Sunday, April 25, 2010

The US Naval Academy in Annapolis, MD

In January I spent a few hours walking around the US Naval Academy in Annapolis, MD. Established in 1845 and steeped in history and tradition, the USNA is a beautiful campus even in the middle of winter thanks largely to a concerted effort to replace the early wooden structures with stately granite buildings in the early part of the 20th Century.

As one of the three primary Service Academies, the USNA has seen many famous graduates pass through its halls, and of course it is still the largest single institution providing officers for the US Navy and Marine Corps.

I would recommend that visitors get a quick overview of the campus at the Visitor Center, which has some exhibits and a short film, and then take one of the guided walking tours which depart from there. The tours cost $9.50 for adults and last roughly 75 minutes.

It's also worth spending at least an hour in the US Naval Academy Museum in Preble Hall, which has both extensive exhibits on the history the Navy and, on the second floor, scale models of warships from the Age of Sail.

Walking Tours
I'm not sure if each tour follows exactly the same route, but starting from the Visitor Center, we visited Lejeune Hall (the athletic facilities), Dahlgren Hall, the Midway Monument, Bancroft Hall (dormitories), and then the Chapel (with John Paul Jones' crypt underneath the Chapel). Preble Hall, where the USNA Museum resides, is about a block from the Chapel.

Here are a few pictures from the tour:

The statue of Navy's mascot, Bill the Goat, stands near the Gate 1 entrance with athletic pennants in the background.

Lejeune Hall houses athletic facilities including a swimming pool, wrestling area, and trophies such as Navy's two Heismans.

Dahlgren Hall was the first of the new upgraded buildings and is now used for special events.

Bancroft Hall is in the living areas and also has a ceremonial reception hall.

Bancroft Hall faces the famous statue of "Tecumseh," a bronze replica of the masthead of the 1817 USS Delaware.

The Chapel hosts religious services and choral performances.

Underneath the Chapel is the crypt of America's first great naval hero, John Paul Jones, who died in poverty in France.

USNA Museum

The US Naval Academy Museum was not part of the walking tour, but provided some greater depth on the history of the US Navy. Exhibits start with the Continental Navy era and John Paul Jones, and end with the nuclear navy and space exploration.

Upstairs are dozens of incredibly detailed ship models from the days of full-rigged sailing ships. Many of the models were made by French prisoners of war during 18th Century conflicts with Great Britain.

It's worth at least a quick look, both for the beauty and craftsmanship of the ship models and to gain a better understanding of how the ships were constructed and used in that era.

Getting There
The US Naval Academy is next to the historic section of downtown Annapolis, only a few blocks from the Maryland State House (the state capitol building) and the Annapolis City Dock. I entered through Gate 1, where adults have to show a picture ID.

Annapolis is about 30 miles from both Washington, DC and Baltimore. Take US 50 East from DC or I-97 South from Baltimore to Rowe Boulevard (Exit 24 of US 50). Take a left on College Avenue and then a right on King George Street. Gate 1 is at the intersection of King George Street and Randall Street.

Parking is somewhat limited, so I actually parked in the Annapolis City public garage on Gorman Street near the Capitol and then walked about 7 blocks to the USNA.

Once through Gate 1, you can follow the signs to the right to the Armel-Leftwich Visitor center to find maps, brochures, exhibits, and a gift shop. This is also where you can sign up for the guided walking tour.

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