01 June 2023

The History of Naval Station Norfolk

Ten years before the Naval Operating Base (today known as Naval Station Norfolk) was built, the waterfront location was the site of the original 1907 Jamestown Exposition. The exposition was one of the many world’s fairs that were popular in America during that time. Commemorating the 300th anniversary of the founding of Jamestown in the Virginia Colony, it was attended by President Theadore Roosevelt, dignitaries and businessmen; even Mark Twain and Booker T. Washington paid a visit. Popular exhibits included a relief model of the Panama Canal, a Wild West show, a re-creation of the then-recent San Francisco earthquake and the most popular—a re-creation of the Battle of Hampton Roads, the first battle between two ironclad warships. By the end of 1907, the Exposition closed, and a decade later, not long after the United States entered World War I, a bill was passed for the purchase of the land, and money was set aside for the development of the base. By 1918, there were 34,000 enlisted men at the base. 

When World War II began in Europe in 1939, new facilities were built, including new runways for aircraft and ramps for seaplanes (then known as Naval Air Station Norfolk.) Additional acreage was acquired,
and the air station had become a central airfield for operations, contributing to end the war because of the training it provided to naval air units. In 1968, the Naval Air Station was given a major role in John F. Kennedy’s vision of putting a man on the moon. The air station became Recovery Control Center Atlantic, which provided command, control and communications for the ships and aircraft that participated in the recovery operations of Apollo 7.

In the 1990s, the Navy began reducing shore installations to help with operating costs. Due to this, the Navy merged the separate Naval Station Norfolk and Naval Air Station Norfolk into a single installation to be called Naval Station Norfolk, which became official in early 1999. Following the attack on USS Cole and the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, the base had some major upgrades to its security gates. In January 2017, Naval Station Norfolk celebrated its centennial at the Pennsylvania House, one of the historical structures built for the Jamestown Exposition.

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