Like much of eastern Virginia, the site of Colonial Heights was located within the Algonquian-speaking confederation known as Tenakomakah, ruled by Chief Powhatan, when the English colonists arrived at Jamestown on May 14, 1607. Captain John Smith's early map of Virginia testifies that the present area of Colonial Heights included the principal town of the Appamattuck subtribe, led by their weroance, Coquonasum, and his sister, Oppussoquionuske. In the aftermath of the Indian attacks of 1622 and 1644, they became tributary to England and relocated to nearby Ettrick, and its opposite bank, near Fort Henry (near modern Petersburg).
What is now Colonial Heights was made part of "Henrico Cittie", one of 4 huge "incorporations" formed in the Virginia Colony in 1619 by the London Company. English colonists first settled in the Colonial Heights area in 1620. A small group sailed up the Appomattox River looking for clear land, and finally settled in an area where Swift Creek runs into the Appomattox River, which they named Conjurer's Neck. This confluence was formerly the residence a Native American healer (known as a "conjurer") who was thought to have cast spells over the waters.
Shortly thereafter, Charles Magnor registered the first land patent in the area for 650 acres, which he later developed into a plantation before selling it in 1634. That same year, by order of King Charles I of England, the Virginia Colony was divided into the 8 original shires of Virginia by the House of Burgesses, one of which was Henrico County, which included the future land of Colonial Heights.
During the period from 1677 to 1685, one of the area's historic landmarks was constructed with the building of the Brick House Farm. Richard Kennon came to Virginia prior to 1670, and became a merchant of Bermuda Hundred. He represented Henrico County in the House of Burgesses. His son, Richard Kennon, Jr., was also a member of the House of Burgesses and married the daughter of Col. Robert Bolling, the emigrant, and his second wife, the former Anne Stith. Richard's sister, Mary Kennon, was married to Major John Fairfax Bolling, half-brother of Richard's wife. Major Bolling was the son of Col. Robert Bolling and his first wife Jane Rolfe, who was granddaughter of the early colonist John Rolfe and his Native American wife, Pocahontas. The Bollings lived at Cobb's, a plantation in eastern Chesterfield near Point-of-Rocks.
The manor house built by Richard Kennon (later known as the "Brick House") is now thought to be the oldest permanent structure in Colonial Heights. One wall of the house survived a disastrous fire in 1879, and the rest was rebuilt.
In 1749, an area south of the James River was divided from Henrico County by the House of Burgesses, and named Chesterfield County. The area which became Colonial Heights was to remain in Chesterfield County for almost 200 more years, until 1948. The name "Colonial Heights" results from an incident during the American Revolutionary War. In 1781, the French troops of General Marquis de Lafayette, known as the Coloniels, retreated north from Petersburg and deployed artillery on the heights overlooking Petersburg from across the Appomattox River. The area thus came to be known as "Colonial Heights", and the name was given to a subdivision of the Oak Hill tract in 1906.
A historic site, Oak Hill, on Carroll Avenue, also called Archer's, Hector's or Dunn's Hill, consisted of two one-story weatherboarded structures connected by a deep inside porch that extends from an uncovered section toward the street. From the lawn of this house, in May 1781, General Lafayette, with cannon behind a boxwood hedge that still fringes the hill, shelled Petersburg, then occupied by the British.
The area also became involved in operations during the American Civil War. General Robert E. Lee made his headquarters at Violet Bank from June through September during the Siege of Petersburg in 1864.
In 1926, Colonial Heights became an incorporated town in Chesterfield County. It became an independent city in 1948. Its current charter was granted in 1960. From 1960 to 1970, Colonial Heights experienced a period of rapid growth as the population jumped from 9,587 to 15,097.
According to Tony Horwitz's book, "Confederates in the Attic," when the Petersburg public school system was integrated by federal order in the 1960s, most of Petersburg's white population "fled en masse across the river to a suburb called Colonial Heights, or nicknamed 'Colonial Whites.'"
In the mid-1980s, completion of the State Route 144 (Temple Avenue Connector) and a new bridge across the Appomattox River provided access to State Route 36 near Fort Lee. The new road and bridge effectively opened a large previously isolated tract of land along the southeastern edge of the city for commercial development. There, the regional Southpark Mall and many other retail businesses and offices were built.
On August 6, 1993, an F4 tornado (max. wind speeds 207-260 mph) passed through Colonial Heights. It caused extensive damage to the Southpark Mall and collapsed the roof of a Wal Mart store, the Indian burial ground. It also did extensive damage in Petersburg and Hopewell. In the Tri-Cities area, the tornado killed 4 people, injured 246, and caused an estimated $50 million in property damage.
Two area attractions with historic roots are Violet Bank and Swift Creek Mill. There are also 2 parks in the area; Fort Clifton Park and White Bank Park.
Violet Bank, located at the end of Arlington Place, is a one-story frame or weatherboarded house with a hipped roof, outside chimneys - stuccoed and painted white - and a high basement. Breaking the long line of the facade is a graceful portico, which extends from a recess created by two semi-octagonal bays. The slender fluted columns of the portico support a roof surmounted by a solid balustrade. In this gray building, overlooking a shrub-enclosed lawn shaded by the far reaching branches of a gigantic cucumber tree, General Robert E. Lee had his headquarters from June to September 1864 during the American Civil War.
The first building on this site was erected in 1770 by Thomas Shore, a shipping merchant. Luxuriously appointed with English furniture and numerous "objets d' art", this earlier Violet Bank, named for the thousands of violets that grew under the oaks once shading the adjacent hill, was chosen by French General Lafayette as his headquarters in 1781 during the American Revolutionary War. The first mansion burned in 1810.
Henry Randolph I, who was born in Little Houghton, Northamptonshire, England, in 1623, moving to Virginia about 1640. In 1655 he acquired title to a large tract of land in Bermuda Hundred on Swift Creek where he erected the present mill. "Mr. Randolph's Mill" is mentioned in 1663 in "Cavaliers and Pioneers" (index to Virginia - 1620 to 1666).
An heir of Henry Randolph I, William Bland Randolph, deeded the mill site to William Rowlett on February 20, 1805, and it became known as Rowlett's Mill. In 1852, the Rowlett heirs conveyed the mill to the Swift Creek Manufacturing Company.
Following the American Civil War the property was known as Schmidt's Distillery, which made corn whiskey. Following this, the property changed hands several times and was operated as a grist mill. In 1929, the mill became known as Swift Creek Mill. The grist mill continued in operation until about 1956.
The Swift Creek Mill was purchased in August 1965 by Warner J. Callahan Jr. and Dr. Louis Rubin, both native Virginians, with the idea of converting the 305 year old building into a dinner theater. The plan was to convert the three existing floors into two dining rooms connected by a new stairwell and to be known as Swift Creek Mill Playhouse. The playhouse opened on December 2, 1965 with the Broadway musical Carnival!.
The Swift Creek Mill Playhouse is located on U.S. 1-301 just south of the Chesterfield County line at Swift Creek. In modern times, continuous buffet dining by candlelight begins at 6:30 p.m. in both the glamorous Mill Room and Granite Room. The shows are presented in the comfortable air-conditioned theatre each Wednesday through Saturday night year-round by advance reservations.
According to the United States Census Bureau, the city has a total area of 7.8 square miles (20.2 km²), of which, 7.5 square miles (19.4 km²) of it is land and 0.3 square miles (0.8 km²) of it (3.98%) is water. Colonial Heights is located on just north of the Appomattox River across from the modern-day City of Petersburg at the river's fall line It is located south of Chesterfield County (practically surrounded by it except for a south border with Petersburg) and in some areas, Swift Creek divides the city from the county.
There were 7,027 households out of which 29.1% had children under the age of 18 living with them, 50.3% were married couples living together, 13.0% had a female householder with no husband present, and 32.8% were non-families. 27.6% of all households were made up of individuals and 12.3% had someone living alone who was 65 years of age or older. The average household size was 2.37 and the average family size was 2.88.
In the city the population was spread out with 22.6% under the age of 18, 8.3% from 18 to 24, 26.8% from 25 to 44, 23.7% from 45 to 64, and 18.6% who were 65 years of age or older. The median age was 40 years. For every 100 females there were 87.8 males. For every 100 females age 18 and over, there were 82.3 males.
The median income for a household in the city was $43,224, and the median income for a family was $51,806. Males had a median income of $37,794 versus $26,324 for females. The per capita income for the city was $23,659. About 3.4% of families and 5.5% of the population were below the poverty line, including 7.3% of those under age 18 and 4.2% of those age 65 or over.