Suffolk, Virginia

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Suffolk, Virginia
A view of North Main Street in downtown Suffolk, Virginia
A view of North Main Street in downtown Suffolk, Virginia
Official seal of Suffolk, Virginia
Location in the Commonwealth of Virginia.
Location in the Commonwealth of Virginia.
Suffolk, Virginia is located in the United States
Suffolk, Virginia
Suffolk, Virginia
Location in the United States
Coordinates: 36°44′28″N 76°36′35″W / 36.74111°N 76.60972°W / 36.74111; -76.60972Coordinates: 36°44′28″N 76°36′35″W / 36.74111°N 76.60972°W / 36.74111; -76.60972
Country United States
State Virginia
County None (Independent city)
Founded 1742
 • Independent city 428.91 sq mi (1,110.86 km2)
 • Land 399.15 sq mi (1,033.80 km2)
 • Water 29.75 sq mi (77.06 km2)
39 ft (11 m)
 • Independent city 84,585
 • Estimate 
 • Density 226.07/sq mi (87.29/km2)
 • Metro
Time zone UTC−5 (EST)
 • Summer (DST) UTC−4 (EDT)
ZIP codes
Area code(s) 757
FIPS code 51-76432[3]
GNIS feature ID 1500187[4]

Suffolk is an independent city in the Commonwealth of Virginia. As of the 2017 census, the estimated population was 90,237.[5] It is the largest city in Virginia by boundary land area as well as the 14th largest in the country.

Suffolk is located in the Hampton Roads metropolitan area which also includes the independent cities of Chesapeake, Hampton, Newport News, Norfolk, Portsmouth, and Virginia Beach, as well as other smaller cities, counties, and towns of Hampton Roads. With miles of waterfront property on the Nansemond and James River, present day Suffolk was formed in 1974 after consolidating with Nansemond County and the towns of Holland and Whaleyville. The current mayor is Linda T. Johnson.[6]


Suffolk was founded by English colonists in 1742 as a port town on the Nansemond River in the Virginia Colony. Originally known as Constant's Warehouse, for settler John Constant, Suffolk was renamed after Royal Governor William Gooch's home of Suffolk, a county in East Anglia, England. Before European contact, indigenous American tribes had lived in the region for thousands of years. At the time of English settlement, the Nansemond Indians lived along the river. In the early colonial years, the English cultivated tobacco as a commodity crop, but later turned to mixed farming. It became the county seat of Nansemond County in 1750.

Early in its history, Suffolk became a land transportation gateway to the areas east of it in South Hampton Roads. Before the American Civil War, both the Portsmouth and Roanoke Railroad and the Norfolk and Petersburg Railroad were built through Suffolk, early predecessors of 21st century Class 1 railroads operated by CSX Transportation and Norfolk Southern, respectively. Other railroads and later major highways followed after the war.

Suffolk became an incorporated town in 1808. In 1910, it incorporated as a city and separated from Nansemond County. However, it remained the seat of Nansemond County until 1972, when its former county became the independent city of Nansemond. In 1974, the independent cities of Suffolk and Nansemond merged under Suffolk's name and charter.

Peanuts grown in the surrounding areas became a major industry for Suffolk. Notably, Planters' Peanuts was established in Suffolk beginning in 1912. Suffolk was the 'birthplace' of Mr. Peanut, the mascot of Planters' Peanuts. For many years, the call-letters of local AM radio station WLPM stood for World's Largest Peanut Market.


Suffolk is located at 36°44′29″N 76°36′36″W / 36.741347°N 76.609881°W / 36.741347; -76.609881 (36.741347, −76.609881).

According to the United States Census Bureau, the city has a total area of 429 square miles (1,110 km2), of which 400 square miles (1,000 km2) is land and 29 square miles (75 km2) (6.7%) is water.[7] It is the largest city in Virginia by land area and second-largest by total area. Part of the Great Dismal Swamp is located in Suffolk.


Historical population
Census Pop.
1860 1,395
1870 930 −33.3%
1880 1,963 111.1%
1890 3,354 70.9%
1900 3,827 14.1%
1910 7,008 83.1%
1920 9,123 30.2%
1930 10,271 12.6%
1940 11,343 10.4%
1950 12,339 8.8%
1960 12,609 2.2%
1970 9,858 −21.8%
1980 47,621 383.1%
1990 52,141 9.5%
2000 63,677 22.1%
2010 84,585 32.8%
Est. 2018 91,185 [2] 7.8%
U.S. Decennial Census[8]
1790-1960[9] 1900-1990[10]
1990-2000[11] 2010-2013[5]
Age distribution in Suffolk.

As of the census[12] of 2010, there were 84,585 people, 23,283 households, and 17,718 families residing in the city. The population density was 159.2 people per square mile (61.5/km2). There were 24,704 housing units at an average density of 61.8 per square mile (23.8/km2). The racial makeup of the city was 50.1% White, 42.7% Black or African American, 0.3% Native American, 1.6% Asian, 0.1% Pacific Islander, 0.8% from other races, and 2.3% from two or more races. Hispanics or Latinos of any race were 2.9% of the population.

There were 23,283 households out of which 36.6% had children under the age of 18 living with them, 55.1% were married couples living together, 16.8% had a female householder with no husband present, and 23.9% were non-families. 20.2% of all households were made up of individuals and 8.1% had someone living alone who was 65 years of age or older. The average household size was 2.69 and the average family size was 3.09.

The age distribution was 27.8% under the age of 18, 7.1% from 18 to 24, 31.1% from 25 to 44, 22.5% from 45 to 64, and 11.4% who were 65 years of age or older. The median age was 36 years. For every 100 females, there were 91.4 males. For every 100 females age 18 and over, there were 87.4 males.

The median income for a household in the city was $41,115, and the median income for a family was $47,342. Males had a median income of $35,852 versus $23,777 for females. The per capita income for the city was $18,836. About 10.8% of families and 13.2% of the population were below the poverty line, including 18.2% of those under age 18 and 11.2% of those age 65 or over.

As of 2005, the city's median income jumped to $60,484 due to the influx of government-related high-tech jobs in the city's northern corridor and wealthy residents, causing it to be a close second to its neighbor Chesapeake in South Hampton Roads.[13]

Adjacent counties and cities[edit]

National protected areas[edit]

2008 tornado[edit]

The city was hit by an EF3 tornado which produced a large swath of extensive damage through the city and nearby communities during the late afternoon of April 28, 2008.[14]

After 4:00 PM EDT on April 28, a tornado touched down multiple times, causing damage and leaving over 200 injured in Suffolk along a path which passed north and west of the downtown area striking near Sentara Obici Hospital and in the unincorporated town of Driver. The storm seriously damaged over 120 homes and 12 businesses. The subdivisions of Burnett's Mill and Hillpoint Farms were damaged particularly heavily, as well as several of the older historic structures in Driver. However, near Driver, large radio and television broadcast towers located in an antenna farm serving most of Hampton Roads were spared serious damage.

Governor Timothy Kaine declared a state of emergency and directed state agencies to assist the recovery and cleanup efforts. Police officers and firefighters from across Hampton Roads were sent to Suffolk to help in the quarantine and cleanup of the damaged areas.

On May 1, the property damages were estimated at $20 million.

Video of the tornado.


Suffolk Public Schools, the local public school system, operates 12 elementary schools, four middle schools, three high schools, and one alternative school. Nansemond-Suffolk Academy is a private college preparatory school located on Pruden Blvd.


Suffolk's early growth was fueled by its location and transportation considerations. These continue to be major factors in the 21st century.

Bike trails[edit]

The Dismal Swamp National Wildlife Refuge includes dozens of miles of trails accessible via White Marsh Road at Washington Ditch and other entry sites. Additional bike trails can be found at Lone Star Lakes City Park off Godwin Blvd. This city park provides over 4 miles (6.4 km) of rock trails. There are many rural roads with light traffic available for road riding. Adjacent to Suffolk is Smithfield, where a city facility called Nike Park includes a bike trail approximately 2​12 miles in a loop.


Suffolk was initially a port at the head of navigation of the Nansemond River. The Nansemond flows into the James River near its mouth and the ice-free harbor of Hampton Roads.


The two railroads completed through Suffolk before the American Civil War were later joined by four more. These were eventually consolidated during the modern merger era of North American railroads which began around 1960. Suffolk was once served by Amtrak's Mountaineer, but service ended in 1977. The Suffolk station now serves as a railroad museum.

Today, Suffolk is served by three freight railroads, and is located on a potential line for high speed passenger rail service between Richmond and South Hampton Roads being studied by the Virginia Department of Rail and Public Transportation.


Suffolk is served by U.S. Highways 17, 13, 58, 258, and 460. Interstate 664, part of the Hampton Roads Beltway, crosses through the northeastern edge of the city. State Route 10 is also a major highway in the area.

In 2006, Suffolk assumed control of its road system from the Virginia Department of Transportation, which is customary among Virginia's independent cities, although since the Byrd Road Act of 1932 created Virginia's Secondary Roads System, which maintains the roads in most counties and town. An exception was made by the General Assembly when the former Nansemond County became an independent city and consolidated Suffolk in the 1970s. The state still maintained the primary and secondary routes in Suffolk until July 1, 2006.

Bridges, bridge-tunnel[edit]

The Monitor–Merrimac Memorial Bridge–Tunnel connects Suffolk to the independent city of Newport News on the Virginia Peninsula from South Hampton Roads and is part of the Hampton Roads Beltway, a circumferential interstate highway which links the seven largest cities of Hampton Roads. Completed in 1992 it provided a third major vehicle crossing of the Hampton Roads harbor area and cost $400 million to build.

There have been conflicts with VDOT and the city over ownership and responsibility for the circa 1928 Kings Highway Bridge across the Nansemond River on State Route 125, which was closed in 2005 by VDOT for safety reasons.[15][16] About 3,300 motorists a day used the bridge that connected Chuckatuck and Driver. Now, they face detours of as much as 19 miles (31 km). The cost of a new bridge for the King's Highway crossing is estimated at $48 million, far more than could be recovered through collection of tolls at that location.[17] In 2007, VDOT announced that it would contract for demolition and removal of the bridge. According to newspaper accounts, this will be the first time in VDOT's history of such action when no replacement facility was planned.[18]

Virginia is currently reviewing proposals under a public-private partnership for a major realignment and upgrade of U.S. 460 from Suffolk west to Interstate 295 near Petersburg. In 1995, the Virginia General Assembly passed the Public-Private Transportation Act allowing private entities to propose innovative solutions for designing, constructing, financing, and operating transportation improvements. The new roadway would be funded through collection of tolls.

As part of the Suffolk 2026 Comprehensive Plan, the city plans to bypass the crossroads community of Whaleyville in southwestern Suffolk City. US 13 (along with NC Highway 11) is a strategic highway corridor in North Carolina towards Greenville.[19][20]


A RailBox boxcar exporting peanuts.

In modern times, Suffolk remains a major peanut processing center and railroad and highway transportation hub. It hosts a diverse combination of industrial, manufacturing, distribution, retail, and hospitality businesses, as well as active farming.

In 2002, the new Louise Obici Memorial Hospital was completed and dedicated, acquired in 2005 by the Sentara Health System. Planters' Peanuts has been a major employer, now owned by Kraft Foods. Each fall since 1977, the City of Suffolk hosts Suffolk Festivals Incorporated's annual Peanut Fest. Other large employers in the City of Suffolk include Unilever, Lipton Tea, Wal-Mart, Target, QVC, and two major modeling and simulation companies, Lockheed Martin and Raytheon. Lockheed Martin built its "Center for Innovation" around a lighthouse in Suffolk, for which the campus is called 'The Lighthouse'. Raytheon won a DoD contract to manufacture 'Miniature Air-Launched Decoy Jammers'(MALD-J), which it has been producing with Cobham Composite Products:202 vehicles for a price of $81 million .[21]

Suffolk experienced a boom in its high tech economy given the presence of the U.S. Joint Forces Command (JFCOM) facility near the intersection of US 17 and Interstate 664. In 1999, JFCOM stood up[further explanation needed] and through the decade JFCOM employed more and more defense contractors until it reached over 3,000.[citation needed] By September 2010, US Secretary of Defense Robert Gates recommended to decommission JFCOM as a matter of reallocating and rebalancing the U.S. Department of Defense budget to better address changing needs and fiscal demands. The announcement led to speculation about what impact the loss of JFCOM would have on the Hampton Roads economy in general and (more specifically) the sustainment of businesses located in the Harborview section of Suffolk. In August 2011 JFCOM was disestablished; many critical JFCOM functions like joint training, joint exercises and joint development were retained in the buildings vacated by JFCOM in north Suffolk under the auspices of the Joint Staff J7 Directorate, referred to as either "Pentagon South"[21] or "Joint and Coalition Warfighting".

By summer 2013, city officials expected the Naval Network Warfare Command, NNWC Global Network Operations Center Detachment, Navy Cyber Defense Operations Command and Navy Cyber Forces to occupy buildings vacated by JFCOM. These commands have been considered a boon to north Suffolk bringing an estimated 1,000 additional employees, counting military, civilians and contractors with an estimated annual payroll of $88.9 million.[21]


Suffolk's daily newspapers are the local Suffolk News-Herald, the Virginian-Pilot from Norfolk and the Daily Press of Newport News. Other papers include the New Journal and Guide, and Inside Business.[22] Coastal Virginia Magazine serves as a bi-monthly regional magazine for Suffolk and the Hampton Roads area.[23] Hampton Roads Times serves as an online magazine for all the Hampton Roads cities and counties. Suffolk is served by a variety of radio stations on the AM and FM dials, with towers located around the Hampton Roads area.[24]

Suffolk is also served by several television stations. The Hampton Roads designated market area (DMA) is the 42nd largest in the U.S. with 712,790 homes (0.64% of the total U.S.).[25] The major network television affiliates are WTKR-TV 3 (CBS), WAVY 10 (NBC), WVEC-TV 13 (ABC), WGNT 27 (CW), WTVZ 33 (MyNetworkTV), WVBT 43 (FOX), and WPXV 49 (ION Television). The Public Broadcasting Service station is WHRO-TV 15. Suffolk residents also can receive independent stations, such as WSKY broadcasting on channel 4 from the Outer Banks of North Carolina and WGBS-LD broadcasting on channel 11 from Hampton. Suffolk is served by Charter Communications.[26] The City of Suffolk Media & Community Relations Department operates Municipal Channel 8 on the local Charter Cable television system. Programming includes television coverage of many City activities and events, including live Government-access television (GATV) broadcasts of all regular City Council meetings, and special features including "On The Scene", "Suffolk Seniorcize", and "Suffolk Business Today". DirecTV and Dish Network are also popular as an alternative to cable television in Suffolk.


Suffolk is divided politically into seven boroughs,[27] one corresponding to the former city of Suffolk and one corresponding to each of the six magisterial districts of the former Nansemond County.[28] The boroughs are Chuckatuck,[29] Cypress,[30] Holy Neck,[31] Nansemond,[32] Sleepy Hole,[33] Suffolk,[34] and Whaleyville.[35]

Sister cities[edit]

In 1981, Suffolk County, England became Suffolk's first sister city as a result of the personal interest in the Sister Cities concept by Virginia's Governor, Mills E. Godwin. A native of the city, Governor Godwin believed that Sister Cities would benefit the community culturally and educationally. Suffolk's second sister city relationship with Oderzo, Italy, began in 1995 because of one man, Amedeo Obici. Mr. Obici was a native of Oderzo and the founder of Planters Nut and Chocolate Company in Suffolk.

Suffolk Sister Cities International, Inc. (SSCI) is a 501 (c)(3) nonprofit established to promote international relationships as directed by Suffolk City Council through its appointed Suffolk Sister Cities Commission. Its membership is open to all who are interested in fostering the goals of the organization.

SSCI and its international youth association, SIYA, have won national awards for Youth and Education and for the Best Overall Program for cities with populations less than 100,000.[36]

Notable people[edit]


The Suffolk Seaboard Station Railroad Museum, located at 326 N Main Street, is housed in a historic Norfolk & Western Railroad station that was later used by Amtrak until 1977 when the Mountaineer ended. The museum features a model train layout depicting Suffolk, and railroad memorabilia. Admission is free, but donations are accepted. The museum is open year-round.


The climate in this area is characterized by hot, humid summers and generally mild to cool winters. According to the Köppen Climate Classification system, Suffolk has a humid subtropical climate, abbreviated "Cfa" on climate maps.[37]


Presidential Elections Results[38]
Year Republican Democratic Third Parties
2016 41.6% 18,006 53.8% 23,280 4.5% 1,954
2012 41.9% 17,820 57.0% 24,267 1.1% 479
2008 43.0% 17,165 56.2% 22,446 0.7% 297
2004 52.1% 16,763 47.3% 15,233 0.6% 193
2000 48.0% 11,836 50.6% 12,471 1.4% 354
1996 41.3% 8,572 52.2% 10,827 6.5% 1,355
1992 43.0% 8,697 45.5% 9,196 11.5% 2,330
1988 54.3% 9,742 45.0% 8,080 0.7% 128
1984 53.0% 10,128 46.3% 8,842 0.8% 149
1980 42.8% 7,179 54.1% 9,064 3.1% 522
1976 38.9% 6,066 59.2% 9,246 1.9% 297
1972 69.5% 2,137 29.2% 898 1.2% 38
1968 38.0% 1,277 31.0% 1,044 31.0% 1,044
1964 48.1% 1,463 51.9% 1,579 0.1% 2
1960 49.6% 1,406 50.1% 1,419 0.3% 9
1956 57.5% 1,617 39.2% 1,103 3.3% 92
1952 57.2% 1,622 42.6% 1,209 0.2% 6
1948 35.8% 741 49.8% 1,030 14.4% 299
1944 29.7% 569 70.1% 1,342 0.2% 3
1940 24.0% 383 76.0% 1,215
1936 17.1% 281 82.9% 1,360
1932 20.6% 265 78.7% 1,013 0.7% 9
1928 47.4% 573 52.6% 637
1924 23.6% 179 73.3% 557 3.2% 24
1920 28.1% 302 70.9% 761 1.0% 11
1916 26.2% 158 72.4% 437 1.5% 9
1912 11.2% 71 75.8% 480 13.0% 82
Suffolk City Council Members
Borough Incumbent Title
At Large Linda T. Johnson Mayor
Cypress Leroy Bennett Vice Mayor
Chuckatuck Michael D. Duman Council Member
Nansemond Lue R. Ward Jr. Council Member
Sleepy Hole Roger W. Fawcett Council Member
Holy Neck Timothy J. Johnson Council Member
Suffolk Donald Z. Goldberg Council Member
Whaleyville Curtis R. Milteer Sr. Council Member
Suffolk City School Board Members
Borough Incumbent Title
Cypress Lorraine B. Skeeter School Board Member
Chuckatuck Linda W. Bouchard School Board Member
Nansemond Dr. Judith Brooks-Buck School Board Member
Sleepy Hole David P. Mitnick School Board Member
Holy Neck Enoch C. Copeland Chairman
Suffolk Dr. Michael J. Debranski School Board Member
Whaleyville Phyllis C. Byrum Vice Chairman
City of Suffolk Constitutional Officers
Title Incumbent
Clerk of the Circuit Court W. Randolph Carter Jr.
Commonwealth Attorney C. Phillips Ferguson
Commissioner of the Revenue Susan L. Draper
Sheriff Everett "E.C." Harris
City Treasurer Ronald H. Williams
City of Suffolk State Elected Officials
Incumbent Legislative Body District Party
S. Chris Jones House of Delegates 76th Republican
Emily M. Brewer 64th
C.E. "Cliff" Hayes Jr. 77th Democrat
Matthew James 80th
John A. Cosgrove Jr. Senate 14th Republican
Thomas K. "Tommy" Norment 3rd
T. Montgomery "Monty" Mason 1st Democrat
L. Louise Lucas 18th

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "2017 U.S. Gazetteer Files". United States Census Bureau. Retrieved Mar 28, 2019.
  2. ^ a b "Population and Housing Unit Estimates". Retrieved July 17, 2019.
  3. ^ "American FactFinder". United States Census Bureau. Retrieved 2008-01-31.
  4. ^ "US Board on Geographic Names". United States Geological Survey. 2007-10-25. Retrieved 2008-01-31.
  5. ^ a b "Population estimates, July 1, 2017". United States Census Bureau. Archived from the original on 2018-09-18. Retrieved 12 September 2018.
  6. ^ "Suffolk, Virginia". City of Suffolk, Virginia. Archived from the original on February 28, 2015. Retrieved August 30, 2014.
  7. ^ "US Gazetteer files: 2010, 2000, and 1990". United States Census Bureau. 2011-02-12. Retrieved 2011-04-23.
  8. ^ "U.S. Decennial Census". United States Census Bureau. Retrieved January 6, 2014.
  9. ^ "Historical Census Browser". University of Virginia Library. Retrieved January 6, 2014.
  10. ^ "Population of Counties by Decennial Census: 1900 to 1990". United States Census Bureau. Retrieved January 6, 2014.
  11. ^ "Census 2000 PHC-T-4. Ranking Tables for Counties: 1990 and 2000" (PDF). United States Census Bureau. Retrieved January 6, 2014.
  12. ^ "American FactFinder". United States Census Bureau. Retrieved 2011-05-14.
  13. ^ "". Archived from the original on 2007-09-26. Retrieved 2007-08-25.
  14. ^
  15. ^ Aaron Applegate, VDOT, city of Suffolk battle over closed Kings Highway Bridge Archived 2006-09-28 at the Wayback Machine, The Virginian-Pilot, May 1, 2006
  16. ^ John Warren, Flooding blamed on clogged ditches[permanent dead link], The Virginian-Pilot, July 11, 2006
  17. ^ Archived 2007-03-26 at the Wayback Machine
  18. ^ Archived 2007-09-26 at the Wayback Machine
  19. ^ "City of Suffolk, Virginia". Archived from the original on 2012-10-26. Retrieved 2012-08-15.
  20. ^ [1] Archived May 19, 2012, at the Wayback Machine
  21. ^ a b c "'Pentagon South'". Suffolk News Herald. 12 July 2012. Retrieved 4 August 2014.
  22. ^ "Coastal Virginia Magazine". Vista Publishing. Retrieved 2015-03-31.
  23. ^ Holmes, Gary. "Nielsen Reports 1.1% increase in U.S. Television Households for the 2006–2007 Season." Nielsen Media Research. September 23, 2006. Retrieved on September 28, 2007.
  24. ^ Charter Communications Archived 2009-02-02 at the Wayback Machine
  25. ^ Sheler, Jeff (July 21, 2011). "Redrawn Suffolk boroughs would shift racial makeup". The Virginian-Pilot.
  26. ^ "Approved Borough Plan". City of Suffolk, Virginia. October 5, 2011. Archived from the original on 2012-08-26. Retrieved 2012-08-25.
  27. ^ "City Council: Chuckatuck Borough". City of Suffolk, Virginia. Archived from the original on 2012-05-27. Retrieved August 25, 2012.
  28. ^ "City Council: Cypress Borough". City of Suffolk, Virginia. Archived from the original on 2012-05-27. Retrieved August 25, 2012.
  29. ^ "City Council: Holy Neck Borough". City of Suffolk, Virginia. Archived from the original on 2012-05-27. Retrieved August 25, 2012.
  30. ^ "City Council: Nansemond Borough". City of Suffolk, Virginia. Archived from the original on 2012-05-27. Retrieved August 25, 2012.
  31. ^ "City Council: Sleepy Hole Borough". City of Suffolk, Virginia. Archived from the original on 2012-05-27. Retrieved August 25, 2012.
  32. ^ "City Council: Suffolk Borough". City of Suffolk, Virginia. Archived from the original on 2012-05-27. Retrieved August 25, 2012.
  33. ^ "City Council: Whaleyville Borough". City of Suffolk, Virginia. Archived from the original on 2012-05-27. Retrieved August 25, 2012.
  34. ^ [2][dead link]
  35. ^ "Suffolk, Virginia Köppen Climate Classification (Weatherbase)". Weatherbase.
  36. ^ Leip, David. "Dave Leip's Atlas of U.S. Presidential Elections".

External links[edit]