Established by the Federal Government in 1800, Portsmouth Naval Shipyard (PNS) launched its first product, the 74-gun warship USS Washington, in 1814. During World War I, the PNS workforce expanded to nearly 5,000. At this time, PNS took on a new and important role—the construction of submarines—in addition to the overhaul and repair of surface vessels. World War II saw the civilian employment rolls swell to over 25,000. Over the course of World War II over 75 submarines were constructed at PNS, with a record four submarines launched on one day. Following World War II, PNS was the Navy’s center for submarine design and development. The research submarine, USS Albacore, with its revolutionary “tear drop” shaped hull and round cross section, set the standard for all subsequent submarine hull design world-wide. PNS continued to build submarines until 1969, when the last submarine built in a public shipyard, the nuclear powered USS Sand Lance, was launched. Today the Shipyard continues the tradition of excellence and service to the Navy and the nation by supplying the U.S Navy's submarine fleet with high quality, affordable, overhaul, refueling and modernization work.
In 1898 a Prisoner of War encampment named Camp Long was established on Seavey’s Island where the former Naval Prison now stands. It was established to house over 1,600 Spanish Prisoners of War that were captured during the Spanish-American War. Ten years later the Portsmouth Naval Prison was opened on the same site. At its construction, the prison was considered the largest poured concrete building in the world. Over the years the Prison had an illustrious career and was known for its progressive and innovative efforts in the rehabilitation of naval personnel. The facility closed in 1974.
In 1724 William Fernald Jr. built the original house known as Quarters “A’. Before the Navy acquired the property, both Dennett and Seavey Island were privately owned. Families farmed the land and used the location as a base for fishing operations. At this point in time, the Yard was not conducted as a military command.
Until the War of 1812, the Shipyard was under the supervision of the “Naval Agent”, a civilian position. This first military commandant was Commodore Isaac Hull, who assumed command of the Shipyard on March 31, 1813. Due to a lack of “suitable” housing on the Shipyard for a commandant, Commodore and Mrs. Hull resided in a house in Portsmouth. Due to the nature of his job it is rather inconvenient for a commandant to live off the Shipyard. For this reason Commodore Hull requested permission from the Secretary of the Navy to build a “modest home” suitable for a commandant of a naval facility. On February 3, 1814, Hull received permission and funding to build a home, providing that the cost did not exceed $5,000. He immediately employed John Locke, a joiner from Portsmouth, to design and to build the new Commandant’s house. The home was completed the following fall at a cost well below the $5,000 limit. With the remaining funds, Commodore Hull ordered that a small hospital be constructed on the installation. The house and surrounding grounds of Quarters “A” have survived in this manner, with a few minor alterations, throughout the years.
Quarters “A” has been visited by many important individuals throughout its life. Important visitors were generally entertained by the commandant in his home. On August 14, 1870, Admiral Farragut, the first Admiral of the Navy, was at the Shipyard visiting his brother-in-law, Commodore A.M. Pennock, then the Shipyard Commander. During his stay, the Admiral died. In 1908, a bronze plaque was placed on the front of the house, in a panel to the left of the main entrance to honor his memory. It was later removed and mounted on the iron fence in front of Quarters A, where it remains today. In its present state, Quarters “A” now measures 140 feet long, 69 feet wide, and 39 feet high. The house has 8.700 square feet of living space and is classified as a two-story dwelling. The front and face of the quarters at its upper corners peak displays a handsome, sixteen-radii-paned, rosette window of scalloped design. Two triangular, handcrafted, wooden, bias relief ornaments adorn each side of the window. Quarters “A” is surrounded by the Shipyard industrial and administrative complex, yet gives the impression of being remote and sedate.
19th Century History
20th Century History
21st Century History