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Norfolk Harbor

Port of Norfolk Rejoices in Numerous Advantages and Municipal Terminal

View of the piers at the Union Municipal Terminal, Army Supply Base, Norfolk.

View of the piers at the Union Municipal Terminal, Army Supply Base, Norfolk. The pier at the right (side view) in the one being operated by the City of Norfolk. Belt line tracks run directly into the piers, offering a connection with all the eight railroads entering the port. GGA Image ID # 14338a65cb

Already the world's greatest coaling port, the port of Norfolk attracted conspicuous attention in 1920 by doubling its exports, and increasing its imports five-fold.

City is World's Greatest Coaling Station and is Rapidly Becoming Important Foreign Trade Center-Pier and Warehouse Equipment

By Wm. H. Jenkins,
Information Secretary, Chamber of Commerce, Norfolk, Va.

Defying for years the economic law governing the movement of commerce along the line of least resistance, Hampton Roads, admittedly the finest natural harbor in America, and probably the finest in the world, discovered first by Captain John Smith in 1607 and rediscovered by three wars, is today entering an era of port development which gives every promise of making it a formidable factor in world commerce.

Already the world's greatest coaling port, Norfolk attracted conspicuous attention in 1920 by doubling its exports, and increasing its imports five-fold.

Enormous Harbor Accommodations

To visualize Hampton Roads you have but to imagine a body of water containing about 75 square miles. almost completely landlocked. lying like a great, placid lake two hours steaming distance from the Atlantic Ocean, and large enough to float the combined battle fleets of the world with case.

For more than three hundred years it had little claim upon world commerce beyond its central location on the Atlantic seaboard, is safe and extensive harbor, and, in more recent years, its splendid coaling facilities.

But in 1914 the city of Norfolk, realizing by bitter experience that Nature of itself could not create a great port, wiped the slate clean of the sins of omission of the three hundred years that had passed and proceeded to adopt a port development program.

A site on the most desirable portion of Hampton Roads was purchased, and work started on the first pier.

But then came the entrance of America in the First World War, and with it the government's need for a great army terminal for the handling of men and supplies for the American Expeditionary Forces.

The city saw its dream of a great terminal fading away, but it entered fully into the spirit of the emergency and turned its property over to the War Department with the tacit understanding with the Government that if at any time in the future the Department should not need any part, or all of ally facilities provided. the city would be given an opportunity to secure those facilities for municipal operation.

The terminal was quickly completed and, as the great movement of war material from overseas following the Armistice began to dwindle, the city reminded the Government of its conditional promise.

A large part of the terminal was lying idle, not only serving no useful purpose, but causing a steady drain on the Government for upkeep and interest. So the Port Commission of Norfolk and the War Department entered into a contract, under which the city is to take over and operate sections of the terminal as quickly as they can be released by the Department.

Only Terminal of Its Kind

Embracing an area of 800 acres and fronting 9,000 feet on the eastern side of Hampton Roads, the Municipal Union Terminal contains every conceivable facility required in the operation of such a terminal.

There are many municipally operated terminals in the country, but the one at Norfolk enjoys the enviable distinction of being the only municipal union terminal in the United States. It is a union terminal in the sense that it is served by all of the eight railroads entering the port.

On the two concrete and steel piers, running out 1,328 feet into Hampton Roads, each having a width of 300 feet, it is possible to unload direct into the shed, into railway cars alongside the ship, or upon electric trailers for long-time storage in the warehouse back of the piers.

Mobile steam cranes, gantry cranes, tiering devices, cargo winches, lifting platform trucks and railroad gravity conveyors are among the loading, handling and unloading conveniences.

On each side of Pier No. 1 there are aprons 24 feet wide, double tracked the entire length. The shed has a width of 228 feet, and three depressed tracks in the center give floor-level trucking to and from cars.

Rails and runways for gantry cranes, with cargo masts above, are to be found on the aprons. Water, fuel oil, and electric lines in conduit are on both sides of the pier.

Pier No. 2 is identical with Pier No. 1, except that it has a double tracked apron on only one side. Between the piers is a slip 450 feet wide, with 35 feet of water at low tide, and the slips on the other sides of the piers are also dredged to 35 feet. There is a channel 400 feet wide and 20 feet deep extending for more than 3,000 feet along the concrete quay walls.

Warehouse Equipment

All of the eight brick and concrete warehouses back of the piers are on a level, connected with the piers by concrete roadways. This makes possible the use of electric trailers into every warehouse.

The eight warehouses, all of them one story in height, have an aggregate floor space of more than two million square feet, and are automatically sprinkled, and lighted by skylights and electricity. Two of them are steam heated. Every warehouse has three depressed railway tracks on one side and a concrete roadway on the other.

For open storage purposes there is a macadamized space of fifty acres, sub drained, and served by six parallel railroad tracks and seven parallel concrete roadways. There are also several hundred acres of space still available for open storage or warehouse development.

There is probably no terminal anywhere so ideally equipped from the standpoint of yard and switching facilities. There are large receiving yards, classification yard, outbound yard and other trackage providing a total capacity of about 3500 cars.

The classification yard is a veritable transportation dream, its layout permitting of the most flexible car handling possible. Yard office, engine house and repair shop, coal chute and other railroad yard facilities are provided. Sprinkler systems everywhere, and fire stations throughout the terminal guarantee as low an insurance rate on goods in storage as can be had at any terminal.

Port's Growing Trade

During last year exports valued at approximately $37,000,000 were handled through the terminal and imports valued at about $5,000,000, with a small coastwise movement of about $75,000,000. About 1,000,000 tons of tobacco alone was handled, and tobacco and wheat together totaled about $50,000,000 in valuation.

Of the imports, nitrates to the amount of $2,500,000 were handled, which bulks large when the price per ton of such low-grade commodities is considered.

There is always in storage at the terminal about 30,000 hogsheads of tobacco for export.  Municipal terminal operation has from time to time come in for criticism at various ports. There has been no such criticism at Norfolk, because there has been no occasion for it.

Municipal terminal operation has not only never cost the city a penny, but it has showed a profit. And cargoes are being handled more efficiently and with greater dispatch than at any other terminal on the harbor.

William H. Jenkins, "Port of Norfolk Rejoices in Numerous Advantages and Municipal Terminal," in The Nautical Gazette: An International Weekly Chronicle of Shipping, New York: The Nautical Gazette, Inc., Vol. 100, No. 15, Whole No. 2590, Saturday, 9 April 1921, p. 468-469.

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