Museum History

For over eighty years, the history of the ocean and its relationship with humankind has been told and displayed in one of the largest maritime museums in the world. In 1930, The Mariners' Museum was brought to life by the shared vision of Archer Milton Huntington and Homer L. Ferguson. Huntington was son of railroad and shipping magnate Collis P. Huntington, who founded Newport News Shipbuilding and Drydock Company just a few miles from the Museum. Ferguson, the head of Newport News Shipbuilding at the time of the founding, also served as The Mariners’ Museum’s first President.

To create The Mariners’ Museum, Archer Huntington and his wife, sculptor Anna Hyatt Huntington, acquired 800 acres of land surrounding Watts Creek in Newport News, VA in 1930. After acquisition took place, the first two years were devoted to creating and improving a natural park and constructing a dam to create Lake Maury, named after the nineteenth-century Virginia oceanographer Commodore Matthew Fontaine Maury.

 Known as the Lion's Bridge, the dam forming the lake provides a breathtaking view of the James River, as well as a family gathering place to enjoy the Museum Park. The beauty of the dam is enhanced by several fine pieces of statuary designed by Anna Hyatt Huntington. Four stone lions were mounted on 

the ends of the parapets of the dam in October 1932. Anna also created and dedicated a monument entitled "Conquering the Wild." The central theme of this monument consists of a 

man engaged in a titanic struggle to subdue a rearing horse. Elevated on a massive octagonal Indiana limestone pedestal and flanked at four corners by life-size figures representing science, art, learning, and industry, the monument overlooks the Lion's Bridge, the Park, and Lake Maury.

The first purchases of artifacts in any quantity were made in the early 1930s in New York and New England. Because the Museum was to be international in scope, the search for maritime material expanded throughout the 1930s to Europe, the West Indies and beyond. The Museum's collection now totals approximately 32,000 objects, equally divided between works of art and three-dimensional objects. Huntington’s personal library of maritime books formed the core of the new Museum’s Library.

Today, The Mariners’ Museum sits in an urban oasis – the 550 acre park is now home to the 167-acre Lake Maury and the Noland Trail - a five-mile shoreline trail with fourteen bridges. Within the Museum itself you will find 90,000 square feet of exhibition galleries including the prestigious International Small Craft Center, and the award-winning USS Monitor Center. This state-of-the-art exhibition and conservation lab houses 210 tons of artifacts from the Civil War ironclad Monitor, which were recovered from NOAA’s Monitor National Marine Sanctuary.
The Mariners’ Museum Library and Archives is now housed in the Trible Library on the campus of Christopher Newport University, which is adjacent to The Mariners’ Museum Park. The Library is home to over 78,000 books; 800,000 photographs, films, and negatives; and over 1 million pieces of archival material, making it the largest maritime library in the Western Hemisphere.

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