Aerial, Artwork, Map Views - Pre-1900
In 1792, President George Washington approved a 12-acre tract of land to build a new naval yard. After a review of locations, the Washington Navy Yard area was chosen due to the abundant timber and the sufficient waterfront. Six years later, Congress established the Department of the Navy and appointed Benjamin Stoddert as the first Secretary of the Navy. Captain Thomas Tingey served as the first Commandant and established the first contingent of Marine Corps to guard the location. Benjamin H. Latrobe developed a design for the Navy Yard, and the front gate has become known as Latrobe Gate. Building naval vessels during the early years, the Navy Yard was reluctantly burned in August 1814 when the British marched into Washington D.C. during the War of 1812.
After repairs and rebuilding with brick, the Navy Yard’s focus also incorporated manufacturing anchors, chains, and ordnance. In 1820, the first ordnance laboratory was established, leading to the foundation of the Naval Gun Factory. The Navy Yard also became a port of entry for international dignitaries when the first Japanese delegation arrived at the Yard in May 1860. Of the notable ordnance officers who served at the yard, Rear Admiral John A. Dahlgren ordnance and weapon designs led him to be called, “The Father of American Naval Ordnance." Following the assassination of President Abraham Lincoln on April 15, 1865, the conspirators were held off the yard onboard the monitor Saugus. In the morning of April 27th, John Wilkes Booth’s body was held off the yard onboard the monitor Montauk.
As a result of the conflict, the U.S. Navy did not build a single armored vessel for twenty years, though tests and training with ordnance continued. Due to international shipbuilding in the early 1880s, America also sought to rebuild its shipbuilding strength with the Naval Gun Factory. In 1886, Secretary of the Navy William C. Whitney directed all Navy ordnance manufacturing be carried out at the Washington Navy Yard. Ten years later, Congress and President Grover Cleveland authorized the construction of a hull-test basin at the yard. Under direction of Naval Constructor David W. Taylor, work on the Experimental Model Basin was began in 1897 and completed in 1899. This location now houses the Cold War Gallery. To end the century, the guns built at the Naval Gun Factory were utilized during the Spanish-American War in 1898, ensuring success against the Spanish Navy.
Image: NH 51928-KN (Color) : "The Washington Navy Yard, with Shad Fishers in the Foreground" Hand color-tinted copy of a line engraving published in "Harper's Weekly", 20 April 1861, depicting the Washington Navy Yard, District of Columbia, as seen from the southern side of the Anacostia River. Note the uncompleted U.S. Capitol dome in the center distance. Courtesy of the U.S. Navy Art Collection, Washington, D.C.