Chesapeake Bay - 20th Century - The Mariners' Museum
The Mariners' MuseumChesapeake Bay - Our History and Our Future
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Introduction
Shipbuilding on the Chesapeake
Curtiss Flying School
Eugene Ely
Langley Field
German Ships in Hampton Roads
Hampton Roads Port of Embarkation
Fort Monroe and Coastal Defense
Fort McHenry
Camp Eustis
Naval Operating Base, Hampton Roads
Suggested Reading

Chesapeake Bay -
Our History and Our Future
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Introduction

World War I and the Chesapeake Bay

When World War I erupted in the summer of 1914, the United States proclaimed its neutrality,but it wouldn't take long for the events in Europe to affect the Chesapeake Bay region. Almost immediately, the British government established a remount station at the southern end of the Chesapeake Bay in Newport News, Virginia. From here horses, mules, grain, and other commodities were shipped to Europe. The onset of an economic recession in the Chesapeake region was avoided by the boom created prior to and during the United States' involvement in the First World War.

Prior to 1917, the Chesapeake Bay region had already experienced an increase in shipbuilding along its shores and military bases were springing up in Virginia and Maryland. Baltimore, Maryland and Richmond, Virginia both stepped up production in textile mills to meet the need for uniforms, blankets, and other military supplies. The increase in production for the war machine led to an urban migration throughout the Chesapeake region.

In 1915, the Curtiss Flying School was established at the small boat dock at the tip of Newport News. The Chesapeake Bay had already witnessed aeronautical history with Eugene Ely's famous ship to shore flight in 1910. Aviation would play a vital role in the Chesapeake Bay with the establishment of numerous flight schools and the creation of Langley Field in Hampton, Virginia.

Glenn H. Curtiss and Lt. Ellyson in cockpit of their flying machine, 1910
Glenn H. Curtiss and Lt. Ellyson in cockpit of their flying machine, 1910
Also in 1915, several German and Austro-Hungarian ships, including the Prinz Eitel Friedrich and the Kronprinz Wilhelm entered the Chesapeake Bay seeking repairs, fuel, and safety from the British Navy. In 1916, the German merchant submarine Deutschland eluded British patrols off the Virginia Capes and entered the Chesapeake Bay. She proceeded north to Baltimore on her trading voyage.

When the United States entered the war in April 1917, Newport News, near the mouth of the Bay, was designated as a Port of Embarkation. During this time, the population swelled as soldiers and war workers converged on the Hampton Roads area. The Chesapeake Bay was also the site for a growing number of military installations.

Newport News, Virginia, 1898
Newport News, Virginia, 1898
Military camp tents along the James River
Fort Monroe in Hampton continued to provide coastal defense and artillery training near the mouth of the Chesapeake Bay, while Fort McHenry in Baltimore served as a military hospital. Military bases began to dot the Chesapeake Bay landscape, from Camp Meade and the Aberdeen Proving Ground in Maryland to Camp Eustis and the Naval Operating Base in Virginia.
The Ramparts at Fortress Monroe, Circa 1900
The Ramparts at Fortress Monroe, Circa 1900

With the signing of the Armistice on November 11, 1918, the commercial boom on the Chesapeake ended. The shipyards remained busy until 1920, fulfilling contracts awarded during the war years. Many of the military bases remain in operation into the twenty-first century.


 

 

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