On a brisk afternoon earlier this month, a few residents of Naval Station Norfolk’s Admirals Row gathered for a unique event. On the sprawling front porch of one the residences were 19 leather bound albums sprawled atop a table adorned with crisp linens. Each leather-bound album chronicled the individual histories each of the former 1907 Jamestown Exposition homes. Each page brought fourth detailed histories, archived photographs, and historical notes that sheds some light on the former residents of each home; many of whom were forgotten until now.
The small gathering served as the culmination of a nearly two-year project, where residents of the homes along Dillingham Boulevard received a bound leather album about their historic home.
Museum Director, John Pentangelo was present at the gathering and shared some notes about the project. Also present was Ed Kellam, President of the Hampton Roads Naval Historical Foundation, which contributed the funding for each leather-bound album. The non-profit foundation partially supports the museum and operates a gift shop just outside of Naval Station Norfolk.
The bulk of the research for each leather-bound album was compiled by Kim Brown, a resident of Admiral’s Row and wife of VADM Brian Brown, Commander of U.S. Naval Information Forces.
She noted that “it is mind boggling to think about the military leadership that has lived under these roofs! Alongside groundbreaking women and African American officers, Admiral’s Row has produced 15 Chiefs of Naval Operations, 4 Commandants of the Marine Corps, 1 Chief of Staff of the Army, and 1 Commandant of the Coast Guard. We had one of the Navy’s four 5-star Fleet Admirals come out of Connecticut House.”
Previously, each of the historic homes had a plaque that adorned their entryways with the names of each resident inscribed on it; this concise project highlighted the social gatherings and biographies of the former residents who graced the confines of each historic home.
She spent countless hours over the course of the project to ensure that the histories of each home and their residents are accurately noted. She also noted that “these albums will offer something permanent and narrative to connect us all to a very special past and create a space for future residents to join in that unique kinship.”
The bulk of the research was done at the Hampton Roads Naval Museum’s Annex, located at Building H-9. It was there that Katherine Renfrew, their Registrar, aided in compiling the bulk of the research. According to Brown, additional research was compiled through the military registrars at Ancestry.com, among other sources. Throughout the course of their research, both piled through the archives at the annex building and sifted through newspaper articles which documented the activities of each home’s residents and their social gatherings.
Each of the 19 historic homes along Dillingham Boulevard was originally part of the 1907 Jamestown Exposition. Each home represented the architecture of each state that contributed funding during the event. After the establishment of Naval Station Norfolk, the homes were eventually converted to house flag officers from various commands; and each album represents one of the first concerted efforts to preserve the history of each home and their respective residents. Included in each album are some blank pages for future residents to include something.
Also contributing to the project was Lincoln Military Housing, who installed wooden display shelves in each home to store the albums. A pair of Chiefs from the nearby Center for Naval Aviation Technical Training Unit (CNATTU) carefully crafted each storage shelf; while Sailors from Navy Public Affairs Support Element-East contributed the graphics and layout for some of the pages found in each album.
At the conclusion of the gathering, residents who were present received their treasured leather-bound albums along with a greater understanding of the individual histories of their historic residences which predate the establishment of Naval Station Norfolk.