PORT DEPOSIT — When community members congregate at the former U.S. Naval Training Center Bainbridge on Sept. 15 for the annual Bainbridge Day celebrations, they will be stepping back through time to recall the base’s history and continue to write its legacy.
Wayne Hill, president of the USNTC Bainbridge Museum, said that to understand the origins of the base, one must look back 45 years before the U.S. Navy even purchased the property.
Famed industrialist and philanthropist Jacob Tome founded the Tome School for Boys on the property in 1894.
“True to his word as an educator, he provided free education for anyone, any student, any child who could get to Port Deposit,” Hill said. “He paid the teachers’ salaries, bought the books, bought the paper, the whole nine yards.”
When Tome passed away in 1898, Tome left an endowment to the school, which was used to build the Upper School of the Tome School for Boys.
“Their idea was to attract wealthy people who would send their kids as a boarding school — and they did,” Hill said.
But when the Great Depression hit in the 1930s, the owners faced financial difficulties, causing it to close the school and sell the property. The U.S. Navy got wind of the sale and bought the property, according to Hill.
There, the property was renovated and turned into the USNTC Bainbridge, which activated in 1942 following the attack on Pearl Harbor and the run up to America’s entry into World War II.
The base saw hundreds of thousands of trainees over the course of its 34 years of operation, during World War II, the Korean War, the Vietnam War, and the Cold War era.
“Until 1976, it would train over 700,000 men and women. It was huge,” Hill said of the property that was the most populated area of Cecil County during its heyday.
Aside from sailors and support positions, Bainbridge also trained recruits for WAVES (Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service) until the operation was relocated to Orlando, Fla., in 1972, Hill added.
During Bainbridge Day on Sept. 15, community members will be welcomed in to hear stories about the former naval base and tour the site — one of the few times a year that the public is allowed on to the site that today is maintained by the Bainbridge Development Corporation, which is tasked with its redevelopment.
At noon, Delegate Kevin Hornberger (R-Cecil) will open the day’s ceremonies on the steps of the Bainbridge Museum, located at 6 S. Main St., and introduce individuals who have contributed to Bainbridge’s legacy. After introductions, the museum will open its doors to the public and a U.S. Coast Guard vessel will be on display.
Narrated tours of the base will be held on the hour at 1 p.m., 2 p.m. and 3 p.m. Tours will be $5 per person and $10 per family, and will begin at Gate 14 on Jacob Tome Memorial Highway.
The U.S. Navy Band Saxophone Quartet will hold a concert in the Port Deposit Presbyterian Church, located at 44 S. Main St., at 2 p.m. There will be refreshments and a PowerPoint presentation about Bainbridge following the concert.
Hill said that the day will honor the thousands of individuals who were part of the USNTC Bainbridge and ensure that their legacies are not forgotten.
“A number of them gave their lives for this country,” he said.