Thanks to a Library Services and Technology Act (LSTA) grant project, the Library of Virginia initiated Digital Library Program (VDLP). They have added The Newport News Photographs collection, which currently consists of 233 images of Hilton Village taken during its construction phase in 1918 and 1919 and 41 images of the Hotel Warwick taken before 1925. Both collections are located in the Virginiana Room at the Main Street Branch of the Newport News Public Library System.
Even before the U.S. entry into World War I, housing in Newport News was scarce. The situation was already aggravated by the rapid development of the area from a farming and fishing community to an expanding railway terminus and port city. World War I brought a sudden increase in activity and an accompanying need for workers. The U.S. Army built an embarkation camp, an aviation camp, large storage and shipping yards for supplies, and yards for horses and mules to be shipped overseas. Large numbers of orders were placed with the Newport News Shipbuilding and Dry Dock Company, which greatly expanded its facilities. The lack of adequate housing greatly hampered the recruitment and retention of workers in wartime industrial plants.
In January 1918, Homer L. Ferguson, president of the Newport News Shipbuilding and Dry Dock Company, appeared before a Senate subcommittee investigating shipyard conditions. Ferguson was very persuasive regarding the impact of the war effort on the lack of housing for shipyard workers. With preliminary designs in hand and with the shipyard's offer to purchase land for the project, Ferguson was able to secure a 1.2 million dollar appropriation to begin construction immediately. The Hilton Village project was the first of its kind and the prototype of approximately 100 similar wartime government housing projects.
Clearing was begun on April 18, 1918. By October 1, 1918, 32 families were living in Hilton Village. All of the houses were completed and occupied by the end of 1920. Streets were paved and had curbs, gutters, and street lights. There were four churches and several stores. Due to the end of the war, the railroad station, school, and other structures a movie theater, billiard hall, bowling alley, and lodge hall were never built. An elementary school was later constructed in an architectural style that did not match the original plans.
In 1921, Hilton Village was purchased from the government (the United States Shipping Board) by Henry E. Huntington, chairman of the board at the shipyard. He formed the Newport News Land Company, which ran Hilton as an adjunct of the company. In 1922, some of the houses were put up for sale, and Hilton Village gradually became a community of homeowners. On January 1, 1945, the Warwick County government moved from Lee Hall to Hilton.
Hilton Village has maintained its own identity and character over the years, although by the 1960s it was clear that many of the houses were not aging well. In 1968, city officials and residents began to develop a plan to preserve Hilton. In 1969, the village was added to the National Register of Historic Places, and in 1972 the Hilton Village Architectural Review Board was created by the General Assembly. The board reviews building permits and maintains the homeowners' guide ensuring that Hilton Village will retain its unique place in the landscape of Newport News.
The Hotel Warwick photographs are part of the Old Dominion Land Company Records (Series X. Miscellaneous Material). In 1882, the Land Company began work on the hotel, which was formally opened with a reception for 200 guests on April 11, 1883. The grand opening was fully 13 years before the incorporation of the City of Newport News, and the Hotel Warwick played a significant role in the development of the city. The hotel dominated the landscape, and was the civic and commercial center of the area during its early years.
The Bank of Newport News, the first bank in Newport News, chartered December 1, 1888, was located in the Hotel Warwick. The community's first newspaper, The Wedge, which began publication on April 21, 1883, was also located in the hotel. The hotel provided office space for the Warwick County government from 1888 to 1892, and at one time the post office and customs office conducted business on the premises. One of the most significant events that took place at the hotel was the organizational meeting of the stockholders of the Newport News Shipbuilding and Dry Dock Company at the time called Chesapeake Dry Dock and Construction Company), which occurred on June 24, 1886.
The Hotel Warwick was the center of all major social events for several decades with its popularity peaking in the 1920s. In close proximity to the hotel was a pleasure pier on the James River, a casino, a bowling alley, and a park. Dances, baseball games, and all manner of resort activities made the hotel a popular destination for travelers to the area as well as local residents.
The hotel was renovated in 1901, and in 1915 all of the rooms were equipped with hot and cold water and telephone service. During World War I, the restaurant was expanded and an annex was constructed on 25th Street. The hotel was again expanded in 1928 with a seven-story, 72-room addition bringing the total number of rooms to 202. During World War II, the Hotel Warwick reached a maximum of 275 rooms.