Hospital Ships and Shipwright Tools: Exploring Collections of the South Street Seaport Museum | Free Virtual Program

PAST PROGRAM | Virtual Programs

Dive into the collections of South Street Seaport Museum with Director of Collections Martina Caruso, who will share some of the highlights among the museum’s 28,000+ artifacts and 55,000+ archival materials that document the rise of New York as a port city. In honor of the recent visit of the hospital ship USNS Comfort, we will look at items related to past hospital ships that have visited New York, and we will examine some fascinating shipbuilding tools, including those used by workers at the Brooklyn Navy Yard and other nearby shipyards.

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Inventions of the Brooklyn Navy Yard | Virtual Program

PAST PROGRAM | Virtual Programs

For over two hundred years, the Brooklyn Navy Yard has been on the cutting edge of innovation, first as a leading shipyard for the US Navy, and today as a home to 500+ industrial, manufacturing, design, and technology companies. We’ll look back at inventions – some small enough to hold, some as large as ships – both groundbreaking and mundane, that shaped the history of the Yard and the wider world. Hosted by Andrew Gustafson.

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Slavery and the Brooklyn Navy Yard

After nearly 12 years of leading tours at the Brooklyn Navy Yard, one of the most difficult questions we get – and almost always from young people – is this: Were there slaves here?

This question is vexing not just because of the complex and painful subject matter, but also because the historical record is incomplete. The result is usually an imprecise and unsatisfying answer. In short, yes, enslaved people were an integral part of life at the Brooklyn Navy Yard for the 60 years leading up to the Civil War, just as they were across Brooklyn and New York City.

This is an effort to unpack that complexity and get somewhere closer to the historical truth of the matter.

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Clayton Colefield and the Building of USS Missouri

Black and white photo of five naval officers standing on a large metal plate, one of them turning a long handle attached to a riveting machine.

They say a Navy ship has three birthdays: its keel-laying, its launching, and its commissioning. The World War II-era battleship USS Missouri has one more, its recommission in 1986 as part of President Reagan’s 600-ship Navy. But one person was witness to its first two birthdays, Brooklyn Navy Yard shipfitter Clayton Colefield, who sat for an oral history in 2009 with Sady Sullivan of the Brooklyn Historical Society.>> Continue reading

What was the First Ship Built at the Brooklyn Navy Yard?

Diagram showing the lines of the sloop Peacock.

For the past two years, we have had the opportunity to work with third and fourth graders in the Brooklyn Historical Society’s CASA program. These young scholars are tasked with writing a book about a place or story important to Brooklyn’s history. In 2018, we helped students learning about Prospect Park, Green-Wood Cemetery, Greenpoint, and the Empire Stores. This year, students from PS 380 in Williamsburg took on the Brooklyn Navy Yard. The students decided to look at the Yard’s history through the lens of some of its famous ships, ArizonaMaine, and Fulton among them, but also the little-known Peacock.>> Continue reading

USNS Pathfinder, Submarine Hunter

At the Brooklyn Navy Yard‘s shipyard, operated by GMD, they repair mostly commercial ships, but they also get a fair number of federal government contracts. The shipyard does not repair US Navy combat ships, but we are currently hosting nearly every other federal agency that operates ships, with vessels from the US Coast Guard, Maritime Administration, National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration, and Military Sealift Command. Right now, a unique MSC ship from the US Navy Oceanographic Office is in dry dock, USNS Pathfinder.>> Continue reading

Saving the Brooklyn Navy Yard’s Timber Shed

Photo showing the Timber Shed in the forground with Admirals Row to the right and the Brooklyn Navy Yard behind.

For the first time in 175 years, the Brooklyn Navy Yard’s Timber Shed has emerged from behind a wall, and it is being prepared for a new life. One of the oldest buildings at the Yard, it is one of the few few surviving structures that represents the Yard’s early history of wooden shipbuilding. 

Actually, the Timber Shed represents the whole purpose and justification for creating the Navy Yard in the first place. When Secretary of the Navy Benjamin Stoddert purchased 40 acres of land in Brooklyn 1801, he used appropriations for the purchase of timber, claiming that the Navy needed secure places to store it; otherwise, he was just wasting money moving the government-owned timber to the private shipyards that were building the ships. With this creative interpretation of the law, he created six shipyards that would be at the core of the US Navy for the next 160 years. In those other five Navy Yards (Portsmouth, Boston, Philadelphia, Norfolk, Washington), none still have an extant timber shed.>> Continue reading

USS Arizona, Brooklyn’s Most Famous Battleship

Today marks the anniversary of the launching of USS Arizona at the Brooklyn Navy Yard. We have written about the Arizona many times before, including about the impact the sinking had on the Yard’s workers half a world away, and about our visit to the memorial in Pearl Harbor. It remains one of the most well-known and written about ships in the history of the US Navy, but we want to take a look at some lesser-known incidents in its storied history connected to the Yard.

When looking back at the ship’s history from the perspective of its tragic end, one can’t help but find many omens; when taken together, they seem to have foretold its fate. They are, of course, coincidences, not curses, but fascinating nonetheless.>> Continue reading

The Pickabacks, Unsung Heroes of D-Day

Operation Neptune, the seaborne component of the Normandy invasion, required nearly 6,500 vessels to deliver the vast Allied armies and their supplies and equipment onto the continental beaches. This didn’t just include warships and landing craft, but also more mundane vessels, like barges.

Allied planners scoured the British Isles for craft of any kind to use in the invasion, and they encountered a major shortage of large barges, capable of carrying 1,000 tons or more, and with a draft of less than six feet. Enough simply could not be found or built. Barges of this size were too large to load onto the decks of even the largest transports, and too fragile to tow across the stormy North Atlantic. So in February 1944, Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower sent an urgent message to Army Chief of Staff George C. Marshall asking for a solution.>> Continue reading