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Joseph D. Wood Papers

Collection ID: MG 3

Scope and Contents

Captain Wood was president of Wood Towing Corporation (Tugboats), a member of the Norfolk City Council (1926-1930, 1934-1944), and mayor of Norfolk (1940-1944). He also served on a number of public boards, most notably the Elizabeth River Tunnel Commission. His papers are divided into six sub-groups: personal, public service (non-political), business, mayoral files, City of Norfolk data, and polltical papers. The personal papers contain some family genealogy, correspondence, his autobiography, and a variety of financial records. The public service papers deal mainly with his service on the Elizabeth River Tunnel Commission. The business papers consist of correspondence, tug repair estimates and labor relations files. The bulk of the mayoral files are correspondence, while the City of Norfolk material focuses on financial data and is not duplicated by material found at Norfolk City Hall. Where possible Captain Wood's own filing system was followed.


  • 1917-1951, undated
  • Other: Date acquired: 03/01/1976



7.60 Linear Feet

Conditions Governing Access

Open to researchers without restrictions.

Conditions Governing Use

Before publishing quotations or excerpts from any materials, permission must be obtained from Special Collections and University Archives, and the holder of the copyright, if not Old Dominion University Libraries.

Biographical or Historical Information

Joseph Downing Wood was born on February 22, 1867, on a farm in Washington Co., North Carolina. He was the first of nine children born to Samuel and Pattie Downing Wood. He left the family farm in 1886 to seek his fortune in Norfolk, Virginia. Here he found work as an apprentice seaman, largely on coastal ships. By the age of 21, he was a licensed seaman and at 23, a master seaman on a tugboat. By 1900 Wood had risen to the position of Yard Pilot for the Norfolk Navy Yard in Portsmouth. During World I he was commissioned as a Lt. Commander in the Navy Reserve and served as director of tugs and all floating equipment in the Fifth Naval District. After the war Wood founded his towing company, beginning with one tug and one barge, neither of which was paid for. By the time he sold his Wood Towing Corporation for $1,500,000 in 1951, the company controlled a whole fleet of tugs. Wood had sold his business rather than agree to the demands of his employees for unionization. Wood was almost 60 when he first entered the political arena and was elected to the Norfolk City Council in 1926. He was reelected to the council in 1934, 1938, and 1942. He became ex-officio mayor of Norfolk when he was elected president of the council in September, 1940. Wood served as mayor, until his retirement from politics in 1944, during an extremely busy period for a defense oriented city like Norfolk. Economy was Wood's watchword as a politician. Being a staunch conservative, he firmly believed in the "pay as you go" philosophy, which dominated Virginia politics during the period in which he was active. Joseph Downing Wood married Ada Estelle Burnell on June 2, 1896. They had one child, Margaret (Mrs. Burton DeBerry Melchor). Wood died on April 16, 1959.

Note written by James F. Walsh

Language of Materials



President of the Wood Towing Company (Tugboats). Served on the Norfolk City Council (1926-1930, 1934-1944) and as Mayor (1940-1944) during World War II. Collection contains business papers, mayoral files, correspondence and the papers of his service on the Elizabeth River Tunnel Commission.

Arrangement Note

The papers, dating from 1920 to 1951, are divided into six series: Series I: Personal; Series 2: Public Service (Non-Political); Series III: Business; Series IV: Mayoral Files; Series V: City of Norfolk Data; and Series VI: Political Papers. Where possible Captain Wood's own filing system was followed.

Source of Acquisition

Burton deBerry Melchor III, in honor of his mother Margaret Wood, daughter of Captain Wood

Method of Acquisition

Gift. Accession #A76-9

A Guide to the Joseph D. Wood Papers
James F. Walsh
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description
Language of description note
Finding aid written in English.

Repository Details

Part of the ODU Community Collections Repository

3000 Perry Library
4427 Hampton Blvd.
Norfolk VA 23529 US