During a career at the Naval Submarine Base that spanned more than a quarter-century and a variety of assignments, including curator of the Submarine Force Library and Museum, David J. Bishop of Stonington developed an intimate familiarity with the history of the installation.
But when he was approached by Arcadia Publishing about doing a book on the subject, he was busy with other projects, so it was slow going at first.
Then last November, as the base closure process heated up, he realized that such a book might serve another purpose — to let officials know about the roots of the submarine force in southeastern Connecticut.
He delivered the manuscript and art, drawn from the museum's and his own collections, in March of this year.
“Back in March there wasn't much thought about Groton being on the list,” Bishop said. “When it turned out it was, I called them up and asked, ‘What can we do to speed this up?' I'm hoping that it will help the base to stay open.”
“I was glad that it was in production when all this started to happen — I thought, ‘Maybe there was a reason I delayed it for two years,' ” Bishop said.
Originally slated for publication late in the year, Arcadia rushed through the production process so that U.S. Rep. Rob Simmons, R-2nd District, was able to wave a copy at the Defense Base Closure and Realignment Commission during a hearing in Boston this month when save-the-base forces tried to show that the Pentagon recommendation to close the Groton base is flawed.
“This goes back to the very beginning with pictures, and you realize, this came together over so many years, how can you re-create it anywhere else. There's a lot of history behind it, and I hate to see the history lost.”
Bishop's new photo book, “Naval Submarine Base New London” — though the base is actually in Groton, the Navy has referred to it that way since its establishment in the 19th century — can trace its roots to 1983, when he did some research for the commanding officer, who was giving a speech to the New London Historical Society. That project was later published in the base newspaper.
Bishop started working at the base in 1971 as a technical illustrator at Naval Submarine School (his rendering of David Bushnell's Revolutionary War-era Turtle, the first U.S. submarine, is one of the first illustrations in the book).
From 1974-80, he was the public affairs officer for the school, and in 1980 Capt. James Hay, the base commander, made him curator of the museum, which he did until 1986. That year, he transferred to the base public works department, retiring in 1997. “I got to know a lot of submariners, and came to respect them and the great work that they do,” Bishop said.
The book has 10 chapters, each focusing on a discrete period in the history of the base, from its beginnings in 1867 as a Navy yard, through the nuclear era that began in the 1950s.
Among the oldest pictures are one of the USS Nevada, a screw steamer, and USS Dictator, a Monitor-class ship, tied up at the old T-pier that is still standing at the southern end of the waterfront. The newest picture? The new “Submarine Capital of the World” sign, modeled after the USS Nautilus, that was constructed off Interstate 95 just last year.
Base supporters contend it could take a generation for the area to revive economically from the blow it would suffer if the base is closed, and Bishop's book makes it clear that the base has been important to the local economy since the start.
Many of the photos are by Bishop, particularly those documenting recent operations at Sub School, and the return of the Nautilus to the area as a museum ship.
“I was very lucky. It was a wonderful place to work, and I could switch back and forth to the different areas, so I was always doing something new,” Bishop said. “I want to get the word out there about the history of the base. It was like a home to me for 26 years, and it would be very upsetting to see it closed.”
One of the pictures is a business just off the base that had two storefronts: “Katz & Kaufman, Naval Tailors,” and “Jake's Liberty Store — cigars, cigarettes and tobacco.”
“Naval Submarine Base New London,” 128 pages, $19.99. Available at local chains and independent bookstores and the Submarine Force Library and Museum gift shop.