In 1918, the United States War Department established the Dahlgren Proving Grounds in King George County, Virginia. Military leaders who had observed the death and destruction of World War I wanted more accurate and effective large guns for future wars. The island, 15 miles down river, became a landing area for giant artillery shells that could be recovered for study.
"In the proper development of this [Dahlgren] proving ground it has been found necessary in order to provide an adequate range for the large guns, to acquire a small island in the lower Potomac River, known as 'Blackistone [St. Clement's] Island'....The island is in the direct line of fire of guns on the proving ground and its immediate acquisition by the United States is highly desirable if not imperative."
[photo of lighthouse] The Blackistone Island Lighthouse, a two story brick dwelling with a light tower, was completed in 1851 at a cost of $4,535. The light was put out by Confederate raiders in 1864 but was soon back in action and remained in service until 1932.
[photo of lighthouse remains] The Blackistone Island Lighthouse was one of four lighthouses used as firing range stations by the Dahlgren Proving Ground. After the lighthouse caught fire in 1856, the Federal Government leveled the structure with dynamite. Only the oil shed still stands today.
[photo of Francis and Roger Butterfield] Francis Butterfield, Sr., and his son Roger Butterfield on St. Clement's Island at the end of World War II. Francis Butterfield is wearing his island custodian uniform. A former owner of Blackistone Island, Francis worked as the island caretaker and watchman for the United States Navy Department.