One of the best kept secrets in Portsmouth Virginia is located at # 2 High Street. If you want to learn anything the great heritage of the Norfolk Naval Shipyard and have never visited this small building at the foot of High Street adjacent to the ferry landing, well you are missing out on a real treat.
As detailed by its mission statement - The Portsmouth Naval Shipyard Museum researches, preserves and promotes the history of the City of Portsmouth, Norfolk Naval Shipyard, and the armed forces in Hampton Roads. The museum accomplishes its mission by offering exhibitions, publications, lectures and educational programs.
With this edition of “History Matters” I will not write about the inner contents of the museum at this time but please be assured the historical holdings are vast and tell the story of early Portsmouth and its unbroken and deeply intertwined relationship with the Navy. In future writings we shall tour the wonderful artifacts on current display in greater depth.
But for those of you that must know what is behind those doors, a quick peek. The interior portrays a story before the birth of the Gosport shipyard, the revolutionary period, the steady growth into an industrial power as the premier American shipyard prior to the Civil War, the devastating effects of same war upon the local home front, a slow reconstruction period, the Spanish American War expansion, World War I & II outstanding service and forward to the present. There is even a section set aside to show honor to the lightships that operated out of these waters to keep maritime traffic safe upon the seas.
My current intent has been first, a tease by mentioning anyway the interior contents of # 2 High Street, but that is not my focus. It is what hits you as you approach the western exterior façade, a full size wall mural! How can you not miss something 24 feet tall and 65 feet wide?
Completed Wall Mural Painting by Virginia Artist – Sam Welty(photo courtesy of Marcus W. Robbins)
“We wanted to convey a chronological sense of the history of shipbuilding here in the City of Portsmouth and the Norfolk Naval Shipyard. Considering the mission of the museum - to celebrate the history of the city and the shipyard - we focused on the most common element within the history of both places: shipbuilding. Both places were founded on the industry of shipbuilding and as Portsmouth has grown as a city, it has thrived in large part due to the growth of the Norfolk Naval Shipyard. In addition, the theme also pays homage to all of the smaller shipyards and maritime industries that have come and gone over the years.”
Corey Thornton, Curator of History, Portsmouth Naval Shipyard Museum
I promise that after your visit to # 2 High Street you will then understand the various name and major flag changes that have occurred down the river less than 1 mile at our great Norfolk Naval Shipyard. Also if you take good notes you will walk away with a greater clarity of a somewhat confusing issue, the name of the museum located at # 2 High Street being the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard Museum. This museum institution honors a shipyard named for Norfolk that is located in Portsmouth, Virginia. I’ll let that topic be a future column also because it ties into one of the sister Government owned yards up north, the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard located in Kittery on the southern boundary of Maine near the city of Portsmouth, New Hampshire. This naming confusion and controversy goes back a long time.
In Progress Wall Mural Painting by Virginia Artist – Sam Welty(photo courtesy of Marcus W. Robbins)
I personally was so impressed of what was going on last year I had to make the trip over and observe the work in progress and briefly chat with the artist, Mr. Sam Welty. As you can see this project required precise layout and was completely done by hand and then painted with very small brushes. The impact on the western wall of # 2 High Street is forever changed. We have witnessed a modern artifact of sorts being born last summer. I felt it was fitting to celebrate its one year birthday of completion this current month because – “history matters”.