With its views of the Severn River and the U.S. Naval Academy, the Annapolis Laboratory of the Naval Surface Warfare Center had a bit more ambience than your average government lab.
But after nearly a century of naval research at the installation, that ambience will soon be a thing of the past. Closing ceremonies are scheduled to be held Saturday at the facility.
The Annapolis lab produced more than ambience, though. The people who worked there will be remembered for innovations in a host of areas, including propulsion, metallurgy, acoustic and magnetic signatures, and corrosion-resistant coatings.
"There's not a surface ship or a submarine in the Navy today that won't have their work on it," said Capt. John Preisel Jr., commander of the Carderock Division of the Naval Surface Warfare Center, which includes the Annapolis installation. "Their fingerprints have been all over the Navy for the last century and will continue to be for probably the next 10 to 15 years."
The Annapolis lab is a casualty of the 1995 Base Realignment and Closure process, which targeted defense installations throughout the country. Ownership of the 45-acre facility is being transferred to Anne Arundel County, which will use the land for a high-tech park for private industries, including some with a maritime bent.
The lab was created in 1903 by Rear Adm. George Melville, a naval engineer and explorer who believed the Navy needed a station to test new equipment and machinery before the fleets used it.
It was originally known as the Engineering Experiment Station, and machinery being considered for use on Navy ships was subjected to rough testing. For a while, the station's unofficial motto was, "You make 'em, we break 'em."
During World War II, the installation performed secret tests aimed at developing rockets to assist in the takeoff of heavily loaded seaplanes under the direction of rocket pioneer Robert H. Goddard. Days and nights in Annapolis were sometimes interrupted by flames and roars from within the station.
During the Cold War, the lab was responsible for a number of advancements over the course of 40 years in silencing submarines. "If you look at the history of the lab, it was responsible for a myriad of breakthroughs," said Jim Scott, a spokesman for the Naval Surface Warfare Center. "They were responsible for everything from superconductivity to high-strength, low-alloy steel to a suite of environmentally friendly machinery," Preisel said. "All of that stuff came from the Annapolis lab."
Working at the lab became a family affair for some area residents. "Generations of Annapolitans would work there," said Scott, who worked at the facility for 15 years. "They liked the work they were doing and felt like they were accomplishing something important."
Some Annapolis lab employees--who once numbered 1,400--have been transferred to other facilities of the surface warfare center. Materials and environmental work have been shifted to a new laboratory at the Carderock installation in Montgomery County, while machinery and research and development work have been moved to Philadelphia.
Saturday will be a day of paying tribute to the lab. A memorial will be dedicated at the entrance to the site, and a time capsule with lab memorabilia will be sealed.
The day will include historic exhibits, demonstrations of a remotely operated vehicle and deep-ocean pressure tanks, rides on Navy patrol craft and visits by the ships Maryland Independence, Pride of Baltimore II and USS Thunderbolt. An alumni dinner for former employees will be held; dinner attendance is by reservation.
Former lab employees are invited to attend the ceremonies, which are also open to the public. For more information, contact the lab at 410-293-2776.
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