Friday, February 28, 2014

Sepia Saturday: A Blast at Pig Point

 Sepia Saturday challenges bloggers to share family history through old photographs.




This week’s Sepia Saturday prompt featuring three men, a mountain, and a telescope made me cry “Uncle.”  Not in absolute defeat.  But close.  Helen Killeen Parker, whose photos have been featured numerous times on this blog, came to the rescue:

Pig Point Ordnance Depot about 1918
Pig Point Ordnance Depot
about 1918


Pig Point Ordnance Depot about 1918
What is this?








  

Something to the far right resembles a telescope, but it could just as easily be a megaphone or none of the above.  

But the point of Sepia Saturday is INSPIRATION, not matching necessarily.  As puzzling photos always do, I was inspired to “peer through the telescope” to bring faint and distant details into focus.  What was this place?  Who were those men?  Why did Aunt Helen have this picture?


Fortunately for me, an earlier OR later photo of the same building was labeled “Pig Point, Va.”  The sign in both reads “Headquarters Ordnance Office.”  Pig Point was located along the James River in what is now part Portsmouth and part Suffolk, Virginia.  During the Civil War it was the site of one of the very first battles in which the Union tried to blockade the Chesapeake Bay and the Confederacy tried to prohibit use of its rivers by Union troops.  


This sign is located in Suffolk on Rt 460
(on the right traveling west)

The Depot was commissioned by the federal government in 1917 as Pig Point Ordnance Depot.  In the 1920 federal census, a 19-year old Herbert Parker (Aunt Helen’s future husband) was listed as a clerk for the Army there at the Depot.  During World War I, tons of ammunition were processed daily.  No doubt Herbert was involved in the storage, shipment, classification, and destruction.  (Labeling the General Ordnance Depot as “the Royal Dog House” must have been Herbert’s idea of a joke, but that joke has been lost to time.)

Pig Point Ordnance Depot
Headquarters Ordnance Office


The Ordnance Depot was demobilized after World War II.  Now fast-forward to 1987.  I was teaching at the Portsmouth Campus of Tidewater Community College which sat right there on old “Pig Point.” 

Portsmouth Campus Tidewater Community College
image found on Pinterest
Architect's drawing of the early Portsmouth Campus
with classrooms in a converted warehouse

Military Landfill Tidewater Community College
image from Timmons.com

It was discovered that the Department of Defense years before had buried explosives, shells, and other munitions both spent and live in several military landfills on what later became the TCC Campus.   A massive program was put in place to remove grenades, TNT, boosters, chemicals, miscellaneous ordnance, and contaminated soil. 


Almost daily for weeks at a time over a period of years, faculty routinely received alerts that the Army Corps of Engineers would be detonating some old ammunition that day, so not to worry – no one is in danger.  It was easy to become numb to the whole business, joking about teaching in a war zone. 

But then one day in 1993 water fountains were covered with plastic and duct tape.  Bottled water stands and paper cups took their place when concerns were raised over possible contamination in the production wells. 

The removal program was declared complete in 2001, and a remedial follow-up was completed in 2011.   One heckuva restoration program!

Today grand homes, thriving shopping centers, high-tech industry and exquisitely-landscaped industrial parks reside where Uncle Herbert once strolled the grounds of the Ordnance Depot.  Few people know the name “Pig Point” anymore.  We know it as the more alluring “Harbour View.”  

Entrance Riverfront Community of Harbor View
Entrance to one of the upscale communities in Harbour View

Take a look through the telescope for more stories and old photos at Sepia Saturday.


46 comments:

  1. What an interesting name Pig Point. Great history to the place and how times have now changed with such grand upscaling.

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    1. There are several theories behind that name but no one knows for sure how it came to be.

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  2. At least there is still a historic marker referring to Pig Point. I had to google to find out the meaning of 'cry uncle', as its not an expression we use in Aus.

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    1. It is a goofy expression, and while I know what it means, I always wonder how the expression originated.

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  3. Love your title which finally comes through with the ordinance detonation story. I'm voting for megaphone in the first picture. Not sure why however...but it doesn't have the right "angles" for a telescope, I don't think. Come on over to NC to see our Blue Ridge Parkway any time. I actually have some roots in Suffolk too.

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    1. Thanks for loving my title. I love a pun.
      A drive through the NC end of the BRP sounds like a good idea IF we can get rid of all this snow. Come on Spring!

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  4. I can't even imagine teaching with all of that going on!

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    1. Well, like I said, when you live in it, you don't even notice it after awhile.

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  5. Wow, isn't it amazing how those themes that at first stump us, become some of our most interesting posts! Your Uncle Herbert's story, one of those you had to be there to know it, but now we too can learn about it. Great history of our time, and you have a family relation to it! I wonder if the Library of Congress has any information too?

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    1. I'd like to see old photos of the area before it morphed into a college campus. I'm sure there must be some somewhere.

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  6. That first photo does cover the prompt well.

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    1. I had hoped so, but now after reading comments from Mr. Mike and Brett, I missed the mark. However, maybe I rebounded with the last photo.

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  7. How interesting that Pig Point kept popping up in your family story. Teaching is scary enough without all that going on as well!

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    1. A town one hour away from here has a paper mill that gives off the worst odor. How do people live there? I think when you live in questionable conditions, you don't even notice them. That's how it was at TCC -- the blasting was just another ordinary part of the day that we stopped noticing.

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  8. I wonder if the name might have come from Francis Hough who owned the property in 1635. It's reasonable to think his name might have been pronounced Hoag gradually becoming more like Hog - hence Hog's Point & gradually Pig Point? Interesting to think about, but as you said, no one seems to know for sure. Fun & informative post.

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    1. Across the river from Pig Point is Hog Island, so one theory is that the name was chosen as a counterpoint.

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  9. I didn't think Pig Point would go over too well with the marketing department...but not too bad for the royal dog house, after all ;)

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    1. I doubt the rich and famous would pay top dollar for a house on Pig Point. However, adding that "u" in "Harbour" commands respect.

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  10. When I took classes at the OLD TCC one of my classes we took a walk on the grounds-out in the wood where the old Army housing stood. Lots and LOTS of Army equipment was lying around. Glad we didn't blow up!

    Thanks for the pig point lesson Ms Teacher.

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    1. Oh that's right. I used to think those old barracks or whatever they were looked so cute and quaint on those little back roads. Now I shudder to think what might be back there.

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  11. What an interesting journey through the years and amazing family connections. With the change of name it turns out your can make a silk purse out of a sows ear:-) I was so intrigued by the area being called Suffolk (one of my favourite places in England) that I had to see it on a map and then discovered the Great Dismal Swamp nearby, that must be one of the best names ever.

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    1. HA HA -- love the silk purse/sow's ear joke especially considering the name Pig Point. I wish I had thought of that.
      This area is full of English names (after all, we were the first permanent English colony) - Portsmouth, Norfolk, Suffolk, York, Gloucester.

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  12. Very interesting history, really appreciate the thought and research that you put into this. Of course the land would go into development once cleared of the military debris. Pig Point, wonder why that name; did it resemble pigs to someone or were there wild boar?

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    1. Several theories: 1. during the Civil War, ships carrying livestock for the troops were sunk in battle and pigs swam ashore and populated the area ; 2. the land is shaped like a pig's head ; 3. it is a counterpoint to Hog Island across the river. The truth is that no one knows for sure because a lot of early records have been lost in court fires. We know the first theory isn't right because the name Pigg Point is mentioned in a will dated in the late 1600s.

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  13. Pig Point is a terrific example of a typical Virginia geography name. I think the men in the first photo are working with a very long fire hose which were often used for forestry work and kept on reels that resemble wagon wheels. The megaphone is exactly that, and was usually placed next to a flagpole, (as were fire hoses), so that the company bugler could play reveille and taps and it be heard by soldiers throughout the camp.

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    1. I knew I could rely on you to flesh out that photo. Thanks!

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  14. I enjoyed reading about the history and personal connections to Pig Point.

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  15. I actually like the name Pig Point but I can see why others might not. I'm very glad there is no requirement to match the suggested theme - or I'd have had to give up ages ago.

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    1. I hear ya and am right there with you. Many weeks I just scratch my head waiting for some inspiration.

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  16. I can just see a developer trying to market his new development 'Pig Point' - hehe
    Love the Royal Dog House.
    Your posts are always fun to read thanks.

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    1. That Royal Dog House notation puzzles me.
      Thanx for the compliment. Now the pressure is on.

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  17. It looks like a megaphone to me, presumably to address soldiers on the parade ground.

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    1. Shucks. But I'm sure that's a telescope in the last photo.

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  18. What a fantastic local history of the area. Well done you!

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  19. "Cry Uncle" was new to me too. A fascinating journey through history and I enjoyed reading about your research into Pig Point. A great interpretation of this week's prompt.

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    1. I've had to Google some of the Scottish and Australian expressions myself. Isn't "Cry Uncle" the silliest, though? I mean, why "uncle"? Why not some other word? How does "uncle" signify defeat?

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  20. I'm learning more about America from Sepia Saturday than I ever did at school; you have added more. You started with a telescope and if my eyes are right there is one in the entrance to Harbour View as well.

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    1. Yes, the one at the entrance is the only telescope in my blog, according to Mr. Mike and Brett. Oh well. I definitely have proper photos for next week.

      I have learned lots of world history myself reading the many Sepia Saturday blogs.

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  21. Oh Dear. What an unfortunate name.. It would have had meaning originally though. I don;t think many of us know what might have happened to the ground beneath our homes. If only the soil could talk.

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    1. I'm sure many people are living on top of all kinds of things from burial grounds to old garbage heaps to toxic waste.

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  22. Goodness. So much history in one little spot on this earth.

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    1. While I live in a historic area, Pig Point was not part of the "BIG history" that gets talked about a lot or promoted to tourists.

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  23. Fascinating! Great post Wendy! It must have been at least a bit scary or unnerving "teaching in a war zone" there on campus before you became numb to the whole thing, right?

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  24. This was really fascinating. We seldom think about the history beneath our feet.

    And I went to a school in Hawaii on a military reservation that had the firing range right next to the school. Good planning, huh? Both are now gone.

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