At its peak in 1945, the Hingham depot included more than 100 buildings: barracks, houses, a PX, arms workshops, and scores of storage facilities — both above and below ground — packed with munitions and served by rail spurs. Today, all that remains are its paved and unpaved roads; rotting pier pilings and railroad ties; scattered fire hydrants; a few buildings; and towering poles that served as lightning rods to prevent Mother Nature from blowing up the base.
The Naval Ammunition Depot Museum at Bear Cove Park was founded and curated by the park’s part-time ranger, Scott McMillan, a 64-year-old retired Hingham firefighter whose father and maternal grandfather worked at the depot.
Pictured: The Naval Ammunition Depot Museum at Bear Cove Park in Hingham. Next
On display in glass cases are assorted artillery shells, dusty soda bottles, weathered telephones, gas masks, spark-proof tools, medical stitching, flare guns, and countless other relics that McMillan and others have scavenged since the base was decommissioned in 1962.
Pictured: Scott McMillan looks at his father, Staff Sergant J. Carlyle McMillans suit on display at the Naval Ammunition Depot Museum in Hingham. His father served from 1940-1950 in the 1st and 2nd Marine Division. Next
The museum walls are covered with historic photos, including one of the base’s jazz band; among the faces you’ll see is a young John Coltrane, who was briefly stationed in Hingham during World War II. Another depicts women assembling top-secret fuses.
Pictured: Ami Bradshaw of Weymouth pushes her ten month old son Isaiah through the Naval Ammunition Depot Museum. Next
The four-year-old museum—which bills itself as the Hingham Naval Ammunitions Depot Memorabilia Display at the Dock House—has also received donations from other wartime sites, such as a shell McMillan said was from the 1916 Battle of Verdun. A soldier had carved it with intricate designs during the nervous hours between assaults.
Pictured: A large ammunition shell at the museum. Next
Once a month during the warmer seasons, McMillan holds an open house at the museum. The next is Saturday, Aug. 31, from 10 a.m. to noon. Driving through the Bare Cove Park, McMillan pointed out swaths of open grassland that had once been magazines and grass-covered hillocks, reminiscent of Indian burial mounds, concealing underground storage bunkers.
Pictured: McMillan talks to visitors at the museum. Next
Thickets of bushes and trees obscure remnants of concrete foundations. Some may be from filling houses like the one where McMillan’s uncle packed sacks of gunpowder. After a day’s work, his grandfather would be “totally orange from the powder,” McMillan recalled his uncle telling him.
Pictured: Some of the artifacts on display at the museum. Next
The base was associated with at least one military tragedy. In May 1944, 17 sailors died in an explosion about 15 miles off the coast as they were dumping obsolete ammunition from the Hingham base. Last year, a granite monument inscribed with the names of the victims was installed just outside the depot museum. It was paid for by jazz musician J. B. Mills of Whitman, who was stationed at the base.
Pictured: A stone in honor of those who served, on the corner of the Naval Ammunition Depot Museum building. Next
After the base was closed, the Army Corps of Engineers swept the area for hazardous materials, and the Navy turned the 905-acre site over to the town. The area was cleared and turned into a park that opened in the 1970s as a wildlife sanctuary and recreation area. Families with strollers, cyclists, and couples young and old roam its many paths, while deer, coyote, and fox make their homes in the surrounding woods.
Pictured: Ann and Ray Coughlan of Quincy visit the Naval Ammunition Depot Museum. Next
Hingham originally came to the military’s attention shortly after the Spanish-American War, when the Navy sought a more isolated place than Chelsea for its main East Coast ammo depot.
Pictured: Old photos of the Naval Ammunition Depot on display at the museum. Back to the beginning
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