prestigious art exhibits. The museum was constructed in 1933 as the Norfolk Museum of Arts and Sciences. Following The Hague around to the southern side of the water stands a brick church known as the Unitarian Church of Norfolk. The church was originally built in the early 20th century as Second Presbyterian Church of Norfolk. By far the largest addition to The Hague recently is Hague Towers, a twenty one-story apartment complex.
Land use changes
The Sanborn Fire Insurance Maps shows that the original design for the city blocks between Mowbray Arch and Fairfax Avenue (formerly Mary’s Avenue) and Mowbray Avenue and Botetourt Street was for residential housing. For the most part, the maps and city planning stayed true to form and built residential housing throughout the area.
There were a few changes such as Beechwood Place turning into Beechwood Park. As far as the residential, industrial and manufacturing aspect of the maps, the maps remain unchanged from the modern day comparison.