In 1917, the United States entered World War I, and almost immediately things began to change around Charleston Harbor.
In the city’s own shipyard, five seized German boats were converted to vessels for the US fleet, and construction began on 18 new ships and the area’s first destroyer, the USS Tillman. It was only natural that all the action lead to the establishment of a Naval training camp in the Lowcountry, and later that year, Camp Bagley was formed, becoming Charleston’s very first Naval base. With up to 5,000 trainees on deck, the new facility had a major impact on the local economy, roughly tripling pre-war employment numbers. At the helm of it all was Commander Mark St. Clair Ellis (pictured here at right).
Though wartime activity at the base left few free moments for celebration, the commander’s wife, the beloved Mrs. Elizabeth Ellis, made certain a holiday was never missed. This photo captures the inaugural Thanksgiving feast at the First Regiment US Naval Training Camp in 1917, the first of many celebrations orchestrated by Mrs. Ellis. Though the base shut down for good in 1996, its legacy lives on at the Greater Charleston Naval Base Memorial in North Charleston, where visitors can still remember decades of maritime history.
Photograph courtesy of U.S. Navy & City of North Charleston