Can you name the oldest building on Naval Support Facility Indian Head? Odds are you can't, and the reason is that the oldest building is not original to Indian Head, but was shipped from the Washington Navy Yard (WNY).
Built in 1854, Building 185 (B-185) was the Navy Yard's original "watch box." Watch box is an old Navy term for guard shack. B-185 is considered historic not only to the Navy, but also to the nation.
The fire station at the Washington Navy Yard currently occupies the space previously occupied by B-185. The building was located there until 1912 when it was relocated from WNY to Indian Head to serve as a foreman's office. It was associated with the original Power Plant until 1915 when it was moved to the corner of Strauss Avenue and Ward Road, where it served as the "telephone central." In 1942, B-185 was assigned as a grounds store house.
While at the Navy Yard, the watch box was passed by every visitor, including such notables as President Abraham Lincoln. President Lincoln was a regular visitor to the Navy Yard, often going there to take Potomac River cruises, review troops, receive foreign visitors and inspect new weapon enhancements with then Capt. John A. Dahlgren, commandant of the Navy Yard.
Capt. Dahlgren took command of WNY after the previous commandant defected to the Confederacy. Dahlgren biographer Robert J. Schneller wrote that "Lincoln drove down to watch a new invention being tested, but more often he came for just coffee, cigars and chat with his favorite naval officer (Dahlgren)."
During his frequent visits to WNY, Lincoln passed by the watch box and was recorded as he both entered and left the site. In the spring of 1865, it was obvious that the American Civil War was coming to an end. With the greatest challenge any American President has had to face, President Lincoln and his wife Mary went for a carriage ride without their security detail. The date was April 14, 1865. They went to the WNY to visit the U.S.S. Montauk and the Sailors aboard who had been injured during the conflict.
Dr. George H. Todd, surgeon aboard the U.S.S. Montauk, wrote, "Both seemed very happy, and so expressed themselves, glad that this war was over, or near its end, and then drove back to the White House."
As President Lincoln and his wife left, their exit was recorded as they passed by the watch box. Later that night, President Lincoln was assassinated by John Wilkes Booth. The next day, Marine guards had stated in the watch box log book that it was a "sad day."
Today, B-185 is part of the Naval Proving Ground Historic District. Descriptions praising its architectural features have stated that B-185 displays "the most ornamentation embellished by German novelty siding, scrolled brackets, and a finial," also known as a Victorian era Italianate style.
While currently intact, B-185 is aged and is now in need of repair and conservation. In 2012, NDW, the District of Columbia State Historic Preservation Officer and the Maryland State Historic Preservation Officer signed a memorandum of agreement allowing the Navy to move B-185 from NSF Indian Head back to the Washington Navy Yard as part of mitigation efforts for the demolition of a historic structure at the WNY. As a result, B-185 will be located once again near its original location. It will be restored to its original condition where it will be incorporated as a historic and educational display.