Friday, September 7, 2018

One Century Ago: Greetings from NAS Hampton Roads

During your summer vacation, did you happen to pick up and mail any postcards?  Although not a widespread practice today, sending messages such as "Wish you were here" to friends and loved ones on the back of an inexpensive photograph or illustration of a favorite vacation scene became popular early in the last century, particularly after 1907, when areas for writing short messages became a common feature in the designs of postcards.   

There are a number of high-quality photographs of Naval Air Station Hampton Roads (known as NAS Norfolk after 1921) in the Hampton Roads Naval Museum collection, many of them taken 100 years ago to document construction work completed by contractors.  No official photo collections of NAS Hampton Roads' daily activities during World War I were mass-produced for public dissemination, however.  That is because official Navy photographers and other public affairs personnel were not yet stationed there.  Nevertheless there is an assortment of rare postcards in our collection made by enterprising civilian photographers who sold their wares, many in booklet form, to visitors or those stationed on the base.

The following is a selection of detachable post cards from a booklet that could once be found in souvenir shops and hotels in the area a century ago. In his book Greetings from Hampton Roads, Virginia (2008), postcard and paper collectables expert James Tigner Jr. pointed out that the height of postcard popularity in America spanned the years between 1906 and 1915.  More postcards were being produced around the times these postcards were made than ever before, yet they were being mailed more often than ever before as well, making these unused postcards something of a rarity today.
The Great Arch, one of the few structures left over from the 1907 Jamestown Exposition to be used by the Navy after the property was purchased in 1917, is toppped by a lookout station, framing a seaplane returning to the air station boat basin. The arch bridged the former exposition "Government Piers" which now hosted new seaplane hangars at each end.  The arch was finally removed during the Second World War. (Hampton Roads Naval Museum Collection)
The administration building was centrally located near the foot of the Government Piers, where only year before some of the first tent hangars stood.  The new dirigible hangar can be seen in the background to the southeast. (Hampton Roads Naval Museum Collection)
Two Curtiss H-12 flying boats await their daily antisubmarine patrols at the ramp leading into the boat basin.  Although no H-12s were lost to enemy action during the war, the flying boat on the right (770) was lost on its way back from a naval regatta in Baltimore when it crashed into a building on nearby Willoughby Spit on December 13, 1918, killing two crewmen. (Hampton Roads Naval Museum Collection)
 Curtiss HS-2L patrol seaplanes, each carrying a crew of three, were used both for regular antisubmarine patrols and for training new pilots.  (Hampton Roads Naval Museum Collection)
For the duration of World War I, at least three patrol missions would be launched daily from NAS Hampton Roads.  Before dawn, two single-engine HS-2 seaplanes each would depart north to Chincoteague and south to Morehead City, replenish, and return.  At about 1000, two larger two-engine H-12s would depart on long-range patrols, arriving back to the air station by mid-afternoon.  Daylight permitting, two additional HS-2s would depart for further patrols off the coast.  (Hampton Roads Naval Museum Collection)
A Curtiss HS-2 heads out in patrol.  Note the tricolor roundels on the wings.  (Hampton Roads Naval Museum Collection)
Kite balloons were a constant sight above the air station during World War I.  Note the Administration Building to the center right and the Pennsylvania House (which at the time served as an officer candidate school) in the far background to the left.  It is the only landmark that still exists today. (Hampton Roads Naval Museum Collection)
The first barracks complex specifically for the use of aviation personnel was constructed in the fall of 1917 and was once situated directly behind (south of) the North Carolina, Connecticut, and Rhode Island state houses left over from the Jamestown Exposition, which by then served as residences for senior officers.  The complex would be heavily damaged on September 17, 1943, when a trailer load of aerial depth bombs detonated nearby. (Hampton Roads Naval Museum Collection)
The North Carolina, Connecticut, and Rhode Island state houses left over from the Jamestown Exposition served as senior officers quarters at the time NAS Hampton Roads was established.  While the houses once looked north out over Willoughby Bay, the water was filled in to create an airfield and the houses were moved east near the other historic state houses to make way for more ramps and taxiways.  Unfortunately, both the North Carolina and Rhode Island houses were heavily damaged by fire some years later, but their remains were connected and rebuilt together as a bachelor officers' quarters that remains in operation on Dillingham Boulevard to this day. (Hampton Roads Naval Museum Collection)
The back of the postcard booklet shows the last patrol of the day, probably photographed from the Grand Arch.  Since the camera is looking south-southeast, the sunset (or moonrise?) has probably been added for asthetic effect. In any case, no aerial patrols were conducted at night. (Hampton Roads Naval Museum Collection)  

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