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Explore the Elizabeth’s Lauded Past

The Elizabeth was named in the early 1600s during the reign of King James I of England in honor of his daughter Princess Elizabeth. Captain John Smith was sent to explore the Chesapeake Bay in search for theideal harbor for trade with the New World. He found it on the Elizabeth River, which is still known today as the largest natural harbor in the world. The river is the cradle of maritime history, the very spot where such innovations as dry docks, iron clad ships and air craft carriers were invented.  More...

Princess Elizabeth

Elizabeth River History

Elizabeth River History

Elizabeth River History

Elizabeth River Project

Elizabeth River History

Elizabeth River History



8000 B.C. - 1608 ~ "Chisapeake" native American tribe is established along the river's banks.They refer to the Elizabeth as "Chisapeake," translated to mean plentiful shellfish and Mother Waters. She served as their source for fish, oysters, crabs and transportation to the tribe.


1608 ~ Captain John Smith names the Elizabeth River after King James I's eldest daughter, Princess Elizabeth. Captain Smith had been sent to find an ideal harbor for trade in the New World. Today, the Elizabeth River is still part of the largest natural harbor in the world. As for the health of the river in those times, Captain John Smith noted oysters the size of dinner plates, enough to feed an entire family, were in the Elizabeth River portion of the bay. He recorded fish so plentiful his crew could catch them by leaning over the side of the boat and hitting them on the head with a frying pan.


1620 ~ Shipbuilding activity begins when John Wood, a shipbuilder, requested a land grant. Many historic ships were built at the naval shipyard here, including the USS Delaware, first ship dry-docked in America, and the CSS Virginia (formerly Merrimac), first ironclad to engage in battle.


1680 ~ The area along the Elizabeth River which is to become the town of Norfolk is surveyed.


1767 ~ The oldest and largest naval shipyard in the  country, Norfolk Naval Shipyard, is founded. This establishes the Elizabeth River's important role in our nation's defense. In WWII, the naval shipyard employed 43,000 people in order to support the US Navy's war efforts.


1800s ~ The Elizabeth River fills to two-thirds her normal width and is dredged to twice her normal depth, resulting in destruction of much of the wetlands and shallows that once supported her abundant crabs and fish.


1900s ~ The harvest of oysters is banned due to contamination from sewage and is still banned today.


1940 ~ Hampton Roads Sanitation District begins managing the area's sewage.


1991 ~ Four concerned citizens found the Elizabeth River Project around the belief that citizens, government and industry can work together to achieve the balance of a healthy river and a healthy economy.


1999 ~ The Norfolk Naval Station, the world's largest naval based, located at the mouth of the Elizabeth, is named first Model Level River Star with the Elizabeth River Project, for voluntary progress reducing pollution and restoring habitat. Today over 150 River Star industries participate, including almost every one of the largest industrial interests on the river.


Today ~ You can visit a shining example of a revitalized river shoreline, the Paradise Creek Nature Park in Portsmouth, was developed along the banks of the Elizabeth River with many partners, the City of Portsmouth and the Virginia Port Authority. Home to over 188 species of birds, fish and other wildlife, the park is thriving, with gorgeous new  wetlands and a revitalized forest.


Keep these river restoration efforts growing! Become a member today!