From July 1919 until Aug. 1921, the U.S. Navy operated an aviation training school north of here at what was then known as the U.S. Navy Mine Depot (U.S. Naval Weapons Station). The school provided the first advanced aviation and gunnery operations. In Oct. 1922 the aviation field supported the first flight made from a U.S. aircraft carrier, USS Langley, which was anchored in the York River. Also, on 8 May 1925 likely the first overland commercial flight from New York City to this region landed there.
The land that the Naval Weapons Station sits on has been around through much of our history. Military men trudged up and down Old Williamsburg Road, which today runs straight through the station. The oldest structure at the station is the Lee House, which was built in 1649 and was inhabited by many families until the United States Government acquired the property. During the Civil War, the Army of the Potomac established numerous fortifications around the site. As the war progressed, these fortifications were used as defensive protection from Confederate attacks (Freeman).
In 1916, Congress requested a site on the Atlantic Coast for a weapons handling and storage facility to fit the following criteria:
- Sheltered inland waterway deep enough to accommodate capital ships
- Sparsely populated area sufficient in size to provide quantity distance separation for explosive material processing and storage facilities
- Close to the naval base at Norfolk to permit short boat trips for explosive loadings in the Hampton Roads area (Global Security).
When found, the site was commissioned by the US Mine Depot, Yorktown in July of 1918. During World War I, the US Mine Depot received, reclaimed, stored and issued mines, depth charges and related materials. During World War II, they expanded and further developed mines and advanced underwater weapons. Furthermore, a laboratory was installed to the facility. The US Mine Depot became the US Naval Weapons Station, Yorktown on August 7, 1958.
The aviation field was located on a bluff above the York River and was within the Navy Mine Depot (Yorktown Naval Weapons Station). The Yorktown aviation field was the first naval air station in the mid-Atlantic region and was established in 1919. At the Aviation field, aviators were trained in bombing, gunnery, and torpedo operations. Furthermore, the aviators also spearheaded tests of high-altitude bombsight, which further developed during World War II. The airfield was officially closed in 1921 and all units were reassigned, the base itself also served as the deep-water channel to support the testing of the Navy’s first aircraft carrier: the USS Langley, CV-1 (Harring). The first take off took place on October 17, 1922 and the first landing took place only nine days later (Gabriele). The aviation field played a pivotal role in naval aviation.
Global Security. Naval Weapons Station (NAVWPNSTA) Yorktown, Virginia. http://www.globalsecurity.org/military/facility/yorktown.htm (accessed April 11, 2012).
Gabriele, Tony. “Yorktown Airfield Played Key Role in Naval Aviation.” The Roanoke Times, October 17, 2006, News Section. http://www.roanoke.com/news/roanoke/wb/87370 (Accessed April 11, 2012).
Freeman, Paul. Abandoned and Little Known Airfields: Virginia. http://www.airfields-freeman.com/VA/Airfields_VA_Hampton.htm#yorktown (Accessed April 12, 2012).
Hills, Waring. First Landing on the Navy’s First Aircraft Carrier. Patriot’s Point: Home of the USS Yorktown. http://www.patriotspoint.org/news_events/first-landing-on-the-navys-first-aircraft-carrier/ (Accessed April 12, 2012).
Historical Marker “Aviation Field Yorktown W-232,” courtesy of Lindsey Smith, 2012.
“Yorktown Mine Depot 1945 Ordnance Department,” Hampton Roads Naval Museum, http://hamptonroadsnavalmuseum.blogspot.com (accessed May 2, 2012).
“U.S.S. Langley CV-1,” Department of the Navy: Navy Historical Center, www.history.navy.mil (accessed May 2, 2012).
Department of Historic Resources link not available.