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Friday, May 29, 2015

110 Years Ago ~ Historic Postcard Views of the Norfolk Navy Yard

Blog # 54.  May 29, 2015 by Marcus W. Robbins
Historic postcards serve as a window for us today to look back upon the world as it was.  It is of good fortune that our location when it existed as the Norfolk Navy Yard back in the 1905 time period was the subject of many commercially produced post card views. 

Some of the earliest and rarest Norfolk Navy Yard views and also the hardest to collect were part of the Virginia shell series produced by the S. Langsdorf & Company of New York.  These cards were embossed and printed (lithographed) in Germany before World War I and the production quality and colors were outstanding.

From Ocean View to Newport News and at other various points around the Tidewater Virginia area these post card views were produced and surrounded by sea shells.  This decoration is very appropriate when one reflects that the sea is indeed the life blood of this area.  It is with great pleasure I share the four views from this shell series in their numerical order that capture images of the old Norfolk Navy Yard.  Try to spot the changes in these common work areas from over 110 years ago.

s-25, Navy Yard, Portsmouth, Va.
(commercial postcard circa 1905, courtesy of Marcus W. Robbins)

The view above shows the Spanish American War veteran, USS Texas alongside of the massive old Mast House, ex-Building 28 that was constructed in 1828.  The Wet Slip of 1840 had now completed its 1st major modernization of just after 1900 and the new Boiler & Machine Shop, Building 59 has now been completed with its distinctive three oval windows.  Another fact I like to share is that for over 120 years the Navy Yard here functioned as the headquarters and operation base for the young nation’s naval Atlantic fleet well before Naval Operations Base (NOB) Norfolk is formed in mid-1917.

s-29, Stone Dry Dock, Norfolk Navy Yard. Va.
(commercial postcard circa 1905, courtesy of Marcus W. Robbins)
Not too much can be said here that has not been written about before.  The stone dock of Gosport was the site of the first dry docking in the Western Hemisphere with the USS Delaware on June 17, 1833.  The stone dock was constructed so perfectly that it is still in service today, 182 years later.  Three buildings are shown in this view that were tore down in the early 1990’s being: ex-Building 36 the Boat Shop, ex-Building 64 the Yard Pay Office and ex-Building 18 the Carpenter Shop.  

s-30, Torpedo Flotilla, Norfolk Navy Yard. Va.
(commercial postcard circa 1905, courtesy of Marcus W. Robbins)

Again referring to my above comment that Norfolk was the Navy’s Atlantic fleet center of operations we had a wide variety of different ships that called this their home port.  One if the common pre-World War I sights here was the Torpedo Boat.  A small and low profile vessel these ships were actually the first United States Navy destroyers with USS Bainbridge (DD-1) being the lead ship commissioned on 12 February 1903.  They are shown along what we know today as Berth 2 but actually are tied-up right at the re-built masting shear crane which was located between the ruins of ex-Shiphouse “A” & “B” launching slips that can also be seen pier side.

s-36, View of U.S. Navy Yard, Norfolk, Va.
(commercial postcard circa 1905, courtesy of Marcus W. Robbins)

And speaking of the re-built masting shear crane it is shown plainly with this final overall waterfront view.  In the background are the Receiving Ships: ex-USS Richmond & ex-USS Franklin across the river at the Saint Helena Annex.  A Civil War era Monitor style ship is tied up along the river berth and in conclusion this is the only post card view that ever captures the 1840 stone launching slip.  This structure was demolished soon after the year 1900 to support the construction of the modern Building 74 of today’s era.

In some ways the more things change over time the more they indeed stay the same.  We still produce world class ship repair on the southern banks of the Elizabeth River with some of the same facilities shown in these post cards a full 110 years ago.  Take a moment to consider the timeless and excellent craftsmanship that Norfolk is known for because – “history matters”.

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