Operations and Management
Fleet and Family Readiness
NDW kicks off Month of the Military Family
Warrior Care Month highlights 'A Show of Strength'
Prepare for Changing Seasons with Safe Home Heating
Combined Federal Campaign underway in Naval District Washington
Commandant's Corner
AFPAK Hands Train Hard to Work Hard during the War on Terror
Summer’s Gone, But Safety is Not: Back to School Safety
Navy Yard Fitness Center Renovations Improve Experience
MWR Offers Recreation Destinations Throughout the Region
Coalition of Sailors Against Destructive Decisions Promotes Sailors Helping Sailors
Travel Safely Through the 101 Critical Days of Summer
CSADD Promotes ‘Keep What You’ve Earned’ Campaign at Washington Navy Yard
Canned Goods , Volunteers Needed for NDW Feds Feed Families Campaign
NSAW DEFY Program Entertains, Educates Local Youth for Third Straight Year
Beat the Heat this Summer to Stay Safe
CNIC to Honor Gold Star Families with Designated Parking
NDW Alcohol Awareness Brief Stresses Sobriety, Safety during Summer
Make Safety First on the Fourth of July
Resident Energy Conservation Program “Mock” Billing to Begin Throughout Naval District Washington
Resident Energy Conservation Program “Mock” Billing to Begin Throughout Naval District Washington
Naval District Washington Holds Change of Command Ceremony
NDW to Eliminate Vehicle Decals
SHARE Program Brings Volunteering Full Circle
Battle of Midway 71st Anniversary Commemorated at U.S. Navy Memorial
Energy Action Month Kicks Off with NDW Roundtable
NSA Washington to Take Part in District Shield Exercise


Aerial Photo of the Old Washington Navy Yard

Naval District Washington is synonymous with the Washington Navy Yard. The Washington Navy Yard, authorized by the first Secretary of the Navy, Benjamin Stoddert, in 1799, is the U.S. Navy's oldest shore establishment. It occupies land set aside by George Washington for use by the Federal Government along the Anacostia River.

The original boundaries that were established in 1800, along 9th and M Streets SE, are still marked by a white brick wall, built in 1809, along with a guardhouse.

During its early years, the Navy Yard became the Navy's largest shipbuilding and shipfitting facility. Twenty-two vessels were constructed on the Yard, ranging from small 70-foot gunboats to the Minnesota, a 246-foot steam frigate. In 1812, the USS Constitution came to the Yard to refit and prepare for combat action.

The War of 1812 found the Navy Yard a vital strategic link in the defense of the young capital city. On August 14, 1814, the British, under Admiral Sir George Cockburn and Major General Robert Ross, landed at Marlboro on the Patuxent River. Ten days later they brushed aside a hastily gathered American force at Bladensburg and marched into Washington. It became clear the Washington Navy Yard could not be defended and Captain Thomas Tingey, the Yard's Commandant, with the concurrence of the President and the Secretary of the Navy, ordered the Yard burned. All the stores that could not be evacuated, the unfinished Columbia and Argus, and most of the Yard's buildings were consumed in the flames. Only the Latrobe gate, Tingey's own quarters, now Quarters A, the home of the second in command, adjoining offices, the barracks, and the small schooner Lynx escaped the fire. After the fire, looting by the local populace took its toll and Commodore Tingey recommended that the height of the eastern wall be increased to ten feet.

In May 1815, the Board of Naval Commissioners decided it was a disadvantage to have the Yard as a base and recommended it be limited to shipbuilding. Thus began a shift to what was to be the character of the Yard for more than a century: ordnance and technology. The Yard boasted one of the earliest steam engines in the United States, which was used to manufacture anchors, chains and steam engines for vessels of war.

By the 1850s, the Yard's primary function had evolved into ordnance production. The engineering genius of Lieutenant John Dahlgren (who was to serve as the commandant of the Yard twice) nurtured this development.

With the start of the Civil War, the Washington Navy Yard would once again become an important player in the defense of the Nation's Capital. Commandant Franklin Buchanan resigned his commission to join the Confederacy, leaving the Yard to Commander John Dahlgren, who assumed command of the Yard on April 22, 1861. Holding Commander Dahlgren in the highest esteem, President Abraham Lincoln became a frequent visitor. Dahlgren's long attachment to the Yard and his role in its development were recognized in 1863 by the naming of the new foundry in his honor and the burial in its wall of the leg lost by his son, Colonel Ulric Dahlgren, following the Battle of Gettysburg.

The Yard played a small but significant role in the events following the assassination of President Lincoln on April 15, 1865. Following the capture of eight of the conspirators, they were brought to the Yard and held on vessels anchored on the Anacostia River prior to their trails. The body of John Wilkes Booth was examined and identified on the monitor Saugus, moored at the Yard.

Following the Civil War, the Navy Yard continued to be the scene of technological advances. In 1886, the Yard was designated the manufacturing center for all ordnance in the Navy. Continuing ordnance production, the yard manufactured armament for the Great White Fleet and the World War I Navy, including the 14-inch naval railway guns used in France during World War I.

World War II found the Navy Yard as the largest naval ordnance plant in the world, with the weapons designed and built there used in every war in which the United States fought until the 1960s. Small components for optical systems and enormous 16-inch battleship guns were manufactured here. The Navy Yard was renamed the U.S. Naval Gun Factory in December 1945, and ordnance work was finally phased out in 1961. Three years later, on July 1, 1964, the activity was redesignated the Washington Navy Yard, and the deserted factory buildings began to be converted to office spaces.

The Navy Yard was also the scene of many scientific developments. Robert Fulton conducted research and testing on his clockwork torpedo during the War of 1812. Commodore John Rodgers built the country's first marine railway for the overhaul of large vessels in 1822. John A. Dahlgren developed his distinctive bottle-shaped cannon that became the mainstay of naval ordnance before the Civil War. In 1898, David W. Taylor developed a ship model-testing basin, which was used by the Navy and private shipbuilders to test the effect of water on new hull designs. The first shipboard catapult was tested in the Anacostia River in 1912, and a wind tunnel was completed at the yard in 1916; the gears for the Panama Canal locks were cast at the Yard; and Navy Yard technicians worked on designs for prosthetic hands and molds for artificial eyes and teeth.

The Joint Committee on Landmarks has designated the Washington Navy Yard Historic District a Category II Landmark of importance, which contributes significantly to the cultural heritage and visual beauty of the District of Columbia.

The Washington Navy Yard has long served as the ceremonial gateway to the Nation's Capital. The first Japanese diplomatic mission was welcomed to the United States in an impressive pageant at the yard in 1860. WWI’s Unknown Soldier's body was received at the Yard, and Charles A. Lindbergh returned to the Yard after his famous transatlantic flight in 1927.

Today, the Washington Navy Yard continues to be the "Quarterdeck of the Navy" and serves as the Headquarters for Naval District Washington. Constantly undergoing extensive renovation, the Yard houses numerous support activities for the fleet and aviation communities.


Share This Page

This is an Official US Navy Website
Switch to Full Site
Switch to Mobile Site