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Wednesday, August 20, 2014

A Closer Look at the History of Gate 3

Blog #35.  August 20, 2014 By Marcus W. Robbins

Today I wanted to begin a series of looking back at familiar places all over the modern Norfolk Naval Shipyard.  Places we see each and every day but I dare say know nothing about.  Facilities not only tell our past story, they are the very structures we depend on to get our job done.  I shall utilize long forgotten about outdated original text, maps, glass plate images, film photographs and postcards while I write about these topics.  The locations I promise will be very interesting as we still work around them even today.  How can you take pride in where you work if you do not know of its great heritage?  

Gate 3 – An entrance or access point upon Norfolk Naval Shipyard located at the northern portion of the installation.  We have all seen it, and maybe even used it but I dare say never gave a second thought about what history Gate 3 as a supporting facility may have played over time.

Today we view Gate 3 as an opening between the two independent Buildings 19 & 51 that stand guard as a massive two story brick wall along Lincoln Street but it was not always so.  This structure can trace it roots back to the pre-Civil War growth of the Gosport Navy Yard.  Building 51 was begun construction in 1849 to support Gunners and Sail Makers.  It was closely followed in 1851-52 by the completion of Building 19 which housed a Rigging Loft, Armory, Offices and the entrance gateway (Lull 1874).  The two were joined with a formal bell tower and presented an imposing formal look.

1859 Gosport Navy Yard Map ~ section of extreme north end
(courtesy of United States Navy)

The structure of Gate 3 is about 163 years old and looks nothing like it former self but still serves basically the same purpose although it was radically modified by the removal of the grand center section in the World War I era to form a traditional roadway with iron gates.  Prior to this the actual Gosport main gate were huge wooden doors of massive configuration such as the original gate that is still in place at Fort Norfolk from the War of 1812 era.  Still today Gate 3 allows for the movement of people and equipment with the ability to secure the installation from outside intrusion. 

Illustration from Norfolk Naval Shipyard Booklet A Brief History  (Butt) April 1951
(courtesy of Marcus W. Robbins)  

It was out of this same gate that Commander Rodgers and other Union officers departed quickly the flaming inferno all around when the Navy Yard was burned and evacuated as they had attempted to blow up the stone Drydock in the early morning hours of April 21, 1861, they were truly the last ones out.  An interesting note before Rodgers was captured he encountered the Confederate forces whom hoisted a rebel flag up the flag-staff of which upon questioning by Rodgers of how they got in, it was conveyed that they came in by the main gate (Lull 1874).  As you can see by the map presented above the location of the flag-staff within Trophy Park is yet a stone throw from the main gate.
The main gate complex continued to loom large at the northern end of the shipyard as the post-Civil War era destruction of both Shiphouse “A” & “B” were cleared away.  This was before we started to engage on the building of the Battleship Texas and Protected Cruiser Raleigh in the late 1880’s upon the former Shiphouse’s stone ways that were first placed in the 1820’s and their ruins remain under the large asphalt parking lots today.

Illustration from Norfolk Naval Shipyard Booklet A Brief History  (Butt) April 1951
(courtesy of Marcus W. Robbins)
One thing I pride myself on is extensively collecting obscure items relating especially to the old Gosport Navy Yard.  Below shown is a privately taken oversized stereo-view card that shows our subject gate straight on with a group of Marines in the foreground.  This is a one of a kind item but again it tells a long lost story and is from about the 1874 timeframe.

Privately Taken Stereo-View Card circa 1874
(courtesy of Marcus W. Robbins) 
Over time the main gate facilities of Buildings 19 & 51 transitioned from working Shops to more administrative in nature.   The Shop functions moved out of the Gate 3 complex as the yard expanded to the south.  If you look carefully in the middle ground of the below photograph you can see the ruins of the 1850’s stone launching slip.  It was upon this same location long before that modern stone ways was in place that the USS Chesapeake and USS Delaware were constructed, the entire area is rich with early naval history.  Somewhere around 1911 plans were being made to convert a portion of Building 51 into an Apprentice school to educate the workforce of the ever changing complex business of ship construction and repair.

Illustration from Norfolk Naval Shipyard Booklet A Brief History (Butt) April 1951
(courtesy of Marcus W. Robbins)
Now in conclusion I will leave you with a rare post card gem, actually because it partly shows the cannonball pile that was later removed during World War II and melted down for the war effort.  More importantly it shows in great detail what Gate 3 looked like 100 years ago as the main gate was large enough for the train track to pass out onto Water (First) Street.  I wonder if that horse cart is observing the speed limit?  Remember that some of the north end buildings were actually stables but that is a subject for another column.

Post Card circa 1905
(courtesy of Marcus W. Robbins) 

In summary all these views are very important to understand how Gate 3 evolved, because – “history matters”.

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