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Naval History of Norfolk Driving Tour
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Norfolk Naval Shipyard's Drydock Number One was built in 1827 and is the is the oldest operational drydock facility in the United States, becoming operational in 1833 just weeks ahead of several competing drydock facilities. The dock specializes in the restoration and modernization of naval vessels and is the site where the Confederate Navy modified the USS Merimack, rechristening the ironclad ship "CSS Virginia." Drydock Number One is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, and is both a designated State Historical Landmark and a National Historic Landmark. It continues to function as part of the naval shipyard today.

  • Drydock Number One, Norfolk Naval Shipyard
  • The first ship to utilize the drydock in 1833, USS Delaware.  Library of Congress.
  • The USS Merrimack, modified and rechristened the CSS Virginia by the Confederate States of America. Undergoing retrofit in Drydock #1. US Navy History & Heritage Command.
  • Unknown ship in Drydock #1. Due to the lack of natural stone in Virginia, granite was imported from Massachusetts. Library of Congress.
  • USS Iowa undergoing refit in the drydock, 1985. National Archives.
  • Plaque at the site. Courtesy of the US Navy.
Located on the western shore of the Elizabeth River's southern branch in Portsmouth, Virginia, Drydock Number One at the Norfolk Naval Shipyard (NNSY) was the first dry dock in the Western Hemisphere. The work done at Drydock Number One has helped shape the nation's naval presence for over 230 years. This shipyard, originally put in service in 1834, is still in operation today. As such, it is the oldest operational drydock facility in the country. It specializes in repairing, overhauling and modernizing naval vessels.

The Norfolk Naval Shipyard (NNSY) was established in 1767, predating the Department of the Navy by over 30 years. It was originally established by Andrew Sprowle as the Gosport Shipyard, and often supplied the British navy. During the American Revolutionary War, Gosport was seized by the colony of Virginia. In 1801, the U.S. Navy—recognizing the importance of operating its own yards—assumed the title to the Gosport Shipyard. Prior to that it had paid the Commonwealth of Virginia for the Navy's use of the facilities. Drydock Number One was constructed in beginning in 1827 and was operational by 1834.

Drydock Number One is thought to have been designed by Navy superintendent of drydocks, Loammmi Baldwin, Jr.; construction was overseen by William P.S. Sanger. The drydock cost $974,365.65 to build, a large sum at the time. It was first used in June 1833 for the recommissioning of the USS Delaware, the first time a large vessel was drydocked in the U.S. The drydock measures 319.5 feet length and is built of Massachusetts granite, which is stepped to allow access to and bracing of ships under repair. The drydock can accommodate a vessel with a maximum length of 291 ft. and a 39 ft. beam. It is 30 ft. in depth, can be dewatered in 40 minutes, and flooded in 90 minutes.

Drydock Number One is also significant as the site where the USS Merrimack was rebuilt in 1862 to serve the Confederate Navy as the ironclad CSS Virginia. The CSS Virginia would go on to fight against the USS Monitor in Hampton Roads during the American Civil War.

NNSY has assisted the nation in winning nine major wars, combating piracy, sending the Great White Fleet around the world, scientifically exploring the Pacific, and opening Japan to American trade. Over the course of its history, over 100 U.S. and allied ships were built or converted at this shipyard. 

Owing to its important role in U.S. Naval history, Drydock Number One (building 911) was declared a National Historic Landmark in 1971. Aside from this title, the facility is also listed on the National Register of Historic Places (added 1970) and is a designated on the Virginia Landmarks Register (designated 1969).
"Drydock Number One, Norfolk Naval Shipyard." Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia. Accessed January 13, 2017.,_Norfolk_Naval_Shipyard.

"Norfolk Naval Shipyard." Accessed January 13, 2017.

Simms, La Tanya E. "Historic preservation and cultural resource management at Norfolk Naval Shipyard, Portsmouth, Virginia." Calhoun: The NPS Institutional Archive, 1999.