York County encompasses 108.5 Square Miles or 69,440 Acres. Naval Weapons Station Yorktown (including Cheatham Annex) sits on 20.7 Square Miles, roughly 1/5 of the total land area of York County. Naval Weapons Station Yorktown borders the counties of York and James City, the cities of Newport News and Williamsburg, and shares almost 14 miles of the York River shoreline (about half of the county's York River shoreline and wetlands) with the National Park Service.
The land of WPNSTA Yorktown is rich in colonial history. The station sits amidst a setting of natural beauty surrounded by the distant echo of the first settlers in Virginia and the battle cries of the Revolutionary War. Long before the world ever conceived of such things as the testing and evaluation that now go on at the weapons station, the infantry of the American Revolution and the Civil War slogged along the Old Williamsburg Road where today it runs through the station. The oldest structure onboard the installation is the Lee House, built around 1650, where many generations of the family lived out their lives before the property was acquired by the U.S. government.
The site of the weapons station was acquired for the Navy by a presidential proclamation on August 7, 1918, and was at the time the largest naval installation in the world, its land area covering about twenty square miles. Given the country’s ordnance needs once the U.S. entered World War I, the initial mission of the installation was to support the Allied underwater mine barrage in the North Sea. However, when the Armistice was signed on November 11, 1918, the station’s mission quickly evolved to receipt and storage of returned mines and provision of ordnance support for the peacetime Navy.
During much of its history, WPNSTA Yorktown hosted various tenant commands in support of their mission. One of the more unique was Aviation Field Yorktown. In July 1919, an aviation training camp was established. Its landing field, located in the area adjacent to the Colonial Parkway and Felgate’s Creek, was considered one of the best landing fields in the country at the time. Following the first World War, an aviation training school was established there to provide the first advanced aviation training for naval pilots in bombing, torpedo, and gunnery operations. On May 8, 1925, the first overland commercial flight from New York City to Hampton Roads landed at Aviation Field Yorktown. The field also played a part in the first aircraft launch/recovery operations from sea conducted by USS Langley (CV 1) in 1922.
In 1932, the Navy Mine Depot became the Naval Mine Depot in recognition of expanded ordnance support. Then, on August 7, 1958, on the Station’s 40th anniversary, the name was changed to Naval Weapons Station Yorktown, again in recognition of a much expanded mission for naval ordnance. As part of the Navy’s Mid-Atlantic installation claimant consolidation, Cheatham Annex, formerly an annex of the Fleet Industrial Supply Center, Norfolk, was incorporated with the station on October 1, 1998.
Today, the installation and its tenant commands continue to provide critical fleet ordnance support for the Navy. WPNSTA Yorktown hosts 37 tenant commands which include the Navy Munitions Command, Navy Munitions Command CONUS East Division, the Naval Ophthalmic Support and Training Activity, the Marine Corps Security Force Regiment, Fleet Industrial Supply Center, Navy Expeditionary Logistics Support Group, Naval Expeditionary Medical Support Command, Navy Cargo Handling Battalion One and 19 departments.
The station and tenant commands work together as a team to provide ordnance logistics, technical, supply and related services to the Atlantic Fleet. Today the station is a hub of activity. As one of the Navy’s "explosive corridors" to the sea, supply, amphibious and combatant ships may be seen arriving and departing the station’s two piers.