Museum of Flight makes 50th anniversary campus improvements

In celebration of its 50th anniversary, the Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum has recently made major improvements to several of its historic buildings and other structures along its 18-acre Miles River waterfront. Funded through philanthropic support, these improvements include restoration of the historic 1879 Hooper Strait Lighthouse, Point Lookout Bell Tower, Museum Store, and Welcome Center. Other enhancements include path re-pavement, marina and exhibition building upgrades, campus-wide Wi-Fi, and new audio visual equipment in the museum’s Van Lennep Auditorium.

“Campus is looking very smart,” commented CBMM President Kristen Greenaway, who celebrated her first year at the non-profit museum in July, 2015. “Our philosophy of undertaking maintenance that will last for 20-30 plus years—rather than undertaking quick-fix repairs—is particularly important as we move into the museum’s next 50 years. This approach may cost us more in the short-term, but will alleviate stress on the museum’s budget in the long-term. And the improvements make a striking difference.”

The 1879 Hooper Strait Lighthouse, now on Navy Point, was originally built to light the way for boats passing through the shallow, dangerous shoals of Hooper Strait, a thoroughfare for boats bound from the Chesapeake Bay across Tangier Sound to Deal Island or places along the Nanticoke and Wicomico Rivers. It was moved by barge to the museum in 1966, and recently received new ceramic paint, restored topside decking, and a new copper roof.

“This is a great example of not only how your donations can make a difference, but also how new technology can help preserve something old,” said CBMM Vice President of Operations Bill Gilmore, who oversees all campus improvements. “We need to be diligent with our resources, so, for example, using a ceramic paint that is warranted for 25 years on our 136 year-old lighthouse makes fiscal sense.”

The ceramic paint used on the lighthouse was also applied to the Point Lookout Bell Tower, sited near the lighthouse at CBMM. Funded through private donations, computer-operated controls for the Bell Tower have also been added to facilitate the ringing of ship’s bell time. Traditionally, a ship’s bell time designates the beginning and end of each four-hour watch on board a ship. The bell rings a distinctive pattern to alert sailors of the time and how many hours are left on their shift. The Point Lookout Tower’s bells now ring on the half hour from 8:30 a.m. to 8 p.m., with a pattern of rings repeating every four hours.

Historically, the Point Lookout Lighthouse and this fog bell tower stood near the treacherous crossroads where the Potomac River meets the Chesapeake Bay—a place where both weather and shipping traffic were tricky. With their function taken over by a steel tower placed offshore, the Coast Guard closed Point Lookout Lighthouse and the fog bell tower in 1965. The Bell Tower was moved to the museum in 1968.

To make the museum’s campus more accessible to guests in strollers, wheelchairs and walkers, pathways on both sides of campus have been re-paved with new materials that make it easier to navigate.

To expedite the campus-wide enhancement process, CBMM President Kristen Greenaway lead her team in a “Ship Shape Day” in early May, with many of the museum’s staff, volunteers, and Board members joining together to work on several projects, including installing new gardens and weeding established ones, staining the Oystering on the Chesapeake exhibition building, and painting the historic Mitchell House on Fogg’s Cove.

Through donations, installation of campus-wide fiber for an enterprise wireless network has also been completed. Wi-Fi access now also covers the museum’s marina and parking areas, and is set to support mobile application technology currently under development to enhance guest engagement.

Marina upgrades included new pilings for Watermen’s Wharf and other docks along the museum’s waterfront. Through a gift from a private foundation, air conditioning and other amenities have been added to CBMM’s marina showers. Water and electric access for boats has also been expanded or upgraded in many of the museum’s members-only slips, including 100-amp availability. Refreshments, bicycles, and carts are also now available for boaters through the museum’s Welcome Center, which also received several upgrades through a private, anonymous donor.

In CBMM’s Van Lennep Auditorium, audio visual equipment has been upgraded, including a new, surround-sound speaker system, ceiling-mounted projector, automated shades, and projector screen. The facility showcases changing exhibitions—including the current Jay Fleming exhibition Chesapeake Unseen, and many of the trailboards in the museum’s collection. The auditorium is utilized year-round for the museum’s education programs, as well as corporate meetings, and community and private events.

Established in 1965, the Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum is a world-class maritime museum funded mostly through private donations and serving more than 70,000 guests each year. CBMM is the only maritime museum in the world dedicated to preserving and exploring the history, environment and people of the entire Chesapeake Bay, in a meaningful and authentic way. See campus improvement photos at