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Joseph Downing Wood

Forest Lawn Cemetery
Location: East Center Lawn, Block O, Lot 9CN ½ &11
Space: Wood Melchor Mausoleum
( Feb. 22, 1867 - April 16, 1959 )

 Joseph Downing Wood photo

Joseph D. Wood, affectionately known as “Cap’n Joe,” was the founder of Wood Towing Co.  His tugboats, with their distinctive red and black paint with gilded screaming eagles on the pilot houses, were a familiar sight on the waters of Hampton Roads for many years.

Wood was also a long-time City Councilman who served as mayor from 1940 to 1944.

He was born in Washington, N.C., shortly after the Civil War. Moving to Norfolk in 1886 with little education and only two dollars in his pocket, he began his career working on steam and sailing vessels transporting goods in and out of Norfolk. Three years later in 1889, at the age of 22, he obtained his master’s license.

After marrying his wife, the former Ada Estelle Burnell of Portsmouth, that same year, he served as skipper on the Norfolk-Portsmouth ferries.  In 1900, he was chosen from a number of applicants as master of tugs and pilot for the Norfolk Naval Shipyard in Portsmouth, a much sought after and prestigious position.   Five years later, at the age of 38, he was selected by the Navy as sailing master of the floating dry-dock “Dewey” and successfully guided it from Solomons Island in the Chesapeake Bay to the Philippine Islands.  During World War I, he served as a commander in the Naval Reserve and was director of tugs and all floating equipment in the ports of Hampton Roads.

In 1920, at the age of 52, he began the Wood Towing Co. with one borrowed tugboat.  In 1951, when he chose to retire, his company had grown to a fleet of 20 vessels which sold for over one million dollars.

In addition to his business, Wood also participated in local government.  He was first named to the Norfolk City Council in 1926 and served for a total of 16 years.  He was elected as mayor in 1940 and served for one term before resigning from office in 1944.



Community Builders of Norfolk, Norfolk VA., 1942, p. 42  (source of photograph)

The Virginian-Pilot, “J.D. Wood, Ex-Mayor, Dies at 92,” April 17, 1959, pgs. 68 (back page), 57.

Visitor Information

Visitor Hours: Sunrise to Sunset

Office hours: Monday to Sunday 8:00 AM to 4:30 PM

Free parking inside cemetery.

Admission Cost: Free

Address: 8100 Granby Street, Norfolk, VA 23505

Official web site for more information:

Norfolk Society for Cemetery Conservation Web Site: