In the corner of one wall at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church sits a perfectly round cannonball compliments of John Murray, the Fourth Earl of Dunmore.

The church, built in 1739, replaced Chapel of Ease which was completed in 1641. It is a cannon’s shot of the Elizabeth River in Norfolk, Virginia. Referred throughout history as Lord Dunmore, he was Virginia’s British Royal Governor during the American Revolution and antagonist of the colonists. He attacked Norfolk as he fled Virginia on Jan. 1, 1776, and St. Paul’s Church, was the only building to survive.

Today, the church is Norfolk’s only colonial-era building and because of the cannonball, it is the beginning of the city’s Cannonball Trail History Tour. In about two hours, visitors can walk through 400 years of Norfolk and American history by visiting more than 20 sites in this self-guided tour.

ARMED FORCES MEMORIAL

The trail ambles along the Elizabeth River and weaves through Norfolk’s neighborhoods. The Armed Forces Memorial in Town Point Park is dedicated to veterans who served in wars and conflicts from the American Revolutionary War to the Persian Gulf War. Completed in 1998, the 160-foot monument has 20 cast-bronze letters scattered beneath a flagpole as if the wind blew them. Each page is an inscription written during the respective war to a loved one at home by a U.S. Armed Forces servicemember who perished.

While in Town Point Park, admire the bronze “The Homecoming” sculpture. It is of a sailor hugging his wife and son upon return after deployment. The moving sculpture was dedicated in 2000 to honor all active and retired servicemembers and their families.

NAUTICUS AND MARITIME CENTER

Next to the Armed Forces Memorial and although not on the Cannonball Trail but worthy of a visit, is Nauticus. Known as the National Maritime Center, this is a museum and maritime-themed science center which includes the USS Wisconsin. The Hampton Roads Naval Museum is on the second floor of Nauticus and separate. It is owned by the United States Navy and houses artifacts as uniforms, weaponry, and ship models.

Battleship Wisconsin was commissioned 75 years ago. It saw action during the Luzon Attacks in World War II and earned five battle stars. It served as a training ship and engaged in active assignments several times up until Feb. 27, 1991, during Operation Desert Storm. It reached its final assignment Dec. 7, 2000, when it docked in Norfolk to become a floating museum. The battleship is one of the last built by the U.S. Navy and available for self-guided tours with paid admission into Nauticus.

‘THE LONE SOLDIER’

Across from the battleship in Wisconsin Square is a statue dedicated in 2002 and called “The Lone Sailor”. Plaques memorialize eight Norfolk-based ships and submarines that met adversity. Included are the USS Cole, USS Liberty and USS Newport News, plus the Pentagon for the 9/11 attack.

Hopping back on the Cannonball Trail History Tour is the Taiwan Friendship Pavilion. A gift to Virginia and Norfolk from the Taiwan Provincial Government, Republic of China, it was the result of a sister-state relationship initiated in 1981. The Taiwan Observation Tower is known as The Pagoda. Located on an acre, the garden reflects harmony and tranquility.

Another stop along the trail is the MacArthur Memorial which serves as the resting place of Gen. Douglas MacArthur who passed away in 1964. Tour the museum and admire the architecture. It was built in 1850 by Thomas U. Walter who designed the U.S. Capitol dome and House and Senate wings.

MERMAIDS SCULPTURES

As you walk the Cannonball Trail, something else will stand out. Mermaid sculptures. Attorney Pete Decker Jr., affectionately called Uncle Pete, introduced the idea to community leaders during a breakfast in 1999. Bess, his wife, visited Chicago and saw the city-wide “Cows on Parade” exhibit. She thought Norfolk could implement something similar. Mermaids were selected to honor Norfolk’s maritime heritage, 130 castings were made for artists to decorate, and in November 2000, the life size nautical sculptures were auctioned off and at least 80 have been placed throughout the community. Over the years, more mermaids have been added but there is not an active count of how many are on public display. But keep your eyes open and you will see mermaids with no two looking alike.

Walking builds up an appetite and Norfolk serves up some eateries with interesting history, too. The Freemason Abbey Restaurant is in a renovated church built more than 145 years ago. A local favorite for lunch and dinner, Friday is wild game specials day with entrees like kangaroo and rabbit sausage.

100 YEARS OF ICE CREAM

For more than 100 years, everyday is ice cream day at Doumar’s, a diner and curb service eatery. They serve breakfast, lunch, and dinner, with delicious North Carolina-style barbecue. Where they hang their hat is with their ice cream. Specifically, this is home of the first waffle cone.

Founder Abe Doumar was selling paperweights at the 1904 World’s Fair in St. Louis. When he noticed an ice cream vendor closed because they ran out of paper bowls, he grabbed a waffle from another vendor, rolled it up, topped it with ice cream, and the waffle cone was born. Doumar built a four-iron waffle machine in 1905 and opened a chain of ice cream stands from Coney Island to Jacksonville. Today, there is one diner and it still uses the original waffle cone machine.

The restaurant makes their ice cream and shakes like those enjoyed by the Greatest Generation. The landmark eatery attracts visitors from around the world especially following appearances on the Rachel Ray Show and Food Network’s Diners, Drive-ins and Dives with host Guy Fieri.

Not far from Doumar’s is Norfolk Coffee and Tea Co., and for more than 100 years, three generations of the same family have roasted gourmet coffee for thousands of residents and visitors. Look at their walls and see photos of high-profile customers including entertainment celebrities, athletes, and politicians. Norfolk Coffee and Tea Co.’s fire-roasted coffees are served in restaurants, grocery stores, and other businesses and organizations. Stop in to pick out your beans and they will recommend the best way to have them ground. A variety of teas, blended spices for cooking, mugs, and other items are available for purchase. Chances are owner Chris G. Stephanitsis will be ready to welcome you.

Norfolk has an active craft beer scene with one of the several breweries being O’Connor Brewing Company. Outside is a beer garden with fire pits to take the chill off and games. Inside, take a tour of the facility and sip a flight of one of dozens of brews. Food is usually available for purchase from a food truck.

The Cannonball Trail is perfect for unraveling the city’s past and meeting the personalities who have shaped and are shaping the vision of this port city located where the Chesapeake Bay meets the Atlantic Ocean. Like a good cup of joe, Norfolk’s history is deep, rich, and evokes good conversation.

Jennifer Huber is the founder and voice behind the award-winning blog {a}SoloTravelGirl.com{/a} where she celebrates traveling alone, not lonely.

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