Thursday, June 12, 2014

Pennsylvania House: The Naval Museum's First Home

While we are looking to the 20th anniversary of our move to Nauticus, as historians we can’t help but look back from whence we came. In the case of the Hampton Roads Naval Museum, that place was the Pennsylvania House on Naval Station Norfolk.
Pennsylvania House at Naval Station Norfolk
The Pennsylvania House began life in 1907 as an exhibit hall for the state of Pennsylvania. It is a 2/3-scale replica of Independence Hall in Philadelphia. Its Navy life was varied. In World War I it served as an “Officer’s Material School,” a kind of Officer Candidate’s School. One candidate remembered his course of study as “seamanship, ordinance, regulations, and navigation,” with the day beginning at 5 a.m. and extending until lights out at 10 p.m.

It was in World War II and later that many fond memories were made as the old exhibit hall jumped with life as an Officers' Club, including the fabled “Green Room.” Time caught up with building in the 1970s and the Navy decided to focus on its history here in Hampton Roads.
The Naval Museum's original two staff members, Michael Curtin and Patricia Geeson. 
The Hampton Roads Naval Museum opened in 1979 with a staff of two, supplemented by sailors to man the front desk. It enjoyed fifteen years of service to the Navy’s history underneath the graceful clock tower. It was a rite of passage for new museum staff to climb into the tower and learn to change the light bulb in the electrical closet there. Other high (or low) lights included pigeon control in the tower, and cleaning the chandelier that lit the long staircase to the second floor. The first docent class to give tours of the newly-moved Naval Museum at Nauticus was trained in the Pennsylvania House.

(This blog post was written by Joe Judge, HRNM's Curator.)

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