Another historic milestone has been reached at Naval Air Station Patuxent River: the 69th anniversary of the base's April 1, 1943 commissioning. Or, if you say the birth of the base began with construction, the first shovels turned dirt 70 years ago, Wednesday. Officially, the commissioning date is celebrated.
Regardless of which date you use, much has been made here during the seven decades since planning began for what was known then as Naval Air Station Cedar Point, taking its name from the displaced community. Many, however, thought the moniker could be confused with NAS Cherry Point in North Carolina, so the name was changed in favor of another local landmark, the Patuxent River.
Situated on a peninsula between the Patuxent River and the Chesapeake Bay, NAS Patuxent River is located on more than 6,400 acres of what was once prime farmland, consisting of several large plantations, including Mattapany, Susquehanna and Cedar Point. There were also numerous tenant and sharecropper properties and a few clusters of vacation homes. The Cedar Point community included several churches, a post office, and a gas station.
In 1937, the Navy's Bureau of Aeronautics sought to consolidate aviation test programs, previously being conducted at several stations, including Dahlgren and Norfolk, Va.; the Washington Navy Yard and Naval Air Station Anacostia in Washington, D.C., and the Naval Aircraft Factory in Philadelphia. Cedar Point was selected due to its remote location on the coastline, well removed from air traffic congestion, with ample space for weapons testing.
The onset of American involvement in World War II spurred establishment of the new air station. Rear Admiral John Henry Towers, Chief of the Bureau of Aeronautics, requested approval and authorization to begin construction on December 22, 1941, just days after the attack on Pearl Harbor. Secretary of the Navy, Frank Knox, gave approval on January 7, 1942; residents had about a month, until March 1, 1942, to relocate as the federal government purchased all the land at a cost of $712,287 for 6,412 acres. Construction began on April 4, 1942. Within a year, farming operations at Cedar Point were replaced by flight test operations.
Employing some 7,000 people at its peak of construction, the area had a very Gold Rush "boom town" feel as local residents were joined by workers from all over the country, eager for the high-paying jobs on station.
Rear Admiral John S. McCain, then chief of the Navy's Bureau of Aeronautics, called Patuxent River "the most needed station in the Navy" during the commissioning ceremony. Happy 69th Birthday, NAS Patuxent River, and here's to many great years ahead.