Wednesday, June 15, 2016

"My Home at this Minute:" A View of Norfolk Naval Operating Base in the Early 20th Century

By Katherine A. Renfrew
Hampton Roads Naval Museum Registrar

Dear Gramp,

These are the best views of the camp that I have seen giving the places that I have to stick around in. The streets are all cement and make me wish I had the motor. Am standing by for draft now and am not supposed to be here [,] but am doing this instead of eating chow. The chow is getting bum down here. They don’t give us butter any more [anymore]
and the cooking is rotten all the time. They must have released all the good cooks.

I went down to get a registered letter and found that I had two instead of one. That will last me till payday. I should get about $16 this time because I have drawn no clothes this fortnight. Your idea of this vacation and mine do not agree.

I think that they will release us soon
but do not know anything about it. Then things will happen won’t they Sports.

Taken from a postcard written by Herbert Austin Lincoln, 1919.

The Blue Jackets Manual, United States Navy 1918 states, “The U.S. Navy offers you a good position for life.”  The message above would indicate that this Sailor was not sold on that notion. Herbert Lincoln's message to his “Gramps” was written while he was undergoing basic training at Naval Station Norfolk, at the time known as U.S. Naval Operating Base (NOB). He was discharged the same year the postcard was written. Lincoln, like many young men assigned to NOB for basic training in the early twentieth century, found life challenging, with constant building construction, long chow lines, and close quarters to name a few.

The U.S. Navy began constructing NOB in the beginning of July 1917. The development of the base grew quickly. Within 30 days, housing for 7,500 men had been finished, followed by the Fifth Naval District Headquarters, piers, aviation facilities, storehouses, facilities for fuel, oil storage, a recruit training station, a submarine base, recreation areas for fleet personnel, and a hospital.

By the end of 1918, the Navy had increased their force from 4,500 officers & 68,000 enlisted men to 15,000 officers and 254,000 enlisted, which consisted of regulars, reserves and national naval volunteers.  In addition, the Navy expanded from 130 stations to 363.  In December 1942, recruit training at NOB was terminated. Officials believed the base was more aptly equipped for advanced training for personnel moving directly to the fleet.

The following images depict construction and facilities of the base in the early part of the twentieth century.

A photograph taken during the construction of the Seaman Guard barracks, taken from corner of Maryland Avenue and Piersey Street, August 28, 1917. (National Archives and Records Administration, NSNorfolk-1917_18, RG 71-CA, Box 322, Folder B)
View of the kitchen, block C, looking North from west to east, October 26, 1917. (National Archives and Records Administration, NSNorfolk-1917_13 / RG 71-CA, Box 322, Folder B)
Interior view of Mess Hall No. 1 in Unit C, October 26, 1917. (National Archives and Records Administration, NSNorfolk-1917_10 / RG 71-CA, Box 322, Folder B)

Photograph depicts the aviation barracks and mess hall, March 14, 1918. (National Archives and Records Administration, NSNorfolk-1918_01 / RG 71-CA, Box 312, Folder B)

Building No. 11, boat crew barracks located in the Lagoon Unit, looking at north end and east side, May 2, 1922. The clock tower of the Pennsylvania House, which still stands today on Naval Station Norfolk, appears just to the right. (National Archives and Records Administration, NSNorfolk-1922_14 / RG 71-CA, Box 322, Folder B)
Photograph taken looking at west side and south ends of barracks, Building Numbers 8-21 located on the “sub base” area of Naval Operating Base, May 6, 1922. (National Archives and Records Administration, NSNorfolk-1922_16 / RG 71-CA, Box 322, Folder B)
Building No. 22, the base post office where Sailors picked up their packages and mail, Unit N, May 10, 1922. (National Archives and Records Administration, NSNorfolk-1922_39 / RG 71-CA, Box 322, Folder B)

Photograph depicts the cleared area where the barracks once stood and construction of new barracks, Unit K. View looking northwest, September 1, 1938. (National Archives and Records Administration, NSNorfolk-1938_05 / RG 71-CF, Box1, Folder Virginia-Naval Base, Norfolk)

New barracks almost complete, Unit K, June 6, 1939. View is looking northeast. (National Archives and Records Administration, NSNorfolk-1939_09 / RG 71-CA, Box 322, Folder C)

Interior view of the east “dormitory” on the first floor of the newly constructed barracks, Barracks Q, Unit K, November 17, 1939. (National Archives and Records Administration, NSNorfolk-1939_13 / RG 71-CA, Box 322, Folder C)

Building I-AA, mess hall and galley, still stands today and is a familiar site on Gilbert Street.  This photograph was taken looking northeast from Gilbert, September 6, 1939. (National Archives and Records Administration, NSNorfolk-1939_06 / RG 71-CA, Box 322, Folder C)
This brief history of buildings serving the naval recruits is the fifth in a series of blog posts illustrating the development of Naval Station Norfolk and its neighboring facilities. Unless otherwise noted, the photographs in this series represent the results of a research project seeking images of Hampton Roads naval installations at the National Archives and Records Administration. This research, performed by Southeastern Archaeological Research, Incorporated (SEARCH) was funded by Commander, Navy Region Mid-Atlantic as part of an ongoing effort to provide information on historic architectural resources at Navy bases in Hampton Roads. The Hampton Roads Naval Museum is pleased to present these images for the benefit of the general public and interested historians. As far as we know, all of these images are in the public domain and none of them have been published before.

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