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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.

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