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Friday, May 8, 2015

Pier 4 Construction 96 Years Ago

Blog #51. May 8, 2015 by Marcus W. Robbins

Pier 4 is nothing but a memory now but in its day it served our nation well.

As we continue to look back on how World War I changed the Norfolk Navy Yard both before and after the Great War nothing defines progress along the waterfront like the visual impact of a huge capital improvement project.  A few weeks ago (April 10, 2015) with “History Matters” Blog #47 ~ The Men That Built Pier 4, we focused first on the crew of the pile drivers and then provided some overview photos as the pier took shape.

Ask any historian, dates of a time past are cool reminders of what happened back in the day even if they don’t fall exactly on a key anniversary such as - 10, 50 or 100 years ago.  As I woke up this morning without a clue to what I would write on today (retirement has been treating me very well) I did what every married man should do (remember his own anniversary) and then wished my beautiful wife Jo Ann a happy anniversary and for providing us a great 33 years so far.  Our journey together began formally on May 8, 1982.  By that time I had already been working at Norfolk Naval Shipyard for going on five years.

Thus it was pretty cool that I discovered the following four glass plate images all taken on May 8, 1919, a mere 96 years to the exact date of today concerning the ongoing progress of Pier 4.  As I have stated before about the men that built our facilities, their names were never recorded when the photos were taken and now they too are 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 very day as Pier 4 was continuing to take shape.

Photo #1 ~ Pier 4 Head Looking South
(Historic Norfolk Navy Yard Glass Plate Collection, #2228 taken May 8, 1919)
Yes folks, that is of what you would know today as Hitchcock Street, looking south.  Building 163 is on the right, Building 202 is yet to be constructed and the first part of Building 171 is further in the view.  Where the pine trees are seen in the distance, well World War II will take care of them as that is the eventual site of Pier 6.

Photo #2 ~ Pier 4 Head Looking North
(Historic Norfolk Navy Yard Glass Plate Collection, #2229 taken May 8, 1919)
Again, Building 163 is shown now to the left and towering in the skyline on the right is the massive Ship Building Ways that is the site of many launchings over the years for ships constructed at Norfolk.  It is from this structure we launch the battleship Alabama and three aircraft carries in World War II but that is a story for another time.  In the far distance the cage masts of a pre-World War I battleship are visible.

Photo #3 ~ Pier 4 Looking West
(Historic Norfolk Navy Yard Glass Plate Collection, #2230 taken May 8, 1919)
In the above photo here are the “real men” that built Pier 4.  It was not easy work but again nothing worthwhile comes without a price.  Here you see the crew taking a pause as they form concrete piles that eventually supported the deck of Pier 4.  Construction of a ship repair pier is somewhat like an iceberg, the heavy supporting elements are not ever seen on the surface.

Photo #4 ~ Pier 4 General Construction View
(Historic Norfolk Navy Yard Glass Plate Collection, #2231 taken May 8, 1919)

The huge  Schmoele tract of land that had been purchased a couple of decades prior has now begun to become developed and the yard is growing to the south as you can see all the marsh grass.  It indeed was a different environment back then to construct a shipyard waterfront but there was vision.  Pier 4 serves us well for World War II, then with the Korean & Vietnam Wars - about 90 years till it is removed to support the construction of the super carrier Pier 5 of modern times that has just completed.

Photo #5 ~ Pier 4 Looking East
USS Missouri circa 1952
(Courtesy of Marcus W. Robbins, commercial postcard image)

The final view above is a postcard view from the early 1950’s.  Without much further comment it provides to many of us the reminder of how America’s majestic war ships can come back into a port for much needed repairs.  It is because of our great facilities and our huge repair piers that we at Norfolk Naval Shipyard continue to serve the nation.

In closing, a theme of today was about dates.  Our own 250th anniversary is just around the corner in 2017.  There will be so much to look back upon and I’m already looking forward to it because –“history matters”.

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