Shipyard Commander's Residence
Construction of the original brick portion of Quarters "A" began in the
fall of 1837, several months after Congress authorized its creation as the
second commandant's house in the shipyard history.
Commodore Lewis Warrington, who twice commanded the shipyard, was the
first shipyard commander to enjoy Quarters "A" after the gracious central
section was completed in 1838. His two-block move began from the original
two- story brick commandant's house built in 1805 on the riverside shoulder
of Water Street (now Warrington Ave.). It was located about midway between
Hammerhead 110 and Building 59.
The first commandant's quarters continued to serve the shipyard
variously as a residence and as an office until 1861 when it was destroyed
by fires set by federal personnel evacuating the yard during the onset of
the Civil War.
championing the new Quarters "A" was compelling.
In the fall of 1836, 10 months after Quarters "B" and "C" were declared
ready for occupancy, he wrote Secretary of the Navy Mahlon Dickerson that
first on his list of proposed improvements was "a house for the Commander
of the Yard.
"The work carrying on, and to be carried on, in the creek south of his
present residence, renders it unfit for a family from June to November, on
account of its unhealthiness, for the whole year, by reason of its exposure
to the noise and the observation of the workmen," he wrote. "For this the
mason's estimate is $20,800 and the joiners estimate is $24,604."
His request for more suitable accommodations was forwarded by the
Secretary of the Navy to Congress on December 3, 1836. Public Works records
in the National Archives show construction outlays in 1837 and 1838.
This two-story, Flemish-bond brick structure is a handsome and finely
crafted example of a style in national favor during a period of rapid
expansion for the United States and the shipyard.
Quarters "A" has striking features copied from Asher Benjamin's famed
book, "The Practical House Carpenter." published in 1830.
The central entry has Doric pilasters, plain full entablature and
blocking course. The curving flights of stairs with original iron railings
ascend to a landing at the front-door level. Three-part windows, each
consisting of two-over-two sash flanking a six-over-six window, have ramped
white marble lintels with corner blocks.
Carved pilasters and elaborate jig-sawn balusters help make Quarters "A"
a handsome example of its style.
Large arches stand between
reception rooms. Paralleling the central
entrance hall is an elliptical stair with eased and scrolled banister. To
the right of the entrance hall is the dining room, and the rear half of the
house is occupied by a double parlor separated by a flattened segmental
arch with corner block imposts, a central table, and symmetrically molded
trim. The Italian marble fireplaces in the double parlors and the dining
room are the originals but the hearths may not be. There is a small side
porch, a large glass-enclosed sun porch, two kitchens and butler's pantry
on the first floor.
The second-floor plan is similar to the first, but double doors rather
than an open arch separate the two rear chambers.
Much original detail remains, including paneled window reveals, simple
marble mantels and Greek-fret stair brackets.
Frame two-story porches with bracketed cornices were added to the sides
and rear of the home, in 1890 and 1910. The stable and carriage house added
in 1915 is now a garage. It stands near the site of the greenhouse added in
The spacious grounds, which once hosted extensive vegetable gardens, now
feature spreading oak, crepe myrtle and sycamore trees, as well as more
than 100 roses planted and tended by shipyard commanders and their
Entries in the Quarters "A" Log date from 1963, when the diary was
placed in the residence by friends of Rear Admiral W.E. Howard Jr., who
then commanded this historic shipyard.
Entries provide glimpses into the lives and achievements of officers
whose names are famous in the naval annals of America, including as Acting
Secretary of the Navy and as fleet commanders. Many other outstanding
figures of the Navy, the nation and the world have at some time or another
visited Quarters "A", sometimes to pay their respects to the commandant
while their ships were being overhauled and repaired.
Observers have described hospitality being extended to Quarters "A"
guests with style and grace. "Handsome collations...elegant repast...lavish
dinner...choice viands" appear in eyewitness accounts. There also have been
accounts of simpler entertainment, including potluck suppers, that reflect
occupants' continuing enjoyment of a gracious and historic home.
Quarters "A" is listed in the Nation Register of Historic Landmarks.
Quarters "K" is an early Victorian, three-style house
that dates from 1890. Its large, glass-enclosed porch once was a sleeping
porch equipped with hammocks before the days of air-conditioning.
A collection of Mexican pottery, bisque dolls, crystal table bells,
bull's eyes over doors and window frames, and original ceiling medallions
are among the attractions of the eight-bedroom, nine fireplace home.
The Tar House is one of the oldest surviving structures at Norfolk Naval
Shipyard. Dating back to 1834, this small, eight sided building was built
with leftover granite blocks from the construction of Dry Dock One between
1827 and 1833. It is predated by the dry dock and by Quarters "B", "C" and
"D" (but not by Quarters "A").
Birth Place of Naval Technology
The Norfolk Naval Shipyard has built historic ships, developed mines,
and torpedoes, outfitted ships for around- the-world diplomatic voyages,
aided the fleet during the wars, made the transitions from sails to coal
and oil and then to nuclear power, and developed skills and technologies
that embrace Dahlgren guns, 16-inch batteries and guided missiles.
Milestone ships have included the USS CHESAPEAKE (one
of the first six built after the Navy Department was established), the USS TEXAS (the first U.S. Navy battleship to be
commissioned), the USS RALEIGH (early cruiser), the USS MERRIMACK/CSS VIRGINIA (pioneer ironclad), and the USS LANGLEY (first U.S. Navy aircraft carrier).
The nation's first dry dock is still functioning here,
with a nearby marker
proclaiming it as a national historic landmark. A few blocks away are three
more official landmarks -
Quarters A (1837) and, Quarters B
and C (1830)
Within the span of history here, the shipyard has hosted presidents,
created the Navy's first hospital, recruited workers from many states,
repaired and overhauled thousands of American and allied ships, and earned
a host of awards.
Just as it has since being charged with building a ship capable of
protecting the American merchant ships from the Barbary pirates, the
shipyard is still serving the nation with its work on ships that keep the
world's sea lanes free and also serve as ambassadors of history's greatest
Destruction of Gosport Navy Yard
An on-scene war correspondent with THE PHILADELPHIA INQUIRER wrote the
following story that appeared in his newspaper May 13, 1862. It describes
how the Confederates partially burned Gosport Navy Yard, forerunner of
Norfolk Naval Shipyard, when they heard Northern troops had occupied the
city of Norfolk. For historical accuracy, all expletives about the
Confederates appear as they were printed, 135 years ago. It should be noted
that the yard was not totally destroyed, as envisioned by the writer.
"The barbarous and wanton Rebels on the other side of the river have
just learned that the city is occupied by Federal troops, and they are
already applying the torch to everything that will burn at the Gosport Navy
Yard. Now, at eight a.m., I can plainly see the entire yard in flames,
which leap madly upward as if fanned by the cowardly Rebels behind as they
fly before the advance of the union armies. The ship house, machine shop,
carpenter shop and barracks, with the officers' quarters, are all in flames
and will be totally destroyed. The steamers William Selden, Cayuga and
Pilot Bay are burning in the stream, off the Navy yard, as are a large
number of schooners and canal boats. They have now just set fire to a canal
boat, which is running down the stream with the tide, but has her rudder so
strapped up that she is heading in for the shore. There, she strikes the
main street wharf, but the fire engines are on the ground, and the flames
do not communicate. The citizens have scuttled her, and she will sink