Berkley is one of the most historical neighborhoods located in the city of Norfolk. Berkley is a large neighborhood, taking up much of the city of Norfolk. It is often referred to as a city within a city. Interestingly, Berkley was once a town of its own. In 1890, Berkley became its own incorporated town in the county of Norfolk (now the City of Norfolk). The Town of Berkley was located across the Eastern Branch Elizabeth City River in the South Norfolk area, where it is still located today. On January 1, 1906, the Town of Berkley was annexed by the City of Norfolk and is now a neighborhood in the city.1
Military History in Berkley
Douglas MacArthur, a revered American General and Chief of Staff in the United States Army, has family history in the neighborhood of Berkley. MacArthur's mother, Mary Pinkney Hardy MacArthur's father owned the Hardy Plantation. The Hardy Plantation was renamed the Hardy Field due its offensive title signifying slavery.2
The Great Fire in 1922
On April 13, 1922, the devastating Great Fire in Berkley took place destroying $750,000 of property. This was the worst way to celebrate Easter as Berkley natives. Their homes, businesses, schools, churches, and etc. were now completely ruined. Everything the Berkley residents possessed was now mass debris unable to revive. The community was in total distraught, fortunately, no one was physically harmed. However, their minds were now suffering from this tragedy.
The White and Black residents of Berkley united and mourned over their destroyed property. One of the most valuable buildings, Central Baptist Church was completely demolished by the Great Fire. Before the fire, the Central Baptist Church held the value of $85,000. The church served as a religious building for the Blacks throughout the neighborhood as well as a meeting place to discuss how they can progress in a society dominated by Whites. The Holiness Church located on Craig Street was also devoured by the Great Fire only leaving the remnants of the chimney. The beautiful homes of Columbus Buffaloe, Anderson Boone, Willie Brown, and Sidney Seward all lost from the fire. Mr. S.L. Clanton’s grocery store was also devoured by the Great Fire along with his immaculate home with seven rooms. The homeless victims of the fire stared at the horror in disbelief. White citizens of the city of Norfolk sympathetically supplied the neighborhood with $6,000. Black churches of Norfolk and Portsmouth also made donations to assist the fire victims.3
More Background Information on Berkley
Historically and statistically, Berkley was a predominantly African American community. The Berkley community was once populated by 98% African Americans and 2% Jewish. The population remains majority African Americans.
Notable Berkley Citizens
- Broadway actress and socialite - Peggy Hopkins Joyce (May 26, 1863- June 12, 1957)
- Mother of Douglas MacArthur, General of the United States Army - Mary Pinkney Hardy MacArthur (May 22, 1852-December 3, 1935)
- African-American pioneer in athletics, politics and law - William Henry Lewis (November 28, 1868-January 1, 1949)
- Democratic African American politician, 2002-2012 member of the United States House of Delegates, Senate of Virginia representing the 5th District in the cities of Norfolk and Chesapeake, and owner of the Metropolitan Funeral Homes - Kenneth Cooper Alexander (October 17, 1968)
- The civic leader and activist - Minnie Gregg-Madrey (1912-2001)
- Pastor and community leader - Reverend Jake Manley, Sr. (1924-2013)4
https://billycook4council.files.wordpress.com/2014/04/berkley-historic-district.png Berkley Sign with Billy Cook
1Berkley Historical Society interview with President Anne Boone by Keyra Amos
2 Matthew Austin Jr. interview by Keyra Amos
3Desolation In Wake of Berkley Fire: Awe stricken Crowd Throng Devastated Area Where Fire Worked Havoc. No Loss of Life. $750,000 Property Loss”, New Journal and Guide (1916-2003) April 22, 1922, ProQuest Historical Newspapers: Norfolk Journal and Guide (1921-2003), pg.1.
4 Berkley Historical Society, Berkley Museum, Norfolk Virginia, 2014.