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.
Aerial View of Naval Aeronautic Station Pensacola
One of the byproducts of aviation’s arrival in Pensacola was the advent of aerial photography in the U.S. Navy. In fact, Walter L. Richardson, an enlisted man who arrived at Pensacola with the first aviation personnel in 1914 as a member of the crew of the battleship Mississippi (BB 23), would invent the first hand-held oblique camera for aerial photography and eventually be commissioned and designated naval aviator number 582. This aerial shot shows the layout of Naval Aeronautic Station Pensacola as it appeared during 1915-1916. Visible tied up at Allegheny Pier is the armored cruiser North Carolina (ACR 12), which arrived in September 1915, to become the station ship. From her deck early naval aviators engaged in the U.S. Navy’s first catapult launches. The tent hangars are visible along the shore as is the clearly defined boundary of the station inside the brick wall that surrounded the old navy yard, separating it from the towns of Warrington and Woolsey. During the expansion of the station before World War II, these towns were literally moved across Bayou Grande to make room for military construction.