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Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Building M-22 & Gosport's Marine History

Blog #2. February 17, 2011.

The other day I was asked to speak at an all-hands function for one of our newest tenant commands (SURFMEPP) that is going to eventually house over 200 employees in Building M-22. I also volunteered to bring over some picture artifacts of the NNSY Marine compound area that would help enlighten their work force of the grand historic area that they are moving into.

The following is a rough timeline of our local Marine Corp events, touching on facilities challenges from the early beginnings up until the closing of the post in 1978. In these last 90 plus years Building M-22 played an important role first for the Marines and more recently as an administrative support facility for the shipyard. Now our story --

A new era of Federal ownership and operation began for the Gosport Navy Yard in 1801. It was during this period that lands were purchased and plans were made to improve the yard. A growing need for security of materials, tools and ships resulted in October 1801 by a Marine guard force being ordered to Gosport. Their original mission was "guard the property of the United States deposited in the Navy Yard".

As today, priorities of security details are subject to change and on August 6, 1804, the Marines were ordered to detach and were sent to Washington to support operations against the Tripolitan pirates. Returning in November of 1807 the Gosport Marine presence has remained continuously and served our nation as the country's second oldest post, only to Washington, until it closed on September 30, 1978.

Our Marines were first housed and operated out of barracks of wood, then brick, within several different areas of the shipyard. These wooden accommodations in the early 1800's were described as "miserable huts of wood, wanting much repair". It is reported that the Officer's toilets were in a detached building with the seats hanging out over the water and exposed to mosquitoes in the summer and icy winds in the winter.

By the later part of the 1880's, plans were made to construct permanent barracks, being a large brick structure along Third Street, currently at the location of our current swimming pool and tennis courts. Despite this more modern brick facility, it was still lacking for adequate space and mission support qualities (sound familiar?).

Congress approved monies in 1902 to construct our current M-32 structure and other supporting Marine officer housing all of brick (only structure M-1 survives) focused around a large parade ground on the recently purchased Schmoele tract as the shipyard expanded west. Years later, in response to world events and the eventual outbreak of World War I, saw further increase of Marines at Norfolk.

Building M-22 was constructed in the 1917-1919 timeframe to house 250 Marines. The Marine Officers School for Service Afloat, the only one of its kind in existence, began in 1918 to teach young officers seamanship, ordnance, naval law, navy and shipboard organization, hydrography and history.

Building M-22 has served our country and supported Marines during World War I & II, Korea and Vietnam. In 1957 Marine Barracks, Norfolk, Virginia, consisted of 30 acres and 22 buildings. One of the more colorful and popular was found right next door, Building M-23, otherwise known as the little Tun Tavern. Most of our current employees know this location as the old McDonalds eatery, currently scheduled for demolition in 2011.

(Building M-22 from a privately obtained personal photo,
dated by the person in the view on the porch, July 2, 1926.
Courtesy of Marcus W. Robbins)

The Marine Corps color detail lowered the flag in front of building M-32 for the last time on 30, September 1978. Building M-22 Marine Corp's barracks and training support also came to a close that day. Building M-22 continues to serve Norfolk Naval Shipyard and its tenant activities in administrative roles, being very proud of its Marine Corps past because, "history matters".

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