Blog #52. May 15, 2015 by Marcus W. Robbins
I wish over several months to tell the little known facts lost to time (from inception to present) about the oldest facility still in use today at the Norfolk Naval Shipyard being known locally as our Dry Dock 1. Also as I stated before, this modern civil engineering marvel is indeed the oldest facility (including all buildings) surviving upon this magnificent naval institution. Construction, as defined by first moving earth began in November of 1827 and thus with that fact we can assign a birthdate leading up to its continuous unbroken and continuous use today in 2015 of Dry Dock 1.
Further to show the physical conditions of the time period a survey was made by Colonel Loammi Baldwin Jr. as the below December 1826 survey map is presented as photographed from the collection at the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard Museum. It is titled, “Plan at the Navy Yard at Gosport Va. With the proposed Site for a DRY DOCK: Made under direction of the Secretary of the Navy Pursuant to a resolve of Congress passed May 22nd 1826”.
|Plan of the Navy Yard at Gosport Va. With the proposed|
Site for a DRYDOCK (December 1826)
(Courtesy of Portsmouth Naval Shipyard Museum, photo by Diane Cripps)
If this plan was carried forth the location of the proposed DRY DOCK would have been just to the south of Shiphouse "B" which is very near to where the USS Merrimac was burned and sunk 35 years later, or for those of you that need a more modern reference point, the very footprint of where the Hammerhead Crane is today. Careful facility planning supporting the Navy was as important then as it is today yet this proposed plan was subject to change.
History of the United States Navy-Yard at Gosport Virginia (Lull) 1874
Illustration (Plate 1) shows conditions prior to 1827 and lots added from 1826 to 1829
(Courtesy of Marcus W. Robbins collection)
What we do observe today is a circa 1830 brick wall that was extended along Lincoln Street from the 1802 Brick Stores (at 2nd Street observe the difference of the thickness of the wall inside near Quarters A east side yard and a distinctive construction seam on the Lincoln Street side) and then this wall turns south at 3rd Street and would have continued south past the Timber Dock and all the way to the river (near today’s Drydock 3). Why was this wall important and related to the Drydock? It was also procured as part of the “An act for the gradual improvement of the Navy of the United States”. With something as important as a Drydock to be constructed at Gosport the boundary of the Navy Yard needed to be well defined and protected.
Gosport Wall (circa 1830) Looking West Along Lincoln Street
(Courtesy of Marcus W. Robbins on 01/21/2013)
Drydock in the Navy Yard Norfolk (Sky View Plan)
(Courtesy of US Navy)
Amazing is the fact that we have a large surviving piece of the tongue and grove sheet pile used in the construction of the double wall cofferdam shown in the above image (a component that would have been in place by early 1828 and is older than the stone dock itself). Also we have and an extremely long wooden pile wrapped with copper that transitions into a lower 13” square pile with a point (to support being driven into the riverbed). This pile is from the original cob wharf that was also recovered in the summer of 2001. Photos of these items shall be shared as we discuss the dock’s construction in my next edition of this fascinating multi-part story.