Naval History and Heritage Command

National Museum of the U.S. Navy

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Marine Railway and Winch House

One of the earliest innovations at the Washington Navy Yard was the introduction of the marine railway in 1822 by Commodore John Rodgers.   To demonstrate the effectiveness of hauling ships in this method, Rogers utilized the 1750-ton frigate Potomac.    One-hundred and forty Sailors hauled the ship out at four feet per minute, impressing the observers, which included President James Monroe.   This method was an improvement on careening where ships would hauled on shore at high tide, tipped on a side to expose the hull in which work needed to be done.   The current railway at the Washington Navy Yard was built in the early 1900’s in order to repair tugboats and to maintain the Presidential yachts.  The Winch House, still standing, utilized a crane to remove ships from the water.   The crane has since been removed, and the house has been converted to the William III Coffee Shop.    Commodore Rodgers is buried in the Congressional Cemetery in Washington, D.C.   

Image:    NH 93374:   Marine Railway, Washington Navy Yard, 1920s-1930s.    Other structures are the Experimental Model Basin, left, and Building 101 in the background.  Naval History and Heritage Command Photograph.

To learn more about the Marine Railway and Winch House, please contact our Education Department for a spot on the next Walking Tour of the Washington Navy Yard.