In 1799 the United States was engaged in
a naval war with France, and Congress called for the
building of six ships-of-the-line, the battleships of the
day, to protect American commerce from French attacks.
Two years later Secretary of the Navy Benjamin Stoddert
bought sites in six cities in which the ships could be
built. The one in Charlestown became the Boston Navy
Yard. It was primarily used as a storage facility
until the War of 1812, but during that war the yard
completed the Navy's first ship-of-the-line, the 74-gun
From the War of
1812 until the Civil War the yard enjoyed a slow but
steady growth as a repair facility and supplier of food
and "slops" (clothing and personal articles). Few
ships were built at Charlestown, but those few made
important contributions to the fleet: Merrimack,
which became the famous confederate ironclad Virginia;
Cumberland, which met her end in battle with the
CSS Virginia; and Hartford, Admiral
Farragut's flagship at New Orleans.
During this period the drydock was built
and many buildings constructed. The famed architect
Alexander Parris, who worked for the navy yard from 1825
to the 1840s, designed many of the new structures.
His best-known building is the Ropewalk which, from 1837
until the yard was closed more than a hundred years later,
manufactured most of the cordage used by Navy ships
ranging in size from destroyer escorts to aircraft
The Civil War forced
rapid growth on Charlestown Navy Yard. As a repair
and supply base it supported the squadrons blockading
Southern ports and harbors. As a shipbuilding
facility it converted a number of small vessels into
warships and built Monadnock, one of the few
monitors constructed at a government ship yard.
The United States emerged from the Civil
War with the largest and most powerful navy in the world.
But as happened after other wars, the Navy retrenched, and
Charlestown Navy Yard was reduced in importance to an
Equipment and Recruit Facility.
The 1890s saw a resurgence of interest in naval matters.
Alfred T. Mahan published works that advocated a strong
merchant marine, overseas markets, and new warships to
protect them. The Navy began building steel vessels
and new, powerful dreadnaughts. The yard, now called
Boston Navy Yard, began to expand. During the first
years of the 20th century a second drydock was added to
handle the largest ships then afloat.
The yard's role in repairing and supplying
vessels of the Navy continued to expand during the
Spanish-American War and World War I. The large
number of convoy escorts required by the allies to protect
merchant shipping from German submarines and Boston's
strategic location gave the yard an important repair
After World War I
and the Washington Naval Arms Limitation treaty of 1922
activity at the yard slowed again. But in the 1930s,
with the rise of totalitarian governments in Germany,
Italy and Japan, naval ships were again built at the yard.
New destroyers, like Mugford, were built with WPA
and PWA funds.
The U.S. became
involved in the struggle with Nazi Germany even before the
official declaration of war in December 1941.
Congress created a two-ocean Navy in November 1939, and 10
months later the U.S. traded 50 overage destroyers for
British bases in the Atlantic and Caribbean. Boston
Navy Yard reconditioned many of those ships and repaired
British ships damaged by the Germans.
With the entry of the U.S. into the war,
the navy yard turned full time to aid the war effort.
Convoy escorts were repaired and supplied and numerous
destroyer escorts (DEs) built. The yard employed
nearly 50,000 people who worked around the clock, seven
days a week.
The end of World War
II brought another cutback in the yard's work.
Boston Navy Yard turned to modernizing older vessels.
New electronics, radar and sonar equipment, and missile
batteries were installed in vessels that had helped win
the war. In the 1960s, as World War II vintage ships
were reaching the end of their useful lives, the Boston
facility began modernizing the Nation's warships through
Fleet Rehabilitation and Modernization (FRAM). USS
Perry was the first destroyer to be remodeled in
this program that was intended to add 5 to 7 years to the
life of aging ships.
The wars in
Korea and Vietnam had little effect on the work at the
navy yard; the wars were too far removed from the East
coast. After Vietnam, Boston Naval Shipyard was
closed, ending 174 years of service.
In 1975, after Constitution was
drydocked, one phase of the yard's activities came to an
end. But a year earlier Congress set aside part of
the navy yard as a unit of the Boston National Historical
Park. The yard now has a new mission: to interpret
the art and history of naval shipbuilding.
here, for a map of the Charlestown Navy Yard.
For more information about the
Charlestown Navy Yard, visit the
Boston National Historical Park website.
Navy Yard," Boston National