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Road Names

October 23, 2017

Names have an important meaning in our lives. They connect us to our past, to our predecessors who paved the way for our lives in big and small ways. It may not be a conscious remembrance, but naming a room, a building, a road, or anything gives a small nod to their influence. The Dahlgren base has plenty of examples of these. The Chem-Bio building, the Herbert C. Bateman Center, is named for Congressman Bateman, who represented the 1st Congressional District of Virginia for 18 years. Gray’s Landing is named for Douglas T. Gray, a United States Military Academy graduate from Dahlgren who died in Vietnam. And if you don’t know who Dahlgren Road is named after, crawl out from under that rock and read this blog about John Dahlgren. But some of our other road names have origins that are less well-known. Let’s take a look at some of them.

Let’s start by reminding everyone that the first Naval Proving Ground was established at Annapolis, Maryland, in 1872. It moved to Indian Head, Maryland, in 1891, and then to Dahlgren in 1918. Consequently, many of our street names have origins in Annapolis or Indian Head.


Alger Road is named for Philip Rounseville Alger. Alger was born in Boston on September 29, 1859, and graduated from the Naval Academy in 1880 with first honors. In 1890 he was appointed Professor of Mathematics at the Academy. For many years he was Secretary-Treasurer of the Naval Institute and was also editor of the United States Naval Institute Proceedings, as well as the author of several works on ordnance and applied mechanics. He died at the Naval Hospital, Annapolis, on February 23, 1912.

         
 Philip R. Alger, photo courtesy of the Naval History and Heritage Command

Bagby Road is named for Lieutenant Commander Oliver Walton Bagby, an Experimental Officer at Dahlgren. Bagby was killed on March 12, 1925, after he was struck in the chest by 12-inch shell splinters during fragmentation experiments at Plate Battery. He is buried at Arlington National Cemetery.

Bennion Road is named for Captain Mervyn Bennion, a Proof Officer at Dahlgren. Bennion was killed during the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941. He was on board USS West Virginia and received a mortal wound from a shrapnel shard from a 15-inch bomb that hit the center gun on USS Tennessee. Despite his grave injuries, he continued at his post trying to manage the situation and was posthumously awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor. The destroyer USS Bennion (DD-662) was named for him in 1943.

 

 Mervyn Sharp Bennion, photo courtesy of the Naval History & Heritage Command

Admiral William H. P. Blandy, better known as “Spike,” is the namesake of Blandy Boulevard. Blandy served as BUORD Chief from 1941 to 1943, right when the United States was getting involved in World War II. For Dahlgren, he had a hand in some major programs and developments at that time, including the proximity fuze and the A&P Laboratory. After his stint at BUORD, he was assigned as Commander Group One, Amphibious Force, Pacific Fleet, and commanded invasion assault forces in the Pacific for such campaigns as Saipan and Iwo Jima. He later became Deputy Chief of Naval Operations, Special Weapons in 1945. Not long after, he became the Commander, Joint Army-Navy Task Force One and oversaw Operation Crossroads, which conducted the atomic bomb tests at Bikini Atoll. Blandy retired in 1950 and died on January 12, 1954. He is buried at Arlington National Cemetery.

 
 ADM William H. P. Blandy

Lieutenant JG Clarence King Bronson and Lieutenant JG Luther Welsh are the namesakes of Bronson Road and Welsh Road. Bronson, an aviator, and Welsh, an Indian Head Proof Officer, were testing experimental aerial bombs for submerged submarine use. On November 8, 1916, they were flying above Indian Head when a bomb prematurely exploded on release below the fuselage of the plane. Both men died in the explosion, and they are buried at Arlington National Cemetery. The accident accelerated the development of bomb racks placed under the wings of aircraft.

 

Clarence King Bronson, courtesy of the Naval History & Heritage Command

When you drive down Caffee Road, think of Lieutenant Arthur Gill Caffee, a Proof Officer at Indian Head. He died on November 19, 1910, after an explosion of a 5-inch, 51-caliber gun. The explosion was probably caused by a bent or fouled firing pin projected from the breech plug. He’s buried at Arlington National Cemetery, where his tombstone reads, “Do not bother any more with me Doctor. Look after the others.”

 

 

 Arthur Gill Caffee, photo from findagrave.com

Caskey Road is named for Lieutenant Commander Gardner L. Caskey. Caskey came to Indian Head as a Postgraduate Officer in Ordnance. He had the powder desk in the BUORD in 1913 and made a reputation as a propellant expert. He was transferred to sea duty in 1918 and died on November 3, 1918, of the flu. He’s buried at Arlington National Cemetery.

 

 
Gardner L. Caskey is the furthest on the left at the table in this photo, take onboard the USS Wyoming (BB-32), courtesy of the Naval History & Heritage Command


Foster Road, which heads toward the Shell House area, is named after Captain Festus Finley Foster. Foster was the Ammunition and Ordnance Officer at Dahlgren and was instrumental in the selection of the site and development of the area served by the road that now bears his name. He died in a plane crash in Briançon, France, on March 3, 1945, while bringing USO performers to France from England. He was posthumously awarded the Legion of Merit and is buried in Lorraine, France.

 
 Festus Finely Foster, photo taken from findagrave.com


Gilmore Road was named for Howard W. Gilmore, who died on February 7, 1943. Gilmore posthumously received the Medal of Honor for his heroic self-sacrifice aboard USS Growler (SS-215). Gilmore was commanding a submarine the fateful night in 1943 when it was hit by a Japanese convoy escort and started taking on machine gun fire. Two men were killed and three were wounded, including Commander Gilmore. Gilmore struggled to hang on to the frame and ordered everyone to clear the bridge. As the commanding officer, Gilmore was the last on the bridge, but he realized he couldn’t make it to the hatch in time for the submarine to make its escape, so he ordered the XO to “Taker her down!” The phrase has since become legendary in the submarine force.

 
 Howard W. Gilmore, courtesy of the Naval History & Heritage Command


Captain, later Admiral, John W. Greenslade was Dahlgren and Indian Head’s Inspector of Ordnance in Charge. He later became Dahlgren’s second Commanding Officer and the first resident Commanding Officer, a position he held from April 1920 to May 1923. Greenslade Road goes to the Community House.

 
 ADM John W. Greenslade


Higley Road is named for Ensign Kenneth Edward Higley. Higley, age 22, was killed at Plate Battery on September 28, 1942, when an armor plate broke loose from a crane and fell on him.

Lieutenant Friend William Jenkins, the namesake of Jenkins Road, was one of two officers lost in the USS Maine explosion in Havana, Cuba, on February 15, 1898. The sinking of the Maine helped ignite the Spanish American War, and the phrase “Remember the Maine, to hell with Spain!” was its rallying cry. The body of William Jenkins was retrieved near the aft torpedo tube on March 24, and he was given a grand funeral in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, where his body lay in state for two hours.


 Friend W. Jenkins, courtesy of the Naval History & Heritage Command


Jones Road is named for John Paul Jones, the guy who said, “I have not yet begun to fight,” or something like that  https://www.history.navy.mil/research/library/research-guides/z-files/zb-files/zb-files-j/jones-john-paul/jones-jp-did.html. He was a major naval commander during the Revolutionary War and is sometimes referred to as the Father of the American Navy. Jones was born in Scotland in 1747 and emigrated from there to the colony of Virginia in the mid-1770s. Shortly after, he volunteered for the Continental Navy. Jones was the first to raise the first U.S. flag (at the time, the Grand Union Flag, not the one we know today) over a naval vessel. He conducted raids along the British coast, and it is during one of these that he was involved in the famous victory of Bonhomme Richard over HMS Serapis. Jones died in Paris in 1792, and he is buried at the Naval Academy Chapel in Annapolis.

 
John Paul Jones, with autograph, courtesy of the Naval History & Heritage Command

Marple Road is named for Lieutenant Matthias Morris Marple Jr., Naval Air Detail Officer at the Naval Proving Ground, Dahlgren, in the 1930s. He was a great football player and the station’s Number 1 golfer. Flying the Proving Ground’s only fighter plane, a Boeing F4B-4, on a return trip from Philadelphia, Lt. Marple crashed in a storm in Chesapeake Bay, off Annapolis on 30 October, 1935. He is buried at Arlington National Cemetery.

 
 Matthias Morris Marple is the fourth person from the right standing in this photograph, courtesy of the National Archives.

McVay Road is named for Admiral Charles Butler McVay Jr. McVay commanded USS Alabama on the Great White Fleet tour, 1907–1909, and commanded several ships during World War I. After the war, he was appointed Chief of BUROD and oversaw advancements in fire control; protecting vessels against plane and submarine attack; fire control by aeroplanes; launching aeroplanes from ships; launching torpedoes from aircraft; and efficient floating mines. McVay later served as the Commander in Chief, U.S. Asiatic Fleet. He died on October 28, 1949, and is buried at Arlington National Cemetery.

 
 ADM Charles B. McVay, Jr.

Rear Admiral William T. Sampson is the namesake of Sampson Road. He graduated at the top of his class at the Naval Academy and served four tours of duty there, two as Head of the Physics and Chemistry Department, and one as Superintendent. He served as Chief of the Bureau of Ordnance from January 28, 1893, to May 31, 1897, and was known for encouraging progress. During his tenure, telescopic sights were adopted and installed; the first modern American submarine went under contract; automobile torpedoes and hard-faced armor were developed; orders were given to experiment with and devise an armor-piercing projectile; and 13-inch guns were adopted for modern battleships. Sampson’s developments were especially important during the Spanish American War, particularly in the Battle of Santiago, Cuba. He died on May 6, 1902, and is buried at Arlington National Cemetery.

 
William T. Sampson, courtesy of the Naval History & Heritage Command 

On Tisdale Road, think of Ensign R. D. Tisdale, who reported to Indian Head on June 22, 1892, and served as an assistant proof and experimental officer. He also served as an assistant inspector of ordnance, in charge of powder, pressure gauge, etc., and was one of the observers at the chronograph. He detached on December 20, 1897, and later reached the rank of Lieutenant. He died on June 1, 1900.

 
1892. Tisdale is third from the right. Also in this picture is Friend Jenkins, third from left. Photo courtesy of Southern Maryland Studies Center, College of Southern Maryland, John Tomas Parran, Jr. Collection

Thompson Road is named for Dahlgren’s first Technical Director, though the position was known as Chief Physicist at the time. He served from October 1923 to June 1942. Dr. L. T. E. Thompson guided the Navy’s development of projectiles and armor during his time at Dahlgren. The road leads to the former Armor & Projectile Laboratory, which Thompson was fundamental in establishing. Much of his work was also dedicated to scaling down models of larger weapons to make testing cheaper. Thompson was awarded both the Distinguished Civilian Service Award in 1952 and the Navy Distinguished Service Award in 1961. He was also China Lake’s first Technical Director and had some involvement in the Manhattan Project. He died in December 1978.

 
 Dr. Thompson after cutting the ribbon for Thompson Road in April of 1967.