Opening Day: What The Mariners’ Museum looked like in the 1930s

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Today, The Mariners’ Museum and Park’s exhibition space is roughly 90,000 square feet; but when the Museum opened to the public in November 1933, there was only a little over 12,000 square feet of gallery space. Sure, this is not a “small” space. All of our houses are probably significantly smaller, but this is a far cry from the originally intended Museum – a grand, sprawling, geometric affair. 

In April 1931, Archer Huntington stated, “My idea for the museum is a structure built not by architects but by engineers, and I think we can do this in the Yard. The moment you attempt to produce an art building on the usual Greek or Roman lines, you have made something which will clash entirely with the exhibits, which are purely scientific and mathematical.” To that end, the Museum’s projected budget for 1931 included $50,000 to “start museum”. The rest of that year’s budget was allocated to the dam, roads, and property maintenance. This vision would not come to pass, though, at least not as originally intended. Instead, the idea of a new building was put on hold (thanks Great Depression), and The Mariners’ Museum exhibits were put in a “temporary” gallery space located in the Museum’s service building.    Read more

These Doors Do Heavy Metal!

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The Bronze Doors and a shipyard car and chauffeur, Mr. Fisher. The shipyard ran this car every morning and evening to the Museum and hydraulic lab to carry mail, lab, information, and passengers, July 1939. Image Courtesy of The Mariners’ Museum and Park.

Have you ever noticed the big metal doors at the Business Entrance of The Mariners’ Museum and Park? Have you ever thought that maybe they were a little fancy for an entrance where deliveries are made and staff enters to gather our badges and trek to wherever our offices happen to be on-site? Well, those doors, made of bronze, are actually part of our Collection and used to be the Main Entrance to the Museum!

There is a bit of a story behind them. As you have probably read in a previous blog, Archer M. Huntington was the driving force behind the construction of The Mariners’ Museum and Park. It was his vision to have a stunning entrance to the Museum, something that would visually make people stop and say “WOW!”. Incidentally, this is why the original portion of the Museum has the very unusual “Huntington Squeeze” brick and mortar technique. It’s done by not scraping off the mortar as layers of bricks are added in the wall construction.   Read more

Building International Connections through the Collections

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Many museums begin with a person who has spent their life collecting something they love, which family members may jokingly refer to as “hoarding,” until they come to realize the importance of the treasures. That collection then becomes the basis for a new museum. The Mariners’ Museum and Park is different in that we started as a museum with a park, and then had to search out and build a collection. This process of purchasing objects allowed us to build a reputation for integrity and authenticity, which then built relationships that led to donations.

After receiving our charter in 1930 the Museum began work on the Park, developing the land and creating what is now The Mariners’ Lake. The focus then switched to the Museum building itself and the collection, and we sent out buyers to search for significant and representative objects to tell the story of all maritime history, not just American.   Read more

From Waters to Mariners’, The Making of a Lake

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Did you know Virginia has only two natural lakes? The rest are man-made, including our very own Mariners’ Lake! It holds the title as the first, and the oldest, project started on the grounds of The Mariners’ Museum Park. Before the purchase of the land surrounding it, The Mariners’ Lake was a salt marsh creek called Waters Creek, sometimes incorrectly referred to as Watts Creek. You can learn more about that, here! Apart from the vision of creating a maritime museum, Archer Huntington (our founder and owner of the Newport News Shipyard) and his wife Anna Hyatt (renowned sculptor), wanted to create a wildlife sanctuary. They also wanted a place to display several of Anna’s sculptures. The rural setting and proximity to the Shipyard helped to make this spot the ideal location. You can read more about why this area was chosen, here.

Although our official birthday is June 2nd, planning for the Lake and Park began months prior. In December of 1929, internal memos show that land acquisition was already being discussed and negotiations had started. In a memo from Homer Ferguson, President of the Newport News Shipyard, to Archer Huntington:   Read more

The “Waters” in Water’s Creek

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It’s been a big announcement week here at The Mariners’ Museum and Park. This will be the fifth, or sixth, English, name change for the water running through the Park. If you didn’t see the CEO’s announcement of name change earlier this week, check it out here. But today, I wanna throw it way, way back and talk about the origin of the water’s first English name (notice that I am clarifying this first name as “English” because the Native Americans living in the area most definitely had a different name for the water before English settlement in the early seventeenth century). 

In 1624, 100 acres of land around Water’s Creek, seven miles up the James River from Newport News Point, was patented to Edward Waters; although there is evidence that Waters and his wife had been living on the land for five years prior. While he was not the only Englishman granted land near this water, he was the first, and therefore, the namesake. And while calling the water “Waters lake” or “Waters water” would sound kinda silly and redundant; Edward Waters has a really cool maritime history, making him easy to interpret in relation to the Museum’s mission.    Read more