FORT LEE, Va. (Aug. 9, 2012) -- The military has long been a powerful influence in Hopewell. This Fort Lee neighbor became a city because the DuPont Company decided to manufacture guncotton there when World War I broke out in Europe. Camp Lee soon opened nearby to train troops. Those troops marched from the post to Hopewell’s wharves where waiting ships took the Soldiers to the trenches in France.
Much earlier in the nation’s history, action during the American Revolution effected settlers living in what was then the village of City Point in Prince George County and on farms in the vicinity. That village had been around since 1613, just seven years after the settlement of Jamestown.
Of the many battles of the Civil War, the Siege of Petersburg was crucial in bringing about the surrender of the Confederacy and reuniting the nation. Logisticians training at Fort Lee today study Gen. Ulysses S. Grant’s logistical operation at City Point. The wharves that stretched for at least a mile at the confluence of the James and Appomattox rivers were the busiest in the nation in 1864-65 as tons of materiel and supplies were unloaded daily to support the Union troops who were cutting off the Confederacy’s access to its Petersburg strong-hold just a few miles away.
Present-day Hopewell continues to be shaped by recent military influences like the 2005 Base Realignment and Closure decision to expand Fort Lee. Its city manager, Dr. Edwin C. Daley, served four years in the Marine Corps before completing his education and applying it and what he had learned in several Army schools to running cities. The city’s director of finance served on Marine One when the helicopter transported Presidents Johnson and Nixon, and the public affairs director retired as an Army warrant officer after serving as an instructor here.
With so much first-hand experience of military life in the city’s administrative offices, it’s not surprising Hopewell enjoys a good relationship with Fort Lee. “I appreciate what the military does out there,” said Daley. “Fort Lee is the fourth city in the Tri-Cities,” indicating that perhaps the region should be called the Quad-City Area.
“We will always be deeply indebted to our troops for their courage and sacrifice to this nation,” he said. Daley cited the need for the nation to “show its appreciation by its actions and commit the resources needed to train, manage, sustain and provide the best equipment, technology and comprehensive medical services to support the troops and their Families.”
Noting that a city manager’s job is very similar to the position of garrison commander, Daley said, “We have very good neighbors who are very good to work with. Fort Lee is good for our economy.” Because the BRAC-driven changes came to the area at the same time as the recession, “BRAC helped the entire Tri-City Area survive (the economic downturn) better than we would have otherwise,” he said.
Fort Lee has a mutual aid agreement with all surrounding localities. For example, a major emergency in one city or county would draw public safety personnel and rescue services from the others as they were needed. Daley would like to see this cooperation develop further and result in the designation of Fort Lee as the regional emergency center. This would be helpful in natural, industrial or other disasters, he noted. This idea continues to be talked about informally, said Daley, but there has not yet been formal consideration of the concept.
“We are happy the Tri-City Area was on the receiving end of BRAC,” said Daley. He noted that the post provides a number of volunteers and entertainment resources to the wider community as well as jobs and other positive economic impacts on the region.
A Pennsylvania native, Daley believes the people of Hopewell are its best kept secret. “They have been through so much, and that has created the courage and focus they have today,” he said. The young community was nearly destroyed by fire in late 1915, about seven months before it was chartered as a Virginia city. The 11-square-mile city now has a population of about 23,000, but when the Armistice ended World War I on Nov. 18, 1918, the population was estimated at 40,000-50,000. The munitions plant closed and never reopened. By the time the 1920 census was taken, the population had evaporated to 1,369.
Strong leadership helped the city survive in the wake of the devastating peace. A rayon manufacturer, Tubize Artificial Silk Co., built a new mill in the early 1920s on old DuPont land. Other industries came as well, but Tubize was the dominant employer. It owned employee housing and provided recreation as did many mill towns of that period. A labor strike in 1934 led the company to close most of the operation, claiming the workers were at fault. Historians believe the company was about to close anyway since its process for making rayon was outdated and too expensive to compete well with newer rayon operations.
Other manufacturing facilities have come and gone or changed ownership, and in recent decades the number of industrial jobs in Hopewell has declined. The city is still home to at least four major industries with many smaller plants and support businesses. An award-winning hospital facility, John Randolph Medical Center, is another major employer.
“Hopewell is a great place to live, work and raise a family. Residents here enjoy a small town atmosphere with people who are friendly and generous,” said Daley. “We have good schools, and public safety is important to the community. We have an abundance of public parks and sports fields as well as a highly regarded Community Center that offers a wide range of recreational activities for teens, adults and seniors. It is also equipped with a first-rate fitness room and associated equipment in partnership with John Randolph Foundation.”
The rivers “offer many recreational opportunities for fishing and boating. Some even call Hopewell the ‘Catfish Capital of the South,’” Daley said. Fishermen use the riverbanks, the wharf at the Old City Point Waterfront Park, the wharf at Appomattox Manor, facilities built and maintained by the Friends of the Lower Appomattox River and their own boats to catch their dinner or compete in bass fishing tournaments.
“The city continues to make progress with its downtown revitalization efforts that began with construction of the new Appomattox Regional Library System headquarters facility and continues with renovation of the city marina and the historic Beacon Theatre,” the manager said.
Hopewell offers diverse shopping opportunities that range from neighborhood stores to downtown shops and shopping centers. At Cavalier Square Shopping Center, people from across the region can partake of what many consider the best barbecue around at K & L Barbecue. Mr. B’s 15th Street Cafe and Carter’s Courthouse Cafe are among other popular local eateries throughout the city.
“Hopewell is now a Main Street community. The designation brings the city intensive direct services from the Virginia Main Street staff and key consulting services, including economic restructuring strategies. The city will continue to improve its infrastructure, hone economic development strategies and practice environmental stewardship as it improves the quality of life for all its citizens,” said Daley. “We are proud of these developments and related activities and hope Fort Lee will take full advantage of what Hopewell has to offer Soldiers and their Families.”
The John Randolph Foundation, created when the local public hospital was sold to Hospital Corporation of America, funds many worthwhile area activities and provides a significant number of college scholarships. Another non-profit, Friends of the Lower Appomattox River, has built and maintains some of the river access points in Hopewell. Fort Lee personnel are often involved in the construction and maintenance work with Wayne Walton, a FOLAR leader and the city’s vice mayor.
Another major contributor to the quality of life in Hopewell, said Daley, is the Historic Hopewell Foundation Inc. The non-profit organization owns Weston Plantation and St. Dennis Chapel Museum. HHFI offers a summer-long lecture series at the headquarters of the Appomattox Regional Library System and a spring concert series on its lawn overlooking the Appomattox River. The foundation also has a popular summer program for kids based on the lives of children who lived at Weston during the Civil War. Its gift shop, All Manor of Things, is a popular shopping venue for local residents and visitors alike. The shop, run by volunteers to benefit the foundation, has a reputation for offering unusual and useful merchandise at competitive prices. Weston Plantation participates in Historic Garden Week in Virginia, and the house is open for tours.
Chemical industries and centuries of American history combine in Hopewell, a city of resilient people who value their two rivers and are preserving historic and cultural sites as the city moves forward with economic development plans.
Editor’s Note: This is the third article in a six-part series that focuses on the communities surrounding Fort Lee. The goal of the overall presentation is to increase awareness of the localities among service members and their Families and promote the strong partnership that exists between Fort Lee and its closest neighbors. Readers are encouraged to share their thoughts about the series or the highlighted communities through our Facebook site at www.facebook.com/ftleetraveller.