Sep 18

Monument of the Month: Granite, Old and New

Friday, September 18, 2015 6:00 AM



The Naval Academy Seal lying in the grass at Greenbury Point. USNI Photo.

The old NSS Annapolis, otherwise known as the Naval Communications Station Washington, D.C. Transmitter, at Greenbury Point on the Severn River to the West of Annapolis, is not a place where one might expect to begin a discussion on monuments. But sometimes the most curious and intriguing of things are found in overlooked and unexpected places.

The three red-and-white radio towers on the wooded peninsula, once used to communicate with submerged submarines are the most prominent reminders of what was once a bustling and active radio transmitting facility. Though it is still a gunnery range and part of the NSA Annapolis facility where the Academy’s training tenders are docked, most of it has become a nature center. Open fields have replaced field transmitting equipment, and where the busy work of national defense went on, there is now only the work of birds building their nests, and deer foraging in the scrub.

It is in this quiet back place, on the lots now used for dumping and storage, where this story begins. Attentive visitors will notice a curious sight on one back lot: among old concrete planters and other debris, laying face-up in a pile are large slabs of intricately carved granite. Together, these pieces form a man-sized Seal of the Naval Academy. How is it that such a monumental work can lie in pieces, all but forgotten on a back-lot of an old naval base?

The answer may surprise you.

Isherwood Old

Isherwood Hall, main entrance. USNI Archives.

The story begins over a century ago. In the early 1900s, the Navy hired architect Ernest Flagg (1857-1947) for a massive redevelopment of the Naval Academy and expansion of naval education following the Spanish-American War — the need therefor having been made quite obvious by the . Among other Beaux-Arts style buildings such as Bancroft Hall, the Naval Academy Chapel, Mahan Hall, Maury Hall, Sampson Hall, and the Superintendent’s residence was Isherwood Hall, built in 1905. A relatively plain but novel new design of reinforced concrete, Isherwood hall was home to a number of laboratories and classrooms of the Marine Engineering Department, where students learned all there was to know about steam propulsion and other sciences.

isherwood seal

Seal in place on Isherwood Hall. Courtesy of the Library of Congress.

Though it was for all intents a utilitarian building, Isherwood was decorated with two large granite Naval Academy Seals, built in place overtop the center door of the wings on each end of the bulding. When Griffin Hall, built in the same style, was added during the First World War to extend Isherwood, one of the seals its addition would have covered up was taken down from the older hall and replaced in the new facade. Both annexes were later joined by Melville Hall in 1937, which further increased workspace in the complex.

griffin seal.

Seal in place on Griffin Hall. It would originally have been mounted behind it on Ishwerwood’s facade. Courtesy of the Library of Congress.

By the early 1980s, however, the three-hall complex had outlived its usefulness. It was demolished in 1981 to make way for the new Alumni Hall. Alumni’s entrances are named after the halls it replaced.

Isherwood Hall Demolition

Isherwood Hall during demolition in the winter of 1981. USNI Archives.

But that is not the end of the story. When the halls were demolished, the seals were carefully removed and saved for the future. They were stored up out of the way at Greenbury Point until their time could come.

Alumni Hall

Alumni Hall, showing Isherwood entrance. USNI photo.

The time for one came twenty five years later. Damage from Hurricane Isabel and the relocation of the Naval Academy’s Gate 1 to increase security following the attacks of September 11th necessitated a redesign of the Class of 1950 Plaza, which had first been installed in 1980 before Isherwood was demolished.

1950 Plaque

Plaque on the reverse of the seal, Class of 1950 Plaza, USNA. USNI photo.

In searching for a new way to greet visitors to the USNA, it was remembered that the perfect ornament was already in storage: one of the seals from the Isherwood/Griffin/Melville Hall complex. One was taken back down from Greenbury mortared in place in a new granite pedestal. It is still there today.

Gate 1 Seal

The Seal in place at Gate 1 of the Naval Academy. USNI photo.

The other woebegone Seal remains in the fields at Greenbury, awaiting a creative spirit and its own turn to once again grace the grounds of the Naval Academy it once called home.