The Great War, to end all wars, had raged for three years when the United States was drawn in, and now ships were needed, and the men to build those ships needed housing. Instigated by the Newport News Shipbuilding and Dry Dock Company, two federally-planned housing projects, authorized and approved by the U. S. Shipping Board, were created: one of those was on the Hilton Farm in Warwick County, three miles up Route 60 from Newport News Shipbuilding.
Built on 100-plus acres in the manner of an English hamlet, the various Hilton Village houses, originally 473 (reduced from the planned 500), came to life, featuring heart-of-pine framing, slate roofs, hemlock siding, stucco glazed with light-reflecting surface and streets—named for Shipyard officials and other notable dignitaries—with tree-lined medians (that were ultimately omitted to cut costs.)
The village was accessed by “light rail” in the form of streetcars that traveled Route 60 and turned around at what is now the intersection of Botetourt Road, Villa Road and James River Drive, in front of the present Hilton Christian Church. Buses took over in 1946.
About four years after the war, which became known as World War I when another worldwide conflagration raged, the residences were rented and later offered for sale to the public.
Now bounded by Rivermont to the south and Brandon Heights to the north, and the CSX Railroad tracks to the east and River Road to the west, the village still stands strong, a full century after its founding.
Residents, past and present, are a cross-section of society. There are stalwart, active, long-time residents, like Gladys Lash, and Barbara Insley who, with her husband, George (who everyone knew as “Bubs”) moved to Hilton in 1956.
“We had built a home in York County on the water, in Dare,” Barbara says. “One day I put a ‘for sale’ sign on it and told Bubs that we were moving to Hilton. I wasn’t going to raise my children in the country.” And so the Inleys reared two daughters and a son in Hilton Village.
Gladys Lash, a Hilton resident since 1942, and her police sergeant husband Jack, raised two sons there. John, the elder son, now lives in the William Styron house.
“It always feels like home. I love the neighborhood and the close proximity to stores and entertainment,” Lash says.
Other residents are or have been Shipyard and NASA workers; police officers and firefighters; doctors and dentists; and artists and architects, such as William Black, who has served 20 years as the architect member of the Hilton Village Architectural Review Board, enhancing the village and Newport News in a myriad of ways. He and wife Jan settled in Hilton Village 42 years ago.
This area has housed lawyers and a mayor (Don Hyatt, on Main Street); librarians and teachers; newspaper workers and writers, including William Styron on Hopkins Street and Tony Snow on Main Street; builders and homemakers.
For sure, there have also been dilettantes and miscreants, as well as bootlickers and bootleggers. The Village has had its share of all.
And yet, Hilton Village has survived a hippie invasion, City Hall-backed threat to its integrity and architectural anomalies, as well as hurricanes and ice storms. It has seen its losses, like the Colony Inn, its “town hall,” the Wigwam, Seward’s Grocery, Rose’s and the corner drugstore with its soda fountain and post office, as well as the “drugstore in the middle of the block.” And its movie theater, the Village.
Today, 100 years young, Hilton Village has been named to the National Register of Historic Places, retaining its four churches, surviving and thriving with its iconic and traditional Fourth of July Parade, Civic and Garden Club, Women’s Club and Christmas Lighting. There is the fine Newport News Public Library on Main Street, the Village Playhouse in place of the movie theatre and steadfast businesses that line Warwick Boulevard, like Trophy World, Inc. that was already 10 years old when Newport News native Bob Hilling became proprietor 20 years ago.
“It’s a wonderful community in which to do business,” Hilling says, “because all the business owners sense the need to work together. It is like a village. That’s the atmosphere.”
Allison Hund, of Rooms, Blooms and More, says, “The thing that I like about being in Hilton is that customers feel like neighbors and friends; there is a communal atmosphere. It feels like a place where we can help people.”
Despite its age, Hilton Village has been declared “a modern community that both treasures its history and looks toward the future.”
TO THE POINT:
Hilton Village 100th Anniversary