Centennial of Naval Station Norfolk
The land on which Naval Station Norfolk is located was originally the site of the 1907 Jamestown Exposition. During this exposition, high-ranking naval officers were consulted and favored the idea that this site was ideal for a naval base. A bill was passed in 1908 proposing that Congress appropriate $1 million for the purchase of the property and buildings, but it died when the Assistant Secretary of the Navy was given a choice between this property or a new coal ship. He replied that a new ship was an absolute necessity.
Immediately after the United States entered World War I in April 1917, the Secretary of the Navy was persuaded to buy the property. A bill was passed for the purchase of 474 acres. It also set aside the sum of $1.6 million for the development of the base, including piers, aviation facilities, storehouses, facilities for fuel, oil storage, a recruit training station, a submarine base, and recreation areas for fleet personnel. The next six months saw the establishment of the Fifth Naval Headquarters, the Naval Operating Base (NOB), Naval Training Station Naval Hospital, and Submarine Station. By Armistice Day, 1918, there were 34,000 enlisted men at the base.
An airfield for seaplanes was established at the Naval Operating Base in October 1917. In August 1918 it was detached from NOB and became Naval Air Station (NAS) Hampton Roads. It was renamed NAS Norfolk in July 1921.
During WW I the Navy concluded that the available land was insufficient. It was decided to fill a large part of the flats on the west and north by dredging the Elizabeth River to a depth sufficient for large ships to dock at NOB. During the fall and winter of 1917, approximately eight million cubic yards was dredged, moving the northern shoreline from along Dillingham Boulevard to approximately its current location.
During the late thirties and early forties, much construction took place at the Naval Operating Base and Naval Air Station as war loomed on the horizon. New buildings and piers were constructed and new runways, hangars, and ramps were constructed for the large land planes and seaplanes flown by the Navy in World War II. In December 1942, recruit training at the base was discontinued in order to focus on advanced training for men going directly to the fleet.
The Naval Operating Base and Naval Air Station, then collectively referred to as Naval Base Norfolk continued their significant role as the home of the Atlantic Fleet after World War II. In January 1953, Naval Operating Base Norfolk was renamed Naval Station Norfolk as part of a Navy effort to standardize base names. On February 5, 1999, NAS Norfolk was disestablished and Chambers Field became part of Naval Station Norfolk. Today, in addition to being the home for the Navy's largest concentration of naval forces, Naval Station Norfolk also hosts personnel from the Marine Corps, Army, Air Force, and Coast Guard, and supports significant Joint missions as well.
The Exposition closed on December 1, 1907, as a financial failure, losing several million dollars. Attendance had been 3 million, a fraction of the numbers promised by the promoters. But, it had other benefits for the United States and for Norfolk and Hampton Roads.
Nearly every Congressman and Senator of prominence had attended the exposition, which showcased Sewell's Point. Of naval importance in the early Civil War, it had been virtually forgotten since shortly after its bombardment and return to Union hands in 1862. The admirals in Norfolk urged redevelopment of the exposition site as a Naval Base, to use the infrastructure which had been built.
Nearly 10 years would elapse before the idea, given impetus by World War I, would become a reality. The new Naval Base was aided by the improvements remaining from the Exposition, the strategic location at Sewell's Point on Hampton Roads, and the large amount of vacant land in the area. The coal piers and storage yards of the Virginian Railway (VGN), built by William N. Page and Henry H. Rogers, and completed in 1909, was immediately adjacent to the Exposition site. The well-engineered VGN was a valuable link directly to the bituminous coal of southern West Virginia, which the Navy strongly preferred for its steam-powered ships.
On June 28, 1917, President Woodrow Wilson set aside $2.8 million for land purchase and the erection of storehouses and piers for what was to become the Navy Base. Of the 474 acres (1.9 km²) originally acquired, 367 had been the old Jamestown Exposition grounds. The military property was later expanded considerably. The former Virginian Railway coal piers, land, and an adjacent coal storage facility owned by Norfolk & Western Railway (which merged with the VGN in 1959) were added in the 1960s and 1970s. The base now includes over 4,000 acres (16 km²) and is the largest Naval facility in the world.
Some of the exposition buildings which were taken over by the Navy remain in use as of 2006, primarily as admirals' quarters for the Navy Base. Thirteen of the state houses can still be seen on Dillingham Boulevard at the Naval Station Norfolk, on what has been called "Admiral's Row." The Pennsylvania House, which through the first part of the century served as the Officer's Club, later served as the Hampton Roads Naval Museum for many years until it was relocated in 1994 to Nauticus on the harbor in Norfolk. Other surviving state buildings on their original sites are the Georgia, Maryland, Missouri, North Dakota, Ohio, Virginia, and West Virginia House, as well as the Baker's Chocolate Company House. The remaining state buildings were moved in 1934 and include the Delaware, Connecticut, New Hampshire, Michigan, North Carolina, Rhode Island, and Vermont buildings. The Illinois Building was relocated next to the North Dakota Building. The Kenneth L. Howard House at Dunn, North Carolina is a copy of the North Carolina building
Naval Operating Base until January 1, 1953, the name of the installation was changed to Naval Station Norfolk.
Chambers Field,circa 1940
Celebrating 100 years of Service
First shipboard aircraft take off from USS Birmingham, NOB Hampton Roads, Virginia, November 14, 1910.
Eugene Burton Ely, Aviation Pioneer