Davisville Naval Construction Battalion Center
As part of the Lend-Lease Act of 1941, the Navy agreed to build several bases in Scotland and Northern Ireland. The base at Quonset, completed only one year earlier, would be responsible for designing and manufacturing the pre-fabricated structures to be used on the new bases, and for collecting and storing all the equipment and supplies needed for their construction. It soon became evident that Quonset alone was not adequate to support the scope of these new activities. In February of 1942, the Navy acquired approximately 840 acres just north of Quonset and established the first Advance Base Depot at what would become the Davisville Naval Construction Battalion Center. As the need for new facilities continued to grow, the Battalion Center expanded to encompass 1,892 acres, and a number of different functional divisions were added. Total acreage included 85 acres on a separate plot in West Davisville.
During construction, Davisville underwent a transformation equally as severe as the one that took place two years earlier at Quonset. Grading, downcutting, clearing, and filling occurred on nearly every inch of the site. Hills and valleys were leveled out to prepare the flat terrain needed for 10 miles of railroad track, 161 acres of open storage, 225 acres of roadway, sidewalk and parking, and hundreds of buildings.
Later in 1942, Camp Endicott was established as the Naval Construction Training Center. Endicott was constructed on 475 acres of the Advance Base Depot and specialized in training the Navy's Construction Battalions, or "Seabees," to meet the challenges of building new bases, often in remote overseas areas. To the north of Camp Endicott along Davisville Road, Camp Thomas provided lodging for service people embarking for or returning from overseas duty. The Advance Base Depot and Warehouse Triangle, also located along the main artery of Davisville Road, provided storage and assembly space for vast quantities of materials shipped to the Navy's advance bases worldwide.
After the close of World War II, Davisville's function shifted several times to meet the scaled-back and changing needs of the Navy. Many temporary buildings were demolished, and the base was mothballed for five years until its reactivation upon the outbreak of the Korean War. The base continued to serve as a Seabee training center and support facility for Naval construction operations worldwide, and in the early 1950's sixty-four new structures were built. These included warehouses, training buildings, and the large modern barracks in the Administrative Triangle (Bldgs. C101-C109). In 1954, Davisville took on support responsibilities for Operation Deepfreeze in Antarctica, a continent whose strategic importance had increased with growing animosity between the United States and its Cold War enemies. During the Vietnam War, Davisville once again served as a major training facility for Seabees, and the base shipped over 450,000 tons of equipment over the course of the conflict.
Though Davisville avoided Quonset's fate and managed to remain functional through the 1970's, activity gradually tapered off as the military's strategic focus shifted toward the Pacific Ocean. By the 1980s, Davisville's facilities had been stripped back to a skeleton crew and many of its buildings were sealed. Primary activities at this time included the training of reserve units and support for Operation Reindeer an effort comprising the construction of an advance base communications station in the Indian Ocean. By 1993, there were fewer than 25 people working at Davisville Naval Construction Battalion Center. Davisville saw its final days as the Cold War drew to a close. It was finally decommissioned on April 1, 1994. At this time Davisville's lands and facilities, like those of Quonset, were slated for transfer to the state of Rhode Island.
Until 2000, Davisville remained an exceptionally coherent environment. This good fortune was largely due to a change in the bureaucratic processes that control the ways in which "excessed" bases are mothballed. Previously, all aspects of base dismantlement had been overseen by the General Services Administration (GSA), whose policy was to remove any buildings lacking in obvious value. At the time of Davisville's closure new legislation was put into place which stated that each branch of the military would oversee all aspects of its own base closings. Since Davisville had no existing infrastructure with which to undertake its own dismantlement, demolition was substantially delayed and the integrity of the site remained relatively undisturbed.
Although the state has been successful in finding new tenants for several of Davisville's large warehouses, a large number of these storage structures have been demolished in the last year. With the loss of these buildings, most notably in the Warehouse Triangle, the character of Davisville's landscape has altered significantly.
© Copyright 2000 Erik Carlson and Erica Carpenter