When Henry Flagler was told that there wasn’t enough land to build the grand terminal he envisioned for his overseas railroad, his response was simple: “Then make some.” J.R. Parrott, Flagler’s right hand man on the ambitious project, hired the Trumbo American Dredging Company to create enough land to build Flagler’s terminal. With Howard Trumbo as head engineer, they quickly created an extra 134 acres of Key West, and Trumbo Point was born. The extension of the island stretched from the tip of Hilton Haven to the current Coast Guard docks and ferry terminal.
As Flagler’s transportation dream began to fade, the Navy realized the strategic value of having a training facility on Trumbo Point and began renting the land from the railroad. Acquiring the land from Flagler, on July 13, 1917 the Navy broke ground on Trumbo Point to create the Trumbo Naval Air Station. The first commander of the Navy base was ironically Stanley V. Parker, Captain of the United States Coast Guard. Captain Parker reported for duty on December 17, 1917 as the transformation of Trumbo Point started. The initial cost of the base, the enormous hangar and the concrete seaplane dock was just over $1,000,000, a massive sum in 1917.
During the First World War, dirigibles, commonly known as blimps, were deployed from the base including the Navy’s largest, the C-1, which set a record flight traveling here from Rockaway, NY. Blimps were parked on lots located where the “Fly Navy” building is located and at the Key West International Airport. The airport consisted of not much more than a sandy lot, a small hangar and a couple of blimp anchors.
Trumbo’s primary strategic purpose was training seaplane pilots. The base had an ideal location for an active base, while weather conditions and protected waters made Trumbo a perfect training facility. Within the first six months of the base becoming active, 3,460 hours of flight training were booked.
Through both World Wars, Trumbo’s seaplanes were a vital source used for submarine patrol throughout the Caribbean. During World War II, seaplanes deployed from Trumbo escorted Allied convoys and eventually through their assistance helped win the war.
Another historical aspect of Trumbo Point involved the base helicopter engineers, pilots and mechanics. The expansive grounds of the base were involved in the early stages of the Navy’s helicopter development and training. Wide ranges of prototypes were tested leading to a better view of the feasibility of helicopters in war and peacetime duties.
While the military community has increased and decreased many times since 1822, Key West has, and always will be, proud to be a military town.