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Friday, April 10, 2015

The Men That Built Pier 4

Blog #47. April 10, 2015 by Marcus W. Robbins
An untold number of men have labored day in and day out doing their job constructing Uncle Sam’s shipyard facilities for the United States Navy at America’s Shipyard here on the Southern Branch of the Elizabeth River.  Their names never recorded when the photos were taken and now lost to time.  For sure these would have been local men, maybe even related to us that read these words today.  Pictures do tell a story so let us look back 96 years ago this week as Pier 4 was taking shape.

Photo #1 ~ Pier 4 Looking West
(Historic Norfolk Navy Yard Glass Plate Collection, #2182 taken April 12, 1919)
In the above photo taken looking west you can see two large pile drivers and their associated cranes swinging concrete sheet pile into an upright position.  Well the next step would be drive the pile and repeat many times on both sides of an almost 1,000 foot long structure.  It takes a lot of work to build the foundation for a wooden deck relieving platform and earth filled pier such as Pier 4 was.  This very pier is later demolished just after the year 2010 to support an even larger new Pier 5 structure but that is for another story, thus Pier 4 stands about 90 years total.

Also while you are gaining your bearings remember I mentioned the first Pier 5, it is constructed some 30 years later, located well to the left in the above photo where you see that pine tree on a swampy finger of land that will become clearer by the final photo.  For you all that know the layout of the shipyard you can see the original Machine Shop, Building 171 to the left and the extreme southern end of the Structural Shop, Building 163. 

But back to the topic of this edition of “History Matters” it is supposed to be about the men that built Pier 4.

Photo #2 ~ Unidentified Men on Pile Driver at Pier 4
(Historic Norfolk Navy Yard Glass Plate Collection, #2183 taken April 12, 1919)
And another view of our workmen as again crews from both pile drivers have gathered to have their picture taken.  What tough and dirty work this must have been.
Photo #3 ~ Unidentified Men on Pile Driver at Pier 4
(Historic Norfolk Navy Yard Glass Plate Collection, #2184 taken April 12, 1919)

So fast forward to the month of October 1, 1920 as this is how Pier 4 appeared as Wet Slip 3 to its north and Wet Slip 4 to its south were almost complete of final dredging.  Also note the Belt Line Railroad track in the distance has a center swing span, not the high lift of today that we normally see in the raised position.
Photo #4 ~ Pier 4 Looking East
(Historic Norfolk Navy Yard Glass Plate Collection, #2719 taken October 1, 1920)

And finally a real American icon of a ship, the USS Arizona that received modernization at the Norfolk Navy Yard along with a drastic physical makeover from May 4, 1929 to becoming fully re-commissioned on March 1, 1931.  The location this final photo is but where else – Pier 4.

Photo #5 ~ Pier 4 Looking South West
(Norfolk Navy Yard Serial No. 142-31. taken on March 2, 1931)

These great facilities and piers did not just happen.  It took the physical labor many unknown souls giving an honest day’s hard work for Uncle Sam.  The result of their physical efforts is evident both in photographs and the facilities we still use today.   Pier 4 most likely outlived most of the men in the above pictures but it is important to remember that their efforts supported our naval history and heritage because –“history matters”.

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