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|
|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.)
|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.”
|image found on Pinterest|
Architect's drawing of the early Portsmouth Campus
with classrooms in a converted warehouse
|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 to one of the upscale communities in Harbour View|
Take a look through the telescope for more stories and old photos at Sepia Saturday.