The Ghent Historic District in Norfolk is a small residential neighborhood located within walking distance of Norfolk’s central commercial core. Part of a late 19th- and early 20th-century suburban land development, the district encompasses approximately eighty acres in size. Since the early 20th century, the western arm of Smith’s Creek has been traditionally referred to as the Hague.
Contributing to the neighborhood character, most dwellings observe a common setback line from the street. Residences tend to be of brick construction, occasionally with stone facing on the front façade. Uniform scale is found across Ghent with 231 stories being the average height. Notable exceptions are the Eastern Virginia Medical College (four stories), the Sarah Leigh Hospital (four stories), the Holland Apartments (three stories on a high basement), and the Mowbray Apartments (four stories on a high basement). Of these only the Eastern Virginia Medical College and additions to the Sarah Leigh Hospital break from the pervading, turn-of-the-century character of the district. This break is due not so much to their height as to their large mass and lack of historic detailing–elements incongruous with their more distinctive neighbors. Similarly, buildings located across from Cheat on the outer banks of Smith’s Creek break from the scale and character of the district.
Stylistically, late Queen Anne Colonial Revival, and Shingle styles dominate. Colonial Revival interpretations range from Georgian Revival to Federal to Queen Anne/Colonial Revival. Gambrel roofs hinting at Dutch Colonial influences are occasionally seen in the Ghent area. Shingle Style houses are second in number to Colonial Revival dwellings. Three Shingle Style houses, possibly by the same, currently unidentified architect, exhibit large porches in a first-story recessed entrance bay. Typical Shingle Style houses in Ghent are of masonry construction on the first floor with frame construction (shingle sheathing) on the second and attic stories.
Other styles randomly found in Ghent. include English Tudor, English Half Timber, Italianate Town House, and Beaux Arts (Sarah Leigh Hospital). The remainder of Ghent’s dwellings are-more difficult to classify as any single style. These include numerous builder Colonial Revival houses as well as residences suggestive of Dutch Queen Anne town houses.
The Ghent Historic District remains Norfolk’s best preserved, turn-of-the-century suburban development. Fully exploiting its waterside location, the district retains its original street fabric and its cohesive groupings of prodigious middle and upper-middle class dwellings.