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September 2013

Washington, D.C.: Central City

Washington, D.C.: Central City

On September 16, 2013 more than 10 civilian and military personnel were shot and killed at the Washington Navy Yard. A "shelter in place" order was issued for the entire base as well as for surrounding buildings.

The Washington Navy Yard is the U.S. Navy's oldest shore establishment (authorized by the first Secretary of the Navy, Benjamin Stoddert, in 1799). The original boundaries of the base were established in 1800 and are still marked by a white brick wall. Located within the District of Columbia, our nation's capital, the Navy Yard is home to multiple commands.

During its early years, the Navy Yard became the Navy's largest shipbuilding and shipfitting facility. In 1812, the USS Constitution came to the Yard to refit and prepare for combat action. The War of 1812 found the Navy Yard a vital strategic link in the defense of the young capital city. On August 14, 1814, the British, under Admiral Sir George Cockburn and Major General Robert Ross, landed at Marlboro on the Patuxent River. Ten days later they marched into Washington. It became clear the Washington Navy Yard could not be defended and Captain Thomas Tingey, the Yard's Commandant, with the concurrence of the President and the Secretary of the Navy, ordered the Yard burned. Only the Latrobe gate, Tingey's own quarters, now Quarters A, the home of the second in command, adjoining offices, the barracks, and the small schooner Lynx escaped the fire.

By the 1850s, the Yard's primary function had evolved into ordnance production. With the start of the Civil War, the Washington Navy Yard would once again become an important player in the defense of the Nation's Capital. Commandant Franklin Buchanan resigned his commission to join the Confederacy, leaving the Yard to Commander John Dahlgren, who assumed command of the Yard on April 22, 1861. Dahlgren's long attachment to the Yard and his role in its development were recognized in 1863 by the naming of the new foundry in his honor and the burial in its wall of the leg lost by his son, Colonel Ulric Dahlgren, following the Battle of Gettysburg.

Following the Civil War, the Navy Yard continued to be the scene of technological advances. Continuing ordnance production, the yard also manufactured armament for the Great White Fleet and the World War I Navy, including the 14-inch naval railway guns used in France during World War I. World War II found the Navy Yard as the largest naval ordnance plant in the world, with the weapons designed and built there used in every war in which the United States fought until the 1960s.

On July 1, 1964, the activity was redesignated the Washington Navy Yard, and the deserted factory buildings began to be converted to office spaces. The Navy Yard was also the scene of many scientific developments. Robert Fulton conducted research and testing on his clockwork torpedo during the War of 1812. Commodore John Rodgers built the country's first marine railway for the overhaul of large vessels in 1822. John A. Dahlgren developed his distinctive bottle-shaped cannon that became the mainstay of naval ordnance before the Civil War. In 1898, David W. Taylor developed a ship model-testing basin, which was used by the Navy and private shipbuilders to test the effect of water on new hull designs. The first shipboard catapult was tested in the Anacostia River in 1912, and a wind tunnel was completed at the yard in 1916; the gears for the Panama Canal locks were cast at the Yard; and Navy Yard technicians worked on designs for prosthetic hands and molds for artificial eyes and teeth.

The Joint Committee on Landmarks has designated the Washington Navy Yard Historic District a Category II Landmark of importance, which contributes significantly to the cultural heritage and visual beauty of the District of Columbia. Today, the Washington Navy Yard continues to be the "Quarterdeck of the Navy" and serves as the Headquarters for Naval District Washington.

This article may be updated as information becomes available.

CNIC: Naval Support Activity Washington, 9/2013

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