As one makes plans for this summer, why not consider a vacation to their own backyard? The Washington Navy Yard (WNY), headquarters for Naval District Washington (NDW), has a rich history and plenty to see and do.
The history of the WNY is a long and often convoluted one, with bits of it still being unearthed (see the June 14, 2012 edition of the Waterline for a story about a time capsule being discovered on the grounds). Purchased by an Act of Congress in June of 1799, the WNY is the oldest shore facility in the United States Navy. Although it would undergo many changes over time, during these first years it acted as the most prolific shipbuilding and fitting facilities in the Navy, constructing over 22 vessels.
Then came the War of 1812, which changed the face of Washington D.C. and by extension the Yard forever. The Sailors and Marines stationed at the WNY were the final line of defense against British regulars who were marching on D.C. via Bladensburg, and were eventually overwhelmed. The commandant of the WNY at the time, Commodore Thomas Tingey, ordered the WNY burned after seeing the smoke rising from the Capitol building. Only the Latrobe Gate and some nearby buildings were spared from the flames.
This began one of the first major shifts of the use of the WNY, as at this point it was deemed that the waters of the adjacent Anacostia River were too shallow for the newer, larger ships, and that the WNY in general was too far inland to provide easy access to the open sea. Therefore it was decided that the primary use of the WNY would be for development of ordnance and technology: it possessed one of the earliest steam engines which was used to manufacture anchors, chain, and steam engines for vessels of war. From there, the only way to go was up, becoming the largest naval ordnance plant in the world by the time of World War II.
Following World War II, it slowly underwent its final role transition: to one of administrative and ceremonial use. After phasing out its ordnance responsibilities in 1961, it was then three years later renamed the Washington Navy Yard. The abandoned ordnance factories were converted to office use and by the 1970s resembled pretty much the Yard we encounter today.
So with all that history, it is pretty obvious that there is plenty to see and do at the WNY. Not only is it rich with a history all its own, it is also home to the United States Navy Museum, or formally the National Museum of the United States Navy. Opened to the public in 1963, in the former Breech Mechanism Shop of the old Naval Gun Factory, nearly 400,000 people visit the museum annually.
Highlights of the museum are the fighting top of the USS Constitution, the world's deepest diving submersible, the Trieste, and the khaki uniform of former Fleet Admiral Chester W. Nimitz. The museum has a number of permanent exhibits as well as some rotating and temporary exhibits as well. The museum is open Monday through Friday from 9 a.m to 5 p.m. and from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. on weekends and holidays. The museum is open every day except Thanksgiving Day, Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, and New Year’s Day.
Also in the vein of naval history, the WNY offers the Display Ship Barry (DD 933). A Forrest-Sherman class destroyer decommissioned in 1982, the Barry provides an excellent opportunity for service members and their families to see a living piece of naval history.
Commissioned in 1956, Barry served 26 years in the Atlantic and Pacific Fleet. Barry supported the 1958 Marine and Army airborne unit landing in Beirut, Lebanon. In 1962, she was a member of the task force that quarantined Cuba in response to evidence that Soviet missiles had been installed on the island. In Vietnam, the destroyer operated in the Mekong Delta and supported Operation Double Eagle, the largest amphibious operation since the landings in Korea. Barry was credited with destroying over 1,000 enemy structures, and for her service in the Vietnam conflict Barry earned two battle stars. In the early 1970s she was homeported in Athens, Greece, as part of the Navy's forward deployment program.
The Barry is open for self-guided tours from 10:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m Monday Friday, and from 10:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. on Saturdays. Guided tours can be arranged for some groups: call (202) 433-3091 for more information.
Certainly the Washington Navy Yard is steeped in history, and anyone interested in naval history could make a day or few days in exploring the Yard, and all that it has to offer. For more information on visiting the DS Barry visit http://www.history.navy.mil/branches/ BarryAccess.pdf. For more information on the U.S. Navy Museum, visit http://www.history. navy.mil/branches/org8-1.htm