Just across the river from Naval Air Station Patuxent River, Calvert Marine Museum tells the tales of the culture and natural history of Southern Maryland, including a glimpse of little-known naval activity.
At Pax River, we’re familiar with the installation’s origins — how the Navy claimed the land in 1941 from the town of Pearson and the large plantations at Cedar Point — but those displaced in St. Mary’s County were not alone. The same thing happened across the way in Calvert County when land was acquired to build Solomons Annex and the Amphibious Training Base.
“The Navy established two bases on the Calvert side of the river and, almost overnight, the area was transformed from a sleepy watermen’s community to a huge area of naval activity,” said Richard Dodds, curator of maritime history for Calvert Marine Museum .
Solomons Annex, the current site of Naval Recreation Center Solomons, was first used by the Navy in early 1941 when the Naval Ordnance Laboratory (NOL) moved in as the first occupant of the complex.
At that time, NOL established the Naval Mine Warfare Test Station, which provided research, development, testing and evaluation of the mine warfare and countermeasures program of the Navy, Dodds explained.
Not far away, the Amphibious Training Base opened in 1942 in the area that now comprises the Calvert Marina and the residential community of The Harbours at Solomons Island.
Dodds said more than 65,000 troops trained at Solomons, the nation’s first amphibious training base, and gained the experience necessary for successful amphibious landings during World War II. One of those landings was at Normandy Beach, considered one of that conflict’s most decisive battles.
“These were unbelievable construction projects and there was good money to be made for the workers,” Dodds said. “Many men dropped fishing and oystering to go to work for government contractors building the bases.
With thousands of servicemen stationed in an area that provided little more diversion than a few local bars and eateries, it wasn’t long afterward that the United Service Organizations, commonly known as the USO, moved into town.
Headquartered in the building that is now home to the Solomons Island Yacht Club, the USO was opened as a place for the servicemen to go for entertainment and leisure.
“The women working for the USO lived locally and provided a friendly face and hospitality,” Dodds said. “They had to be at least 14 years old to attend the Saturday night dances. There hasn’t been a USO around here for quite some time, and their story is hardly known outside of this area.”
The museum, however, does tell their story along with the stories of the Mine Warfare Test Center and the Amphibious Training Base in an informative permanent exhibit titled, “A Lasting Military Presence.” Artifacts on display include naval uniforms, mines and torpedoes, photos and other local WWII memorabilia. The exhibit explains how the war and its local ramifications changed life for many resident watermen and their families.
“We attempt to address the military presence in terms of Solomons’ economic and social human impact,” Dodds added. “The military first came here in 1941 and largely stayed.”
For more information on the Calvert Marine Museum, its hours and admission fees, visit www.calvertmarinemuseum.com.