Following the Sidewalk to Nowhere

Dowell Road bisects a strip of land sandwiched between Back and Mill creeks in Solomons. Past new homes under construction, the road runs out of asphalt. There a hard-packed dirt road parallels sidewalks leading nowhere, crumbling foundations with no buildings to support and rusty fire hydrants with nothing to protect. In the middle of these ruins sits a long-empty swimming pool. 

No disaster wiped out this abandoned village. Its demise was predetermined; it was never intended to be permanent. It is the skeletal remains of a World War II Naval Amphibious Training Base. 

Today it’s a ghost town. But at its peak in 1944, the base bustled with a population that sometimes topped 10,000. Its had an urgent wartime mission: training U.S. troops for landings in Normandy and the Pacific.

The size of the naval base is clear in an aerial photograph taken in 1944. The photo reveals row upon row of barracks, Quonset huts, docks and a sandy beach used for training.

“The base had its own amphitheater and a movie theater,” says Robert Hurry, collections manager at Calvert Marine Museum. “There are some buildings left, but most of them were razed in the 1950s and ’60s.”

One still standing is the base’s former power plant. The brick building is now a waterfront restaurant.

Calvert Marina uses an old Navy building for its business office. Matt Gambrill, owner of the marina, solved the mystery of the swimming pool in the middle of nowhere. 

“It is the old navy pool, repaired many times over,” Gambrill says. “It was right next to the officer’s mess. That building is gone, but the foundation is still there.”

The base was officially closed in April 1945 after training 67,698 officers and enlisted men.

But its story doesn’t end there.

“Jack Blank, the first owner of the property after the Navy, hired Washington Redskins players during off-season,” Gambrill says. “The players worked as grass cutters and maintenance guys. And they took care of the cattle that used to roam the property.” 

The cows are long gone. Before long, all that will remain of the storied World War II base will be a bronze statue installed in 2007 honoring the sailors On Watch, a few commercial buildings and old photographs. A new residential community is planned for the site. As construction marches forward, the old mossy foundations and sidewalks will be broken up and hauled away to make room for new ones. A new pool will be dug.

But what about those old fire hydrants? 

“I’m working with the homeowners association to have the old hydrants moved to a new doggie park,” Gambrill said.



Read earlier Bay Weekly stories about the U.S. Naval Amphibious Training Base at Solomons and On Watch:
Rocked in the Cradle of Invasion: Following my father back to the weeks before my conception, when he trained at Solomons for hitting the beaches of Sicily.
Bill Burton on the Bay: From Solomons to Battlefields and Back:
Going On Watch: One Sailor to Stand for 68,000 in Solomons’ Secret Navy:
War Returns to Solomons: