Established in 1800 as one of the six original naval shipyards in the United States, the Charlestown Navy Yard is significant for its role in constructing, repairing, and providing service to U.S. Navy vessels from the time it opened until its closing in 1974. It is also significant as the site of one of the first two naval dry docks in the United States, the location of the Navy’s only ropewalk, and for technical innovations such as die-lock chain. The yard evolved throughout its history to meet changing needs and naval technologies, and the current site contains resources from all periods of its existence.
In its early years the Charlestown Navy Yard was a small supply depot, but the War of 1812 changed that when Charlestown began work on the nation’s first ship-of-the line (battleship). In the 1850s, Charlestown began constructing steam warships, and during the Civil War built Monadnock, an ironclad monitor. In the “New Navy” of the late 1880s and 1890s, the yard was modernized, allowing it to service the steel ships fighting in the Spanish-American War.
Ambitious shipbuilding continued through World War I, but post-war naval treaties limiting the size of the world’s major navies sharply curtailed the yard’s activities. The Depression took away more work, and by 1931 there were calls to close the yard. President Franklin Roosevelt’s recovery programs, coupled with Japanese aggression in Asia, led to a rapidly expanding navy. For the first time Charlestown was primarily a construction yard, and it continued to build destroyers until the end of World War II. Its workforce swollen to 52,000, including a significant number of African Americans and women, the yard hummed day and night with the intensity of the war effort.
In the post-war years, Charlestown found a new role modernizing old destroyers and specialized in missile, sonar, and radar conversions. The end of the rehabilitation programs and fleet cutbacks finally brought an end to Charlestown’s long and honorable history.
When the yard was closed in 1974, 30 acres were set aside to form this historic site. A walk through Charlestown Navy Yard today conveys the awesome scope of production, array of skills, and complex and interrelated operations of naval shipyards. From the sleek lines of the World War II destroyer USS Cassin Young (DD-793) to the immense basin of the dry dock and the elegant Commandant’s House that overlooks it, the yard shows the range of activities carried out by civilian workers and naval personnel.
Charlestown Navy Yard is part of Boston National Historical Park, one of 407 parks in the National Park System. Visit www.nps.gov to learn more about parks and National Park Service programs.
Boston National Historical Park is a unique collaboration of government owned and privately owned and operated historic sites associated with the colonial struggle for independence and the birth and growth of the United States. These nationally significant attractions include Old South Meeting House, the Old State House, Faneuil Hall, Old North Church, the Paul Revere House, the Bunker Hill Monument, the Bunker Hill Museum, Dorchester Heights Monument, and the Charlestown Navy Yard, including USS Constitution, the USS Constitution Museum, and USS Cassin Young.