Dahlgren Museum at 10 Years: Celebrating the Past, Inspiring the Future!
By Ed Jones
It was a crisp October day 10 years ago when the ribbon was cut to welcome the first visitors to the Dahlgren Heritage Museum on U.S. 301 near the Harry Nice Bridge. The dignitaries for that special event included Capt. Pete Nette, commanding officer of the base, and Dale Sisson, who was then chair of the King George County Board of Supervisors.
I remember enjoying the festivities. I also recall reflecting on how challenging and invigorating the effort had been to establish the first museum outside the base to tell the century-long story of the Navy at Dahlgren.
It didn’t just happen. That day of celebration came after three years of hard work to raise the money and to rally the community to the goal of moving our exhibits from a small bank building outside the base’s main gate to the former Virginia Welcome Center on U.S. 301.
It all got started in 2010 when I received a phone call from the late Susan Prien of the base command who invited me to meet with her and her colleague Gary Wagner to talk about a Dahlgren museum that would be run, not by the government, but by interested people in the community. It took me approximately six seconds to say I was onboard.
But whom could I turn to to form the leadership team for this project? It didn’t take long to put together a list of dynamic, dedicated leaders.
Among them were:
— Wayne Harman, a longtime NSWC employee on the base with a deep love of history;
— Ruth Herrink, the publisher of the King George Journal newspaper, who brought enthusiasm and resources to the cause;
— House of Delegates Speaker Bill Howell and state Sen. Richard Stuart, who helped us to arrange financial support from Virginia Power that was critical to our success;
— Carlton Middlebrook, who loaned key artifacts to our collection, including a propeller from a 1924 seaplane that was part of Dahlgren’s radio-controlled, pilotless experiments;
— Stan Palivoda, a local businessman, who helped us to gain a $21,000 donation from the regional Walmart stores;
— Rob Gates, a longtime leader on the base who oversaw the development of our exhibits as well as the interior of the museum, and who remains critical to our success to this day, currently as our vice president;
— the Virginia Tourism Corporation, who allowed us to use its former Welcome Center building on U.S. 301;
— and many more
So what’s in store for our second decade? That has a lot to do with the people of our community who have been so supportive of our programs and forums. With their help, we can expand our outreach to area schools; enlist the services of more college interns as they learn to become preservationists and curators; add new and interesting artifacts to our collections; and grow our successful series of public forums on key issues relating to Dahlgren’s past, present, and future.
When the museum opened 10 years ago at its current location, I called it a dream come true. But it turns out, that was just the beginning. There are many more dreams ahead for the Dahlgren Heritage Museum.
Stay tuned for additional chapters in the Deck Log about the museum’s first decade and our hopes for the future.
About the Author
Ed Jones is the president of the Dahlgren Heritage Foundation and spent the first 18 years of his life growing up on the Navy base at Dahlgren. He worked at The Free Lance-Star newspaper in Fredericksburg from his high-school internship in 1965 to his 2013 retirement as editor of the paper.