NAS Pensacola: A Century in Photographs
When she was in her nineties, Anna Lamar Switzer still remembered walking along the shore of Pensacola Bay in 1914, a crab net slung over her shoulder, and seeing the gray hull of the battleship Mississippi. The ship had arrived on January 20, 1914, along with the collier Orion, the vessels’ arrival signaling a transformation of the old Pensacola Navy Yard that came of age in the days of sail to a veritable laboratory for the newfound science of aeronautics. In the skies over brick forts from which some of the first shots of the Civil War had been fired, the buzzing of primitive wood and fabric biplanes drew the attention of the local citizenry, the intrepid men who took to the air becoming part of the social fabric of the town, including a young ensign who would propose to and marry young Anna in 1924. Over time, there grew an indelible link between naval aviation and the panhandle town that came to be known as the “Cradle of Naval Aviation.” It is a bond that this year celebrates a momentous birthday, 100 years since naval aviation came to Pensacola.
Throughout 2014 the National Naval Aviation Museum will commemorate the base that has been our home since we opened in 1963 and whose history forms an important chapter in the story we tell. This includes the creation of an NAS Pensacola scrapbook drawn from photographs in our collection and acquired from other sources to capture the history of U.S. Navy’s first and oldest naval air station.
Waterfront at the Pensacola Navy Yard
A view of the waterfront at the Pensacola Navy Yard (designated Naval Aeronautical Station in November 1914) in the months following the arrival of the first naval aviation personnel on January 20, 1914, shows the large canvas tent hangars that erected along the shoreline to protect the fragile airplanes from the elements and shade the mechanics who worked to keep them in flying condition. The long brick building visible beyond the tent hangars is Building 27, which was constructed in 1872 and originally used to store coal to power the steam-engine vessels that moored at the Pensacola Navy Yard. It later was used to store lumber and would soon after this photograph was taken, be adapted for use as an aircraft hangar, replacing the canvas tents. In the foreground personnel can be seen at work on construction of a seawall and seaplane ramps, that area by 1917 the location of three modern steel hangars, built just in time for the influx of personnel and aircraft following the entry of the United States into World War I.