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Thursday, February 26, 2015

Hercules ~ Norfolk Navy Yard’s First Locomotive

Blog #41. February 26, 2014 by Marcus W. Robbins

As the Navy Yard progressed into the modern 1880’s it left behind at the docks the prior age of wood and sail ship construction.  The USS TEXAS, the nation’s first battleship and the USS RALIEGH, the first entirely Government built cruiser rose upon the ancient 1820’s stone ways that were once covered by the majestic Shiphouse’s "A" & "B".

For anyone familiar with a shipyard environment weight handling and transport of materials has always been a daunting task.  In the age of sail, the “beast of burden” method was utilized as animals (horses, mules and oxen) were used daily.  You hear that some of the very NNSY facilities we still use today once were stables, well there is your proof.  Also, the ever ready heavy manual gang labor teams to move items where animals could not be of assistance was commonplace.  Shipbuilding has always been back-breaking and labor intensive.  In the new modern age as the industrial revolution took hold at the Norfolk Navy Yard in the 1880’s methods were sought to gain efficiencies where ever when it came to transporting extreme heavy loads.

Just as the name implies, “Hercules” is famous for mystic power and strength.  The call was made to have a new iron horse to move materials around the Norfolk Navy Yard and thus became our first modern steam locomotive at this place as documented in the below rare photograph.

HERCULES the Norfolk Navy Yard’s First Modern Locomotive, circa 1890’s
(Photo Courtesy of the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard Museum)
There was a need to improve our internal railroad track network that was first laid down in 1857 and for whatever survived after the Civil War surly needed replacing and realigning as new buildings and functions adapted along the waterfront into the 1880’s.  The 2nd earliest modern rail map that I could locate is shown below that shows conditions as found on January 1, 1893.
A Plan of US Navy-Yard Norfolk Va. dated January 1, 1893
(Courtesy US Navy)

If you are a regular reader of my “History Matters” writings you know I love the obscure.  Compare the above photo of HERCULES and the small wooden door shed as it is the only picture I have ever seen of Building 4 and a partial one at that.  Now, find it on the above map (mid center)  as you are looking at the western wall of today’s Building 17 and also see the southern end of Building 15 to the left.  For you detectives out there HERCLES is photographed on a grass plot of what would later become the footprint of today’s Building 65 that was completed in 1902.

Old maps and photos serve as a great reminder to where we came from in the distant past.  If we realize that some things don’t really change that much over the decades because they were laid out and planned so well you can begin to understand how this shipyard continues to serve the nation throughout the centuries because “history matters.

Friday, February 20, 2015

Two Past Snowfalls at the Navy Yard

Blog #40. February 20, 2014 By Marcus W. Robbins

We don’t see snow often in eastern Virginia but it sure is fun to look back on what it looked like long ago.
Last year with "History Matters" Blog #28 written on January 29, 2014 I shared some prior snowfall photos of Trophy Park at the Norfolk Navy Yard taken on March 21, 1908 but did not have room to include all so I am sharing additional today.  Also, I have discovered a couple of long lost photos of a snowfall that features Quarters A on January 11, 1927.  Sit back and enjoy.

Photo #1 ~ Looking North West from Building 13 at Trophy Park
(Historic Norfolk Navy Yard Glass Plate Collection, #550 taken on 3/21/1908)

Photo #2 ~ Looking North from Building 13 at Trophy Park
(Historic Norfolk Navy Yard Glass Plate Collection, #551 taken on 3/21/1908)

Photo #3 ~ Looking West at Quarters A side entrance
(Historic Norfolk Navy Yard Glass Plate Collection, #3297 taken on 1/11/1927)

Photo #4 ~ Looking North West at Quarters A
(Historic Norfolk Navy Yard Glass Plate Collection, #3299 taken on 1/11/1927)

The Navy Yard appearance has changed over time but always remains here to provide Service to the Fleet.  The very grounds that that support and service the fleet has to endure whatever weather Mother Nature provides including snowfalls.  Spring 2015 is only 28 days into the future but these photos serve as a great reminder to where we came from in the distant past because“history matters.

Friday, February 13, 2015

The Cannonball Pile at the Trophy Park

Blog #39. February 13, 2014 By Marcus W. Robbins

Before we explore this week's installment I just want to thank everyone as the "History Matters" website blog that I have the honor to publish as the Official Historical Blog of the Norfolk Naval Shipyard has passed a milestone of 20,000 total hits this current week!  We have a worldwide readership and the great story of the Norfolk Naval Shipyard continues to go forth.

This week I wanted to focus on a particular long gone item being the cannonball pile at Trophy Park and show you proof positive to what ever happened to it.

As you view 100 year old plus postcards of the Navy Yard you get to look back at commonly known landmarks exactly how they appeared and operated back in the day yet, if you pay close attention some items can still be seen as surviving to this very day.  One iconic local treasure is the crooked tree at the southeast corner of Trophy Park that would have been planted in the post-Civil War layout of Trophy Park circa 1870.  That tree has seen more history under its shadow than any of us ever would know, one close by item was the cannonball pile.

Trophy Park Cannonball Pile circa 1905
(postcard courtesy of Marcus W. Robbins)

Just as aside to the changes around Trophy Park in the view above you can see to the left the extreme end of the lawn tennis court backstop, many long gone cannon trophies on display near the street, the first new central power plant distribution poles and of course the main entrance as it was constructed in 1851.

What ever happened to the cannonball pile?  Those other cannon along the eastern edge of Trophy Park at the street, well they met their end on January 7, 1943 for a World War II scrap drive from a series of detailed photos I was given from the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard Museum yet while I have been doing inventory and research in our own archives I unearthed the below photo of the cannonball pile.

Trophy Park Scrap Drive 11-17-1947
(photo courtesy of United States Navy)
Operational support to the warfighter always begins with strong facilities back home, nothing has changed over the years but the landscape of that home front.  It is important to recognize someone made a decision that the cannonball pile metal could be put to a better use for the Navy.  In closing next time you pass the crooked tree at the south east corner of Trophy Park, reflect on all the things that happened under its shadow because “history matters.

Thursday, February 5, 2015

Looking Back at NNSY Waterfront circa 1975

Blog #38.  February 05, 2015 By Marcus W. Robbins

Due to popular demand I am going to begin posting rare postcards, film and glass plate images once a week along with still an occasional longer story in order to share with the workforce just indeed how far we have come by modernizing our facilities knowing that they continue to perform world class ship repair upon these same grounds.

There is so much that has changed in the below post card view.  This is the USS Nimitz, CV 68 most likely in the fall of 1975 shortly after acceptance by the Navy as it is berthed at NNSY Pier 3.  On October 1, 1975 the ship arrived for a Post Shakedown Availability (PSA) before its first formal Mediterranean deployment in 1976.


USS NIMITZ at Pier 3 NNSY circa 1975
(commercial postcard courtesy of Marcus W. Robbins)
Look closely at the picture; Building 261 is still an open assembly shed, the old Ship Building Ways has been demolished but not filled in, and the 1920’s Pier 4 is shown center of the photo.  It would be another 30 years before the dock crane tracks become interconnected and all the cranes were replaced.  Both old Pier 4 and Pier 5 were demolished over the past few years for construction of the new super Pier 5 that opened in 2014.

Also in conclusion for the long time NNSY workers to flashback and the newer ones that might not believe, the photo revels two other long lost facts.  Look close and you will see that Hitchcock Street at one time was divided into 4 lanes with private vehicle parking.  Wow, times have changed!

Facilities change over the decades hopefully always for the best.  It is so very important for our workers to understand the great heritage that came before them and that they take pride in it because – “history matters.