Navy and State Celebrate ‘Sesquicentennial,’ of a U.S. Navy Installation Being Established in Connecticut
By Lt. Daniel Monglove
April 19, 2018
GROTON, Conn. – Navy and Connecticut officials celebrated the 150th anniversary, or sesquicentennial, of a U.S. Navy installation being established in Connecticut, as well as the 118th birthday of the U.S. Submarine Force during a ceremony held at the Historic Ship Nautilus (SSN 571) and Submarine Force Museum, April 11.
Naval Submarine Base New London (SUBASE) had its beginning as a naval yard and storage depot on April 11, 1868, when a Deed of Gift from the State of Connecticut and City of New London was signed, conveyed, and presented to Secretary of the Navy Gideon Welles.
"Connecticut and its citizens embraced our Navy installation and Sailors 150 years ago, just as they continue to do so today," said Capt. Paul Whitescarver, SUBASE commanding officer. "And, just like that initial gift of land for the establishment of a naval installation here, Connecticut and its citizens have continued to directly invest in this base."
Since 2009, the State of Connecticut has directly funded approximately $14 million in SUBASE infrastructure improvements such as a state-of-the-art Navy Diver Support Facility, or Dive Locker as it is commonly referred, and modernizing a boiler at the base's power plant.
"Such investment is humbling and helps assure this installation’s vitality and viability in the years ahead," said Whitescarver.
During the celebration, the Navy also marked the birthday of the U.S. Submarine Force. One-hundred and eighteen years ago on April 11, 1900, the United States Navy purchased Holland VI, a 53 foot long, 10 and a quarter foot diameter, experimental submarine from John P. Holland and the Holland Torpedo Boat Company. It would become the nation's first commissioned submarine, USS Holland, and the forerunner of the modern U.S. Submarine Force.
State and local officials highlighted the strategic value of the submarine force.
"Today, the Navy is using the agility of stealthy and powerful submarines to project power as they never have before," said Bob Ross, executive director of the state's Office of Military Affairs. "We are seeing a resurgence of submarines from Russia and China, and other places as we seek to maintain our dominance of the undersea domain."
New London Mayor Michael Passero and Rear Adm. James Pitts, commander of the Undersea Warfighting Development Center at the base, also spoke at the event. Gov. Dannel P. Malloy and Sens. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., and Chris Murphy, D-Conn., and U.S. Rep. Joe Courtney, D-2nd District, submitted state and federal resolutions marking the sesquicentennial.
The celebration concluded with a ceremonial bell ringing: ringing out another year of base and submarine force service to the nation, and ringing in a new year of service.
And of course there was cake.
The early years and naming of Connecticut’s Navy installation
GROTON, Conn. - Groton is home to this Nation’s "First and Finest" Submarine Base: Naval Submarine Base New London.
Now don’t be fooled, that naming convention – giving the base the name of the city across the river – is not part of any elaborate plan reflecting the stealth of the U.S. Navy’s Submarine Force.
No, it can be traced back to the unique aspects of the base’s history.
The suitability of New London Harbor as a possible site for an established Navy base or depot had been discussed as early as 1799.
Subsequently, Naval Officers who had sailed in and out of the harbor, including Captain John Paul Jones, noted the harbor’s: easy access to the ocean in all seasons; its natural protection by islands fronting the Thames River estuary; its proximity to the ports of New York and Boston; and, its plentiful anchorage and capacity to float ships of any draft.
But it was not until 1862, that a Naval Committee to consider the establishment of such a northeastern base was appointed by Secretary of the Navy, and Glastonbury, Conn., native, Gideon Welles.
For four years, the Committee, the Navy, and Congress embroiled themselves in a political and economic "tug of war" as the two leading naval station sites – League Island, Pennsylvania and New London Harbor, Connecticut – were debated and evaluated.
In the end, Congress voted for League Island and Connecticut lost.
But at the time, Congress knew little of the formidable devotion to the New London cause by John Rogers Bolles, Esquire.
John Rogers Bolles was a lawyer, a farmer, a politician, a book store owner, and the author of two volumes of verse.
But most important to this story – he was Chairman of the New London Navy Yard Committee and he was determined to have a naval installation established in Connecticut.
Drawing on his legislative experience, and working with Southeastern Connecticut’s U.S. Congressman, Augustus Brandegee, Bolles succeeded in having a rider attached to the Naval Appropriations Act of 1867.
The rider stated in part, that "the Secretary of the Navy is hereby authorized and directed to accept a deed of gift when offered by the State of Connecticut…"
Bolles then spent the better part of 1867 and the spring of 1868 coordinating acquisition of the gift.
Eager to give the Navy options and with some $15,000 in funds from the state legislature and authorization for up to another $75,000 from the City of New London, Bolles led initial land purchasing efforts along both sides of the Thames River.
But following a site visit by Commodore J.P. McInstry, the land along the eastern side of the river straddling the towns of Groton and Ledyard was selected as the desired location.
Bolles and the Navy Yard Committee purchased parts or all of the large farms of local citizens Jonathan Colver, Solomon Perkins, and Courtland Chapman. Additionally, smaller adjoining land parcels were purchased from Frank Latham, George Anson Bailey, and Rhode Marshall.
On April 11, 1868, the Deed of Gift was signed, conveyed, and presented to Secretary of the Navy Welles.
And through the foresight, hard work, and determination of John Rogers Bolles, the United States Navy had a 5,200 feet long, 700 feet wide, foothold along the flat eastern terrace of the Thames River.
The site was immediately designated a Navy Yard and Commodore Timothy A. Hunt arrived and assumed command on July 10, 1868.
Now, here’s where another unique aspect of SUBASE’s history occurs. Commodore Hunt did not take up residence on the yard – instead, he established his office across the river in a suite in the Central Hotel on State Street in New London.
And many consider, that as a result of New Londoner John Rogers Bolles’ efforts; the City of New London’s generosity in funding the gift; and, Commodore Hunt’s choice of office location some 150 years ago, the Navy Yard and its subsequent designations thereafter, have always had New London in their name!