Located on the Hudson River’s Wallabout Basin, which is just short of two miles northeast of the Battery, the Brooklyn Navy Yard was the site of several major developments in naval engineering and shipbuilding. Today its once sprawling facilities have been converted into a civilian industrial park. Evidence of its past service to the nation, however, is visible in the various signs and derelict drydocks that can still be found across the nearly 200 acre plot of land that is bordered by Kent and Flushing Avenues in Brooklyn, NY.
Use of Wallabout Basin as an anchorage goes back to the 17th century operations of the Dutch West India Company, a colonial shipping corporation that transported goods from the Dutch colony of New Amsterdam. Having passed from Dutch to British control over the ensuing centuries, the basin was used as an anchorage for prison ships that held captured American colonials during the American War for Independence. It’s estimated that as many as 10,000 American traders, privateers, and other revolutionaries may have died in these inhospitable hulks during the course of the war. Afterwards, the area along the shoreline was first developed into a shipyard by John Jackson who, as well as working on civilian ships, constructed some of the U.S. Navy’s first vessels, included the USS Adams, a vessel that saw combat during the 1798 “Quasi-War” with France.
In 1801 the federal government purchased Jackson’s property and began to expand what then became known as the Brooklyn Navy Yard. This expansion included the building of officer housing along what was called ‘Admiral’s Row’, construction of dedicated slipways and, eventually, drydocks and engineering facilities. At its peak during World War 2, the yard had 70,000 workers employed in shifts that constructed vessels night and day.
Though the Brooklyn Navy Yard was closed in 1966 and sold to now-defunct Seatrain Shipbuilding, its slipways saw the christenings of numerous warships of note. Among these were the USS Maine, the 1896 sinking of which in Havana provoked the Spanish-American War, and the USS Missouri, the battleship on which the Japanese surrendered at the end of World War 2. The yards also outfitted ships. The world’s first complete iron-clad, the USS Monitor, received her deck armor at a nearby facility and, in 1942, the torpedo boat PT-109, which would later be commanded by John F. Kennedy, was received from her manufacturer for outfitting at the yard.