HNSA Crest with photos of visitors at the ships.
Dry Dock No. 1,
Charlestown Navy Yard

Stephen P. Carlson
Preservation Specialist
Boston National Historical Park

(This paper is an expanded excerpt of a draft historic resource study of the Charlestown Navy Yard prepared by the author.)

Significance: Dry Dock 1 is one of the first two naval dry docks in the United States and a significant landmark in American civil engineering. It is also significant as one of the major civil engineering projects undertaken by Loammi Baldwin II, considered as the "Father of American Civil Engineering," with the assistance of Alexander Parris, a leading early 19th-century Boston architect.

Dry Dock 1 is a key contributing feature of the Boston Naval Shipyard, designated as a National Historic Landmark by the Secretary of the Interior in Nov. 1966. It was included in the portion of the Navy Yard designated by Congress in Oct. 1984 as the Charlestown Navy Yard unit of Boston National Historical Park.

In 1977 the dock, along with its companion dock at the Norfolk Naval Shipyard, was designated as a National Historic Civil Engineering Landmark by the American Society of Civil Engineers.

History: The concept of a dry dock--an enclosable basin which can be pumped dry so that work can be performed on the hulls of ships--was incorporated into the earliest plans prepared for the development of the Charlestown Navy Yard. Not until the mid-1820s, however, did the Navy take any steps to actually construct a dry dock there.

Prior to the completion of a dry dock, work on the underside of a ship's hull was done by a process known as heaving down. Senior officers of the Navy in the early 19th century repeatedly pointed out the disadvantages of this procedure. For example, Commodore Charles Stewart wrote Secretary of the Navy Paul Hamilton on Nov. 12, 1812, of the process:

A ship of war, wanting repairs done to her bottom or coppering, must be turned down, one side at a time, to undergo that repair; therefore, to prepare a ship for that process, requires that all her upper masts should be taken down, and all her guns, stores, water casks, ballast, ammunition, &c. should be taken out, which leads to great loss, waste, and labor; and the time occupied in the process will be from two to three weeks, and as much more time will be required to rerig, re-equip, and replace her guns, stores, and other materials.

These comments were expanded upon by Secretary of the Navy Samuel L. Southard in a report to the Senate on Jan. 3, 1825:

The value of the time and labor consumed in dismantling, heaving down, and refitting, is very great; and the inconvenience of the position in which the workmen are obliged to do the repairs renders the operations slow, and, of course, expensive. It is insufficient thoroughly to accomplish the object. The repairs cannot be strongly and well executed, especially in the bottom, and, of course, will not be permanent. It injures the vessel. The power necessarily applied on the principle of the lever to turn it upon its side, strains it and renders it less firm and able to bear pressure, either in actions or storms, and decay ensues more rapidly. This injury is often unknown until it is to late to apply the remedy. The risk is also very great, as an injury to the purchases by which it is hove down might, when reairing the bottom, occasion the sinking and entire loss of the ship.

The Navy Department had barely been established when it began to recommend to Congress the construction of a dry dock. On Dec. 29, 1798, Secretary of the Navy Benjamin L. Stoddert submitted a report to the House of Representatives outlining the expenses projected for the construction of twelve 74-gun ships-of-the-line. He wrote that dry docks "will be highly necessary in repairing our ships, to avoid the tedious, expensive, and sometimes dangerous operation of heaving down" and recommended that three docks "be erected for the convenience of repairing ships." These were to be spread geographically along the coast.

Congress responded to this recommendation with three acts all signed into law by President John Adams on Feb. 25, 1799. Two of them authorized the construction of six ships-of-the-line and six sloops-of-war as well as the procurement of timber for naval use. The third act provided that "two docks, for the convenience of repairing the public ships and vessels, be erected in suitable places, under the direction of the President of the United States" and appropriated $50,000 to carry out that work.

It was the first of these acts that Stoddert interpreted as the legal basis for the establishment of navy yards even though the act concerning dry docks might more logically have been taken as authorizing yards. Instead, no action was taken to implement that law, probably, as later Secretaries of the Navy said, because the funding was inadequate for the purpose. But dry docks figured in early schemes for navy yard development. The plans prepared for the Charlestown yard in 1801 and 1802 showed several dry docks. No action was taken to implement those plans, however. (The Jefferson Administration did consider construction of a dry dock, but this was for the storage of inactive warships rather than a repair dock. Again, nothing came of this proposal.)

By the end of 1811, with the possibility of war with Great Britain and/or France looming, the inadequate state of the Navy was becoming a concern. In response to inquiries from a House committee, Secretary of the Navy Hamilton on Dec. 3, 1811, repeated the arguments against heaving down and the benefits of a dry dock. As a result of this report, the committee two weeks later recommended that "a dock, for repairing the vessels of war of the United States, be established in some central and convenient place."

On Mar. 3, 1813, Congress passed an act authorizing additional naval construction. Section 4 of that law appropriated $100,000 "for the purpose of establishing a dock yard, for repairing the vessels of war, in such central and convenient place on the seaboard as the President of the United States shall designate." Because of the exigencies of the War of 1812, no action was taken to implement this law.

On May 2, 1815, the newly-formed Board of Naval Commissioners submitted a report on navy yards. The commissioners felt that only three yards were necessary, stating that each of them "should have attached to them a dry dock suitable for docking the largest class of ships." Of the existing yards, only that at Charlestown was proposed for improvement. "A capacious dry dock [should] be immediately commenced at that yard," they recommended.

In Dec. 1815 Secretary Benjamin W. Crowninshield reported to the Senate the reasons why the 1813 dry dock authorization had not been executed. He added that "I cannot omit this occasion of repeating the opinion of the absolute necessity and urgency of having docks constructed as soon as possible."

Despite these pleas, Congress took no further action on the subject for a decade. In the early 1820s, Commodore John Rodgers, president of the Board of Naval Commissioners, advocated instead construction of marine railways along the lines of one built at the Washington Navy Yard as a less expensive alternative to dry docks.

On May 25, 1824, the Senate passed a resolution requesting the Secretary of the Navy to make a report on "the expediency of constructing" a dry dock and "the best location therefor." Secretary Southard's report of Jan. 3, 1825, detailed the prior history of the subject and the arguments for dry docks in place of heaving down. As to where a dock should be located, Southard wrote, "The difficulty has not been to find a suitable place for a dry dock, but to select the best among several, all of which are good."

Southard had consulted with the Board of Naval Commissioners, which had recommended two docks, one in "the eastern section of the Union [i.e., the Northeast], and the other in the waters of the Chesapeake." Southard thus proposed construction of two docks, at the navy yards at Charlestown and Gosport. However, if only one dock was to be built, "I am of the opinion that that one should be placed at Charlestown, as having some advantages over Gosport as to ground, tide, workmen, and supplies."

Prior to making his report, Southard in Sept. 1824 had requested Loammi Baldwin to prepare a report on the feasibility and an estimate of the probable cost of building a dock at Charlestown.

Southard described Baldwin as an individual who not only "has had an opportunity of inspecting some of the most important docks of Europe" but also "possesses probably as large a share of science, skill, and experience, in works of a similar character, as any of our fellow-citizens."

Baldwin's report, completed in Nov. 1824, provided a detailed design for a dock to be built at the western end of the yard sufficient in size to accommodate the largest ship then under construction for the Navy, the ship-of-the-line USS Pennsylvania. It would cost $280,000, and feature turning rather than floating gates. The dock would be emptied by pumps powered by a steam engine that could be used to power a sawmill when not needed for the dock. Although Baldwin, who had done test borings and soundings in conjunction with his plan, had not thought pilings would be needed under the dock floor and walls, the Navy Commissioners recommended that pilings be employed.

On May 22, 1826, Congress passed a resolution requiring the President to have "a skilful engineer" conduct a detailed survey of the possibility of constructing a dry dock at either the Portsmouth, Charlestown, Brooklyn, or Gosport Navy Yards. In anticipation of this resolution, Secretary Southard had already been in contact with Loammi Baldwin. On May 21 Baldwin informed Southard that he was available "if you wish to employ me." On July 26, Southard formally engaged Baldwin, who began his work at Portsmouth on Aug. 18. Following his surveys there, he went on to Brooklyn and Gosport. In his report to the Secretary dated Dec. 28, 1826, he stated that he made no new survey at Charlestown since he felt his 1824 report was still valid. He did, however, modify his plans to include pilings under the structure and to utilize both floating and turning gates.

Baldwin's estimates for the docks took into account the different conditions to be dealt with at each site, as well as the regional differences in material and labor costs. Thus, while all of the docks would be built to the same design, the costs ranged between $350,000 and $400,000:

Portsmouth$349,571.71
Charlestown356,864.04
Brooklyn380,116.86
Gosport398,800.00

Although he outlined the advantages and disadvantages of each site, Baldwin made no recommendations as to which dock should be constructed. Secretary Southard, however, in a report that President John Quincy Adams submitted to Congress on Jan. 10, 1827, wrote that "the best position for one is at Charlestown." If more than one dock was to be built--and Southard recommended that three be authorized--the order of preference was Charlestown, Gosport, Brooklyn, and Portsmouth.

On Mar. 3, 1827, Congress passed an act that authorized the President "to cause to be constructed two dry docks, on the most approved plan, for the use of the navy of the United States, the one of said docks to be erected at some point to the south, and the other to the north of the Potomac river."

President Adams selected Baldwin to carry out the work. As Baldwin wrote to J.B. Quimby on Mar. 9, 1827, he had negotiated an arrangement that gave him "a carte blanche which gives me full and unlimited power of appointing my own assistants and workmen, and to make all contracts." Three months later, in June, work on the Charlestown dock was underway. Work at Norfolk started several months later.

Initially, in keeping with his normal practice, Baldwin chose his brothers to be his assistants and resident engineers at the two yards. James F. Baldwin, chosen to supervise the Charlestown project, however, was offered a commission by the Commonwealth of Massachusetts to survey the route for a railroad from Boston to the Hudson River (what eventually became the Boston & Albany Railroad). He resigned in Oct. 1827. As his replacement, Baldwin chose Boston architect Alexander Parris.

Parris had already had some experience with the Navy Yard, having designed the granite boundary wall for the facility. While there have been some claims that Parris was also directly involved with the construction of the Norfolk dock, available correspondence does not support them.1 Indeed, while Baldwin intended to spend summers in Massachusetts and winters in Virginia, it appears that he spent far more time in Virginia. During this period, he also was charged with preparing master plans for all of the nation's navy yards, which required frequent trips to Washington and locations as far as Pensacola, Fla. In the plan for the Charlestown Navy Yard, approved in Aug. 1828, the Dry Dock was labeled as Site 54, while the engine house for the pumps was Site 55.

Construction of the dry dock took six years. Baldwin's annual reports to the Board of Naval Commissioners, submitted each Nov., chronicled its evolution. In his first report in 1827, he reported that work on the pier, wharves, and cofferdam was underway and that he expected that "the coffer-dam will be completed in time to shut off the tide by spring." At that time, the actual excavation of the dock could begin. The cofferdam was completed on May 21, 1828. Five days later, excavation work for the dock began.

In his Nov. 1828 report to the Navy Commissioners, Baldwin reported that "the work is well ahead of schedule," with excavation and pile driving in progress. The last of over 4,000 piles for the dock foundation would be driven almost a year later, on Oct. 27, 1829.

Although Baldwin had feared that the change in administration from John Quincy Adams to Andrew Jackson in Mar. 1829 would lead to his replacement as engineer, he was kept on. In Nov. 1829, Baldwin estimated that the dock would be completed during the spring of 1832

Masonry work began in the spring of 1830. The granite for Charlestown was purchased from Gridley Bryant and came from quarries at Quincy, Mass., that were also supplying stone for the nearby Bunker Hill Monument The masonry work was three-quarters completed by the time Baldwin submitted his annual report in Nov. 1830. Work had not begun on the pump house for the dock because its site was being used for stone storage.

The Dry Dock pumps were powered by a steam engine built by the Bridgewater Iron Manufacturing Co. to the design of Eben A. Lester. Baldwin retained Lester to supervise the engine and pump installation. The pumps themselves were supplied by W. Lyman. These components were located in the Engine House (Building 22), the first major Navy Yard building designed by Alexander Parris.

By Nov. 1831 the masonry work on the dock was completed, along with the jetty walls beyond the dock. The turning gates were under construction, and the engine house was nearing completion. Installation of the steam engine and pumps would occur as soon as the building was weathertight. This work proceeded through the following winter, and on June 13, 1832, the dry dock pumps were tested for the first time.

That Nov. Baldwin reported that remaining work on the dock consisted of completing the pavement around the dock, finishing the floating gate (caisson), and removal of the cofferdam and dredging of the approach channel.

The state of the work was such that the Naval Commissioners decided in Dec. 1832 to transfer Alexander Parris to a new project, the naval hospital to be built across the Mystic River in Chelsea, Mass. Edward Battles, who had been "a principal overseer of the works or head carpenter," replaced Parris as on-site supervisor, although Parris would continue to be available to work on the project as needed. Battles would commit suicide in Mar. 1833; the record is unclear as to whether any issues associated with the dry dock project were part of the motivation for his actions.

The spring of 1833 saw the completion of the floating gate, modifications to the turning gates, and removal of the cofferdam. The long-awaited opening of the dock occurred on June 24, 1833, when USS Constitution entered the facility. Baldwin formally handed the dock over to the Navy Yard on Sept. 9, 1833. The total cost of the project had been $677,089.78 1/2.

The docking of the frigate, which had been at Charlestown awaiting the completion of the dock for several years, was a ceremonial occasion. President Jackson, Vice President Martin Van Buren, and state and local dignitaries were invited, although Jackson did not attend because of illness. The following account of the opening of the dock appeared in the Boston Daily Advertiser and Patriot for June 25, 1833, as quoted by the Boston Naval Shipyard News in Apr. 1973:

The hull of "Old Ironsides," the frigate Constitution, was taken into the Dry Dock at the Charlestown Navy Yard yesterday morning, under the superintendence of Commodores [Isaac] Hull and [Jesse] Elliot, and the whole operation was conducted in fine style. The Yard was handsomely decorated with flags and pendants. The morning was exceedingly unpleasant, the wind being North-East, attended by rain; yet upwards of fifteen hundred persons, including some ladies, were present at 5 o'clock, and great numbers visited the Yard through the day...

The turning gates were opened to admit the ship about half past 5 o'clock, when the tide had fallen about one foot. As the ship was warped into the dock, a salute of 19 guns was fired from the battery of 9 pounders. Salutes were afterwards fired from Columbus, ship of the line, and from the battery, in honor of the President and suite, and of the Governor of the State. The President, from illness, was not present.

When the ship was admitted and placed in the proper position by means of warps and horizontal shores, the turning gates were closed; and the floating gate, which forms a barrier against the sea, having been floated into the grooves made to receive it, was filled with water and sunk. The reservoirs and culverts were then filled from the dock, the powerful steam engine for pumping out the water was put in operation, and upright shores placed to support her in her position as fast as she settled.

Before two o'clock, P.M., the dock was emptied of water and the ship was ready to undergo repairs. This old favorite of the people, with the appearance of a hardy veteran, still retains the beauty of her model.

Throughout the project, although not documented in Baldwin's correspondence, there appeared to have been a competitive spirit between the teams at Charlestown and Gosport. This is best evidenced by the fact that the Virginia dock was first placed in operation on June 17, 1833, a date of great significance to Massachusetts then as today as Bunker Hill Day.

The dock had an overall dimension of 341 x 100 ft. At the dock floor, this dimension was 228 x 30 ft., rising in tiers to 253 x 86 ft. at the top. The chamber between the turning gates and the floating gate was 53 ft. in length, and could be utilized should a vessel's length require it. The floor of the dock was 32 ft. below mean high water, with the top coping 4 ft. above that mark.

Both the two turning gates and the floating gate were of wood construction. The former were each 36 ft. wide, while the floating gate was 60 ft. in length with a maximum beam of 16 ft. It fitted into grooves built into the end of the dock. The turning gates were operated by chains using a pair of manual capstans on each side of the dock, the outer one for opening and the inner one for closing.

Over the next two decades, the dock underwent routine maintenance and repair. In 1853, however, the yard's annual report stated that "the gates to the Dry Dock are out of repair and must soon be put in order" and that the engine for the pumps needed "to be replaced with a new one or extensive repairs." This latter project was funded in the FY 1854 Naval Appropriations Act.

The FY 1855 annual report recommended the lengthening of the dry dock by 50 ft. Funded in both the FY 1858 and FY 1859 appropriations bills, construction of this extension began on July 8, 1858. The work required no cofferdam since the enlargement, increased to 65 ft. during construction, was to the landward end of the dock. It involved the removal of the existing stonework at the head of the dock and its reuse in the new location. Thus, the commemorative inscriptions that Baldwin had placed at the head of the dock were retained. The project was completed during FY 1860, just in time for the dock to be ready for service to the expanding Union Navy during the Civil War. The dock, which now had an overall length of 357 ft. and a floor length of 293 ft., had remained in service during the course of this work, docking, among other ships, the new sloop-of-war USS Constellation in 1858 and the steam sloops Hartford and Narragansett and steam frigates Colorado and Minnesota the following year.

By 1874 the dock was in need of extensive repointing. While a start was made to reset granite on the east side of the dock in June, the project was halted a month later in favor of more modest repointing. This project was completed that Nov.

Throughout the next decade and a half, the yard's civil engineer continually recommended further repairs to the dock. Major funding was finally received in the FY 1888 Naval Appropriations Act, which provided $31,000 for rebuilding the floating gate. Three years later, Congress provided $50,000 in the FY 1891 budget for "new boiler and pumping machinery, taking down and resetting the end of granite dry dock and putting in the necessary backing and drainage." The contract for the new boilers and pumps was awarded to the Southwark Foundry & Engine Co. of Philadelphia in Dec. 1890. The new pumps and associated improvements were completed in Oct. 1891.

The FY 1898 appropriations, approved in Mar. 1897, provided $10,000 "for swinging gates for dry dock" and $4,500 for "additional culverts in caisson for filling dry dock." The latter project, intended to reduce the time required to fill the dock, was contracted with the Atlantic Works of East Boston in Jan. 1898. Rather than haul the caisson to its own facility, Atlantic Works performed this work at the Navy Yard Although plans for new steel swinging gates were completed in Mar. 1899, that project was never carried out.

Throughout the 1880s and 1890s, the yard requested funding for a new dry dock caisson. Congress finally responded in the FY 1901 Naval Appropriations Act. That legislation allocated nearly $1 million for yard modernization. One of the items included was $40,000 for a "new caisson for stone dry dock." The act also transferred the $10,000 appropriated in 1897 for swinging gates to the new caisson project.

The new caisson was built by the Navy Yard on the Building Slip at the east end of the yard. This was the first steel hull constructed by the Navy Yard, and was launched on Oct. 31, 1901. The yard's logbook recorded the event as being "of more than ordinary interest." On Dec. 27 the new caisson was taken into the dry dock for completion. Undocked on Feb. 1, 1902, it was placed in service shortly afterwards. Although overhauled and modified several times through the years, this caisson continues to serve the dock in 2004. It is the oldest extant vessel built at the Navy Yard.

Even before the completion of the new caisson, the yard had stopped the use of the turning gates. Indeed, during the 1890s their use was limited to occasions when the caisson required docking. Available records do not document the exact date they were removed, but a July 1901 photograph of the dock shows that they were gone. The old wood caisson remained in the yard, and was used again when the new caisson was docked from June 25 to July 2, 1903, and again from Dec. 24 to 31 of that year.

The next major changes to the Dry Dock came as direct results of the start of construction on a second dry dock, Dry Dock 2, in 1899. The FY 1903 appropriations bill provided $41,200 for a "culvert between dry docks" which would enable the new Pump House (Building 123) to service both dry docks. The contract for this work was awarded to Smith & Robinson of New York on Oct. 10, 1904. On May 12, 1905, with the work on this 8-ft. diameter brick tunnel 98.4 percent complete, project inspector A.J. McLaughlin arrived on site to find "no work going on and none of Smith & Robinson's men about," learning later that they had been laid off because the firm "had been declared bankrupt." The project was resumed by yard forces on May 23 and completed that Aug. With the new pumping system in place, the machinery in Building 22 was abandoned. The FY 1905 budget provided $7,500 for electric capstans for Dry Dock 1. This contract was awarded to Hyde Windlass on Sept. 22, 1904, and the capstans were completed in July 1905.They were erected at the head and each side of the dock's outer end.

The following year's budget included funds for improvements to the approach to the dock and for the extension of the portal crane tracks being built around new Dry Dock 2 to serve Dry Dock 1 as well. This latter work was awarded to C.M. Leach. Work began on Oct. 9, 1905, and was completed in exactly three months. Thus, the yard's new portal crane could serve both dry docks.

Following the completion of the early 20th-century modernization, Dry Dock 1 received only routine maintenance until after World War II. During the late 1920s, it was the site of an extensive restoration of USS Constitution, which occupied the facility from June 1927 to Mar. 1930. In the 1930s, the dock was used as a construction basin. Two tugs and one destroyer were laid down and launched from the dock. In addition, destroyers launched from Dry Dock 2 were brought into Dry Dock 1 for completion.

By the late 1930s, the dock was seen as too small for modern destroyers. As an interim measure to allow larger destroyers to be docked, the timber slide at the center of the dock's head was cut back in 1941 to create a notch for a ship's bow. Further work on the dock would have to wait until the end of hostilities because of its heavy usage for repair of battle-damaged vessels.

Combined with the need to extend the dock was its need for major repairs. As early as 1944, inspections revealed that some of the granite blocks on the side walls had bulged outward by as much as 4 in. This need for rebuilding, combined with the necessity of modifications to accommodate larger ships, led to one of the yard's first postwar modernization projects. This time, the extension was seaward by 40 ft., giving the dock its current length of 415 ft. A upper four altars of about half the length of the dock's side walls were taken down and replaced with concrete replicating the original form. This work, performed by Coleman Bros., started in the summer of 1947 and took approximately a year to complete.

As a part of this project, the three electric capstans were rebuilt. The new capstans were supplied by the Nodern Equipment Co. of Chicago.

By the late 1950s, the pumps for the dock were in need of replacement. Dewatering time had grown from the original 45 min. to 75 min. Thus, the Navy underook a project to improve the dewatering system for both Dry Docks 1 and 2. The major work at Dry Dock 1 involved "remodeling of the inlet structure for the intake tunnel" by replacing the outlets in the floor and side of the dock with a full-diameter direct opening through the side of the dock into the culvert. This work, done in the summer and fall of 1960, also saw the granite stairs on the east side of the dock replaced with concrete. New pump motors were installed in the Pump House in Nov. 1961.

Starting in 1958, the yard considered a further enlargment of the dock to handle postwar destroyer classes. By Feb. 1961 it had settled for a 50-ft. landward extension, with a 7-ft. lower floor to accommodate sonar domes. Because this scheme would have created problems with both the head capstan location and the crane tracks, the yard decided to look at a seaward extension instead. Designed in conjunction with a plan to replace the Marine Railway and Piers 2 and 3 with a new solid Pier 3, the final concept involved an extension of 112 ft. More importantly, the so-called propellor pit (the narrower section of the dock between the location of the original swinging gates and the caisson) would have been demolished and rebuilt to give the dock a constant width. This proposal was dropped from the proposed FY 1964 construction program in Sept. 1962 in favor of pursuing a new marine railway on the site of Shipways 1. It was reinstated in 1966 for the FY 1970 budget, but again dropped when the yard in 1968 adopted a modernization plan to shift all industrial operations from Charlestown to an expanded South Boston facility.

During the 1950s and 1960s, outside of the dewatering project, the primary work performed on the dock consisted of enlarging the propellor pit installed in 1948 to accommodate sonar domes. To help improve clearances, a concrete plinth was installed along the centerline of the dock, thus raising the keelblocks off the dock floor. Miscellaneous concrete and masonry repairs were contracted in late 1969.

In 1972, realizing that the 1968 yard modernization plan that would have shifted operations from Charlestown to South Boston would never be funded, the yard proposed a ten-year modernization plan for Charlestown instead. That plan called for the replacement of Dry Dock 1 with a new Dry Dock 6, which would have been both longer and wider than the original dock. Instead of approving this plan, the Defense Dept. in Apr. 1973 decided to close the shipyard.

Following the closure of the yard, the Navy reviewed its needs for Dry Dock 1. It concluded in the fall of 1975 that it would not be economic for the Navy to maintain the dock and pumps for use by USS Constitution. It then contacted the National Park Service on this topic, since the dock was within the approximately 30 acres of the Navy Yard that Congress had designated as a unit of Boston National Historical Park in Oct. 1974. In a letter that can in retrospect be seen as shortsighted, Superintendent Hugh D. Gurney informed the Navy on Dec. 3, 1975, that "we plan to use Dry Dock #1 as an interpretive exhibit only" and "will not need the watering and dewatering capabilities provided by the pumps in Building 123."

On Jan. 1, 1976, the National Park Service assumed the management of the park area. The remainder of the yard was reported by the Navy as surplus property, including the Dry Dock Pump House (Building 123). Based on the NPS letter and the City of Boston's decision to leave Dry Dock 2 permanently flooded, the culvert between Dry Dock 1 and the pumps was sealed. This has meant that temporary pumps have been needed to empty the dock.

In the spring of 1978, the NPS entered into a loan agreement with the Navy to acquire USS Cassin Young (DD-793) as a museum ship "for static display to the public" in Dry Dock 1. A key provision of the loan agreement was a commitment by the NPS to make Dry Dock 1 available for use by USS Constitution "from time to time (estimated to be at intervals of ten years) or on an emergency basis."

Since the NPS took over the dock, the dock has been used for four vessels. The first of these was an ex-Navy YF-type barge acquired from the Environmental Protection Agency for use as a boat landing stage at the foot of Pier 1. Next to occupy the dock was USS Cassin Young (DD-793), docked between Oct. 1979 and May 1981 for restoration.

In the early 1990s, the caisson was overhauled at a dry dock in East Boston in anticipation of USS Constitution being docked. That docking, from Sept. 1992 to Sept. 1995, actually exceeded the frigate's time in dock during her 1920s' reconstruction.

In June 1996 the National Park Service entered into an agreement with the New England Steamship Foundation to allow the Foundation to "make use of Dry Dock #1 at the Charlestown Navy Yard and designated facilities for the purpose of restoring the historic steamship S.S. Nobska." The agreement was for an initial one-year period and allowed for additional one-year extensions to a maximum total of five years. These extensions were granted, with a final expiration date of June 17, 2001. In anticipation of the formal agreement, Nobska entered Dry Dock 1 on Apr. 25, 1996.

Funding for the initial work on Nobska came from an enhancement project funded by the Massachusetts Highway Dept. (MHD) under the Intermodal Surface Transportation Efficiency Act (ISTEA) Program. While the Foundation conducted periodic work on the ship, none has been accomplished since early 2001. While most of the bottom plating had been replaced, it had only been tack welded, making the vessel unfloatable. The condition of the remaining structure, as assessed in Oct. 2003, was poor.

On May 22, 2001, the Foundation was notified that the park required removal of Nobska from the dock by Aug. 16, 2001, two months after the expiration of the agreement. This did not occur, and on May 5, 2003, a Notice of Impoundment was sent to the Foundation stating that unless removed within sixty days it would be considered abandoned property and would be subject to disposal by the NPS. This was the first step in the legal process for the federal government to take formal possession of the vessel.

Rather than fight the government in court, the New England Steamship Foundation, at its annual meeting in Feb. 2004, agreed to turn over the vessel to the National Park Service for dismantling should no other alternative be found for the preservation of the vessel.

Under an agreement negotiated by the NPS with MHD and the Massachusetts State Historic Preservation Officer (SHPO), the NPS agreed to solicit proposals not only for the dismantling of the ship but also for its removal intact subject to the SHPO's concurrence that such a proposal was viable in terms of the vessel's future preservation. As a part of the dismantling option, the NPS agreed that it would salvage components of the vessel for some museum or other entity seeking to preserve them.

In Sept. 2004 the NPS began a project to replace the concrete stairs on the east side of the dock and to repair both the concrete and granite stairs on the west side. This work will allow safe access into the dock. In the longer term, a $4.4-million project for a major rehabilitation of the dock is in the NPS line-item construction program for FY 2007. That project will comprehensively address the dock structure and utilities.

Future utilization of the dock will be limited to USS Cassin Young (DD-793) and USS Constitution, both Navy-owned National Historic Landmark ships permanently berthed at the Navy Yard. At the time of the agreement to allow Nobska into the dock, the park was considering future use of the dock by other historic ships. However, both the experience with that vessel and the events of Sept. 11, 2001, ended the possibility. While the NPS and the Navy have worked to increase her physical security, USS Constitution has been seen as subject to a potential terrorist target, especially vulnerable to water-borne attack. Security evaluations identified Dry Dock 1 as a safe haven for this national icon to protect her from such an attack or for emergency docking and repairs should an incident occur. It is quite likely that, had Nobska not encumbered the dock, the Navy would have moved Constitution into it shortly after Sept. 11.

Current Condition: Fair


1 In June 1844 Parris wrote a letter to Secretary of the Navy John Y. Mason seeking employment on the construction of the newly-authorized dry dock at the Brooklyn Navy Yard. He stated that "I was employed as Col. Baldwin's assistant in the construction of both [crossed out: Charles] works, and had the charge of the work at Charlestown during his absence.

Sources Relating to Dry Dock 1, Charlestown Navy Yard

A. Primary Sources

Boston National Historical Park Archives, Building 107, Charlestown Navy Yard, Boston, Mass. Boston Naval Shipyard Photo Collection.

----------. Record Group 1. Records of Boston Naval Shipyard, 1795-1975. Sub-Group 4. Records of the Public Works Department.

Harvard University. Manuscripts and Archives, Baker Library, Harvard Business School, Brighton, Mass. Baldwin Collection (Baldwin Family Papers, 1724-1880).

Massachusetts Historical Society, Boston, Mass. U.S. Naval Hospital (Chelsea, Mass.) Letterbook, 1832-1839.

Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Institute Archives and Special Collections, M.I.T. Libraries, Cambridge, Mass. Loammi Baldwin Papers, 1780-1838.

National Archives, Washington, D.C. Record Group 71. Records of the Bureau of Yards and Docks.

National Archives-Northeast Region (Boston), Waltham, Mass. Record Group 181. Records of Naval Districts and Shore Establishments, 1784-1996. Sub-Group 181.3.1. Records of the Boston Navy Yard (Boston, MA).

Peabody Essex Museum, Salem, Mass. Baldwin Family Papers, 1763-1889.

University of Michigan. William L. Clements Library, Ann Arbor, Mich. Baldwin Family Papers, 1662-1864.

The Winterthur Library. Joseph Downs Collection of Manuscripts and Printed Ephemera, Winterthur, Del. Baldwin Family Papers, 1784-1904.

B. Secondary Sources

Abbott, Frederick K. The Role of the Civil Engineer in Internal Improvements: The Contributions of the Two Loammi Baldwins, Father and Son, 1776-1838. Ph.D. dissertation, Columbia University, 1952.

Bearss, Edwin C. Charlestown Navy Yard, 1800-1842. 2 vols. Denver: National Park Service, 1984.

Black, Frederick R. Charlestown Navy Yard, 1890-1973. Cultural Resources Management Study No. 20. 2 vols. Boston: Boston National Historical Park, 1988.

----------, and Edwin C. Bearss. The Charlestown Navy Yard, 1842-1890. Boston: Boston National Historical Park, 1993.

Brady, Mary Jane, and Christopher J. Foster, Inc. Historic Structure Report, Dry Dock 1, Charlestown Navy Yard: Architectural Data, Boston National Historical Park, Massachusetts. Draft. Denver: Denver Service Center, 1980.

Carlson, Stephen P. Charlestown Navy Yard Historic Resource Study. Draft. Boston: Boston National Historical Park, 2004.

Preble, George Henry. History of the Boston Navy Yard, 1797-1874. Microcopy M118. Washington: National Archives, 1947.

Stuart, Charles B. The Naval Dry Docks of the United States. New York: Charles B. Norton, Irving House, 1852.

U.S. Congress. American State Papers. Class 6, Naval Affairs. 4 vols. Washington: Gales & Seaton, 1834-1861.

Whitman, Requardt & Associates. Dry Dock No. 1 Study, Boston National Historical Park, Boston, Massachusetts: Condition Assessment Report. Final Submission, Feb. 27, 2004. Baltimore: WR&A, 2004.

 

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