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(originally published to Helium writing site, now gone)

Virginia Beach is one of the oldest settlements in the United States. It is part of a group of seven cities which is often called America’s First Region. A short walk up the beach from the downtown area, near the entrance to Chesapeake Bay, is where the first English colonists set foot on American soil on 26 April 1607. Virginia Beach has many historic sites of interest.

Previously called Seashore State Park, the spot where the colonists landed is now called First Landing State Park. Development of the park started in 1933 by the Civilian Conservation Corps, a public works relief program set up to provide employment in the Great Depression. The 1,060 acre park opened on June 15, 1936. It has since been expanded to 2,888 acres or about 4.5 square miles. In 1965, the park became a National Natural Landmark under the National Register of Historic Places. The name change, to First Landing State Park, came in 1997 to reflect the heritage of the area. It has 19 miles of walking and biking trails, as well as camping areas and cabins. More than one million people visit the park each year, making it the most popular state park in Virginia.

There is a memorial cross at the actual landing site within the adjoining Fort Story, a training area for US armed forces. This spot can be accessed by the public, as can the nearby Cape Henry Lighthouse. The original lighthouse, built in 1792, was the first lighthouse built by the US government. A new lighthouse was constructed in 1881 and is still in use today. The old lighthouse has been renovated and is now open to the public. People can climb the internal stairs to the observation platform and enjoy panoramic views. It became a National Historic Landmark in 1964.

A number of houses at Virginia Beach date from the time of the Virginia Colony, which existed from 1607 until the American Revolutionary War (1775 to 1783). The oldest one still standing is Adam Thoroughgood House, a brick dwelling built in 1636. Thoroughgood was a servant who came to Virginia in 1622 and became a community leader. The house is now fully restored and is a museum. It is a National Historic Landmark.

Nearby is the city’s second oldest house, Adam Keeling House, built in the 1680s or 1690s. Features include a center hall and decorative glazed headers. A privately owned house, it is thought to be the oldest house continuously occupied in Virginia. It is not open for viewing but is visible from the street. The house is also on the National Register. Other historic houses in Virginia Beach include Lynnhaven House built in 1725 and open to the public, Upper Wolfsnare House dating from 1759 and also open to the public, and Francis Land House constructed in 1732.

Virginia Beach has a number of historic farms and churches. Ferry Plantation House is a stately three story house built in 1830. It was built by slave labor and used bricks from the ruins of Walke Mansion which was constructed on the site around 1780 but was destroyed by fire. The site also had the county’s first brick courthouse.

The Old Donation Church is the city’s oldest Episcopal Church. The first service was held in Adam Thoroughgood’s home in 1637 before a church building was erected on his land two years later. A second church was built in 1692 as the original church was too close to the Lynnhaven River and was being eroded by it. The congregation soon outgrew the new church and a third one was built in 1736. When the Reverend Robert Dickson died in 1776, he left everything to the church and it became known as Old Donation Church. It was almost destroyed by fire in 1882, but an enthusiastic group rebuilt it between 1912 and 1916.

In all, Virginia Beach has 18 sites on the National Register of Historic Places. The city is well worth a visit by history buffs and anyone who enjoys a resort city with many miles of sandy beaches and numerous parks among its many attractions.

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