Established in 1800, Charlestown Navy Yard served the fleet with distinction–especially proving its worth in each of the nation’s wars–until its closing in 1974. The men and women of its workforce built more than 200 warships and maintained and repaired thousands. From its inception the yard was in the forefront of shipyard technology, from building the Navy’s only ropewalk to making itself a center of missile and electronics conversions. In its 174-year history, Charlestown Navy Yard played an important role in the birth, growth, and continued effectiveness of the U.S. Navy.
The earliest naval shipbuilding activities in Charlestown, Massachusetts, began during the American Revolutionary War. The land for the Charlestown Navy Yard was purchased in 1800 and the yard itself established shortly thereafter. The yard built the first U.S. ship of the line, USS Independence, but was primarily a repair and storage facility until the 1890s, when it started to build steel ships for the “New Navy”. By then, it was called the Boston Navy Yard.
On June 24, 1833, the staff and dignitaries including Vice President Martin Van Buren, Secretary of War Lewis Cass, Secretary of the Navy Levi Woodbury, and many Massachusetts officials, witnessed “one of the great events of American naval history”: the United States frigate Constitution was inaugurating the first naval drydock in New England designed by prominent civil engineer Loammi Baldwin, Jr.. On March 14, 1975, the historic ship floated out of the dock—the last commissioned vessel to use the facility.
The Ropewalk supplied cordage used in the Navy from the time it opened in 1837 until the Yard closed in 1975. After the Civil War, the Yard was downgraded to an Equipment and Recruit Facility.
In the 1890s, the Navy began expanding and that brought new life to the Yard. In the first years of the 20th century, a second drydock was added. During WWII, it worked to fix British Ships damaged by the Germans. On 27 September 1941 Liberty Fleet Day Boston launched two destroyers USS Cowie and USS Knight. In November 1941, Boston was one of four United States naval shipyards selected to build Captain class frigates as Lend-Lease for the Royal Navy. Since the United States was at war when these ships were completed, some were used by the United States Navy as destroyer escorts. In the post war period, the shipyard modified World War II ships for Cold War service through Fleet Rehabilitation and Modernization (FRAM). The Korean War and Vietnam War didn’t bring much work to the Yard since it was so far from the fighting.
The Yard closed after the Vietnam War. When ideas were floated for redevelopment of the yard, one popular idea was to have the yard turned into a construction yard for oil tankers. Ultimately, these plans fell through, and the site became part of the Boston National Historical Park. Its mission is, “to interpret the art and history of naval shipbuilding.”
The Charlestown Navy Yard hosts many attractions. The fully commissioned USS Constitution and the museum ship USS Cassin Young (DD-793) are tied up at Pier 1 and open to the public (as the Constitution is a US Navy ship, consult her official website before visiting). The Navy Yard also hosts the USS Constitution Museum. Drydock No. 1 is still used for ship maintenance, mostly on historic vessels.
The Yard is toward the North end of the Freedom Trail and is seen by thousands every year. The MBTA Water Shuttle stops at nearby Pier 3, providing easy visitor access to the Yard.