Visiting Virginia: The Portsmouth Path of History

Gosport Park is a one-acre slice of land where the 249-year history of Norfolk Naval Shipyard (NNSY) is frozen in time.

The park is part of Portsmouth’s Path of History, a self-guided walking tour featuring a string of historic sites tracing the routes of Old Towne back to 1752, from the home of the Union Army’s Provost Marshal to the house where President Andrew Jackson once visited.

I visited the Path of History and Gosport Park during a quick lunchtime adventure, which I began at the Portsmouth Visitor Center on Crawford Parkway.

The Path of History links Gosport Park, off the north end of NNSY, with the three-acre Fort Nelson Park at the entrance to Naval Medical Center Portsmouth, the nation’s first Navy Hospital.

The entire Path of History is a lot to see in one lunch break, and after picking up a map and plotting my route, I decided to focus my trip on landmarks between the Visitor Center and Water Street Ferry Landing.

The Path of History’s pictorial signs, which provide important details about the many significant locations and centuries-old structures, preserve more than 250 years of American history.

The Path of History is punctuated with shade trees, public green space, and brick sidewalks, and the cool air of a mid-October morning made for perfect walking weather.

After leaving the Visitor Center, I stopped at the Lightship Portsmouth, a National Historic Landmark. Like lighthouses and buoys, lightships were navigational aids. The Lightship Portsmouth is now a museum and the quarters are fitted out realistically and filled with fascinating artifacts, uniforms, photographs, and models.

From there I walked down London Street and around the block to Glasgow Street, taking in the varied styles of 18th and 19th century architecture. I continued down Water Street to the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard Museum, which overlooks the Ferry Landing, and just a few strides further, the Fresnel Lens, a well-maintained retired lighthouse light bulb, which once served as part of the Hog Island Light off the Great Machipongo Inlet on the Eastern Shore.

On my way back to work before my lunch break was officially over, I made one last stop.

At Gosport Park, more than a dozen signs featuring key milestones in the shipyard’s history mark various artifacts, such as two 75,000-pound propellers, a refurbished sail from ex-USS Thomas Jefferson (SSBN 618), and Navy guns that were once used on vessels built at NNSY.

The park, which is located conveniently across Lincoln Street from Quarters A, is easy to visit on foot through the Trophy Park Gate (Gate 3). The shipyard’s historical brick wall provides a charming backdrop for an afternoon stroll or early-morning visit, and the various relics on display offer a glimpse into the past of which NNSY is so proud.

This November marks Norfolk Naval Shipyard’s 250th birthday. If you haven’t walked the Path of History yet, now is the perfect time.

Whether you decide to wander around on your own or follow the tour sequentially, the Path of History has preserved the historic relationship between Portsmouth and Norfolk Naval Shipyard through more than two centuries of change.

You can find a map and more information about the Path of History online at

Editor’s Note: This story originally appeared in Norfolk Naval Shipyard’s monthly magazine, Service to the Fleet. Thank you to Marcus W. Robbins, NNSY Historian and Archivist, for his contributions to this article.


Compulsive snacker. Bleeding heart. Unhealthy obsession with Tom Hanks and cats. Florida State and Syracuse University alum.

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