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The History of the Washington Navy Yard Watch Box

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Yard

Manned by Marines, this small building was a part of the sentry post that helped secure the 8th Street entrance of the Washington Navy Yard until around approximately 1905.

The historic watch box has gotten a chance for a “third life” after being at the Washington Navy Yard from 1854 to 1906, being at Indian Head from 1906 to 2015 and now back at WNY after being fully restored.

The Watch box, built in 1853-1854, was known as a guard house where visitors checked in and some district visitors checked out on the way to the city. Manned by Marines, this small building was a part of the sentry post that helped secure the 8th Street entrance of WNY until approximately 1905.

The yard supplied buildings via barge transportation to Indian Head in early 1900’s, and several buildings that remain there have become an important part of Indian Head history in their second life.

The watch box is credited for having many important people pass by it on their way to and from WNY. The first Japanese embassy visited in 1860. Two presidents, Franklin Pierce and Abraham Lincoln, visited WNY and passed the watch box. Lincoln even passed by it on the day of his assassination at about 5 p.m.

The history of the watch box is intertwined with the history of the Indian Head as Indian Head Naval Proving Grounds was established in the 1890’s on farmland and was in need of buildings to support its mission. It served as a foreman’s office, the main telephone switch facility and a grounds store house between 1911 and 1932, after which it was left to the elements at Indian Head.

However, in 1997, the watch box was identified as a contributing element to the Naval Proving Ground Historic District. It was significant as the original location of proof work for the yard, and for its role in testing smokeless powder

With support from Naval Facilities Engineering Command Washington, the historic watch box was moved back to WNY after spending more than 100 years at Naval Support Facilities Indian Head.

To prepare the 11-ton watch box for its journey, it had to be braced so it wouldn’t be damaged during the lift and move. Bracing was done with wooden frame on the inside, customized corner angles and cables on the outside, and steel beams underneath. After being placed on the remote control operated travel dolly, the watch box, known as Building 185, was moved across NSF Indian Head to its pier where it was placed on a barge with a crane.

After nearly five hours traveling by barge up the Potomac River, the watch box was offloaded with a crane at WNY and placed just off the WNY riverwalk. It remained there until its move to West Leutze Park, where it was restored and opened for public display Oct. 8.

The team restored the historically wrap-around porch and brick flooring, visible in historic photographs.With The restoration made the watch box look much like it did in the 1850s.