Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Phoebus, Gateway to Freedom

 Phoebus, Gateway to Freedom, 2012
What can you say about a village called Phoebus? The name has no great historical significance. It may or may not have ever had a prime time. It’s always been somewhere you stopped in, or more likely passed through, on the way to or from somewhere else.
Phoebus (pronounced “Feeb-us), Virginia, is located at the Southern tip of the Virginia Peninsula, where the Chesapeake Bay meets the James River. It was first visited by members of Captain John Smith’s hapless band of English settlers in 1607. Back then the area was known as Strawberry Banks for, I suppose, either wild strawberries that grew along its banks or for, more likely, the shallow local waters.
It wasn’t, in any event, until the beginning of the Twentieth Century that Phoebus got its current name in honor of local businessman Harrison Phoebus, who’d been instrumental in bringing the railroad line to town.
Snow Bike Shop, Only Open on Saturday, 2012
Wikipedia will tell you that the town of Phoebus is “extinct.” It’s true that in 1952, Phoebus was annexed into the adjacent city of Hampton. But I’ll bet there are a few long-time Phoebus residents—Phoebeans? Phoebecians?—who would argue that while Phoebus’ time in history might have peaked long ago, it’s not out for the count just yet.
Today Phoebus is home to a mix of watermen, laborers and workers at the nearby VA Hospital and Hampton University. A few grand homes dot the waterfront. But mostly it’s a mix of old bungalows and simple two-story houses. Today people who probably wouldn’t have chosen to live side-by-side somewhere else reside side-by-side in Phoebus, sometimes peaceably and sometimes not. And while Phoebus arguably qualifies as a “walkable” neighborhood, most people appear to drive and it’s unlikely one could be sustained completely by Phoebus’ retail offerings and services.
Peeling Off the History, 2012
[Although it has little do to do with the overall tone of this post, I feel compelled to mention to anyone thinking about going to Bender’s Comic and Used Book Store, a sizable time machine of old comics, magazines and action figures, should know in advance that there’s a sign in front of the “Adult” section informing you that there’ll be a “30 Minute Limit.” It had to be explained to me while that’s necessary.]
 Never Came, 2012
Despite facing many challenges, Phoebus has ambitions. It was, after all, the first place on the Peninsula where Captain John Smith’s men landed in 1607. (And look what that triggered on an unsuspecting North American continent!) In the Twentieth Century NASA trained astronauts just up the road from Phoebus until Lyndon Johnson used his political clout to have NASA headquarters moved to Texas. If you’re old enough to remember when space flights were cause for around-the-clock television coverage you might remember the name Christopher Craft. Turns out Craft, former NASA flight director and “voice” of NASA for all those flights, was born in Phoebus. (That seems to complete the list of Phoebus natives who made it big.)
I don’t know whether it’s the historic connection or the space age connection that Phoebus is working with. Not much of either played out within Phoebus’ precincts. But like a lot of places, Phoebus needs something to be proud of, and for now it is, as the pennants that hang from the streetlights proclaim,  “Phoebus, Gateway to Freedom.”
 Phoebus Fire Department, 2012


  1. Also home to the x-rated Lee Theater which should have had a time limit for its customers.

  2. I never heard of Phoebus before, so thanks for the introduction. I like "Phoebecians."

  3. well how curious. I was just talking with a friend about the Chamberlin ( I used to go there as a child) and was looking up info on it on Wiki, etc, and I knew I had always heard of Phoebus, but was unsure where it was, and wiki led me to believe it was ON Old Point Comfort, but it is indeed across the water... very historical area, this....