Gosport Navy Yard: Before the Storm

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Gosport Navy Yard, Portsmouth, ca. 1840. Historical Recollections of Va, Henry Howe, 1852. Library of Congress.
Gosport’s Beginnings

Gosport Navy Yard, located in Portsmouth, across the Elizabeth River from the busy port of Norfolk, Virginia, was one of the largest shipyards in the United States. Norfolk merchant Andrew Sprowl established the yard in 1767. Sprowl remained a loyalist when the Revolutionary War erupted. The yard was confiscated by the Commonwealth of Virginia, and then burned by the British in 1779.

The yard remained inactive until 1794, when the property was leased by the United States. Captain Richard Dale served as the superintendent for this new government shipyard. When the US Navy was formally established in 1798, it assumed operation of the yard and designated it as the Gosport Navy Yard.   Read more

Scraps of the Past

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Click on the picture to read the text! From The Mariners’ Museum collections.

Hello readers and welcome back to the Library bog. Some of you may remember a previous Director of The Mariners’ Museum named William Wilkinson, who served from 1973 until 1991. When Wilkinson passed away in March of 2010 he left behind a grand legacy to the Museum, which includes the Chesapeake Bay gallery, recognition of the Mueum as a prestigious museum, and a beautiful treasure: a scrapbook on the SS United States.

Wilkinson’s scrapbook contains a wide variety of material, from articles and photographs to souvenir logs and even meal menus. The largest collection of items is a series of articles covering a range of topics that are almost entirely comprised of newspaper clippings. These clippings report on the launching of the ship, her attainment of the transatlantic speed record, and many other notable features the ship possesses. After the articles, the most numerous type of object is a series of meal menus. These menus detail some of the exquisitely prepared breakfast, lunch and dinner options available to the passengers. Some of the options make ones’ mouth water, but others – like Smoked Ox Tongue and Boiled Pig’s Knuckles from the July 20th 1957 Luncheon Menu – force your eyes to quickly dart away before your appetite spoils.   Read more

A Byte of History

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People who remember traveling on the great ship have bought bits of the places that were special to them, like the Promenade Deck pictured above. From The Mariners' Museum Collection.

Hello readers, and welcome back to the Library blog. Julie Zauzmer, a staff writer for the Philadelphia Inquirer, posted an interesting article on Philly.com today (article HERE). The SS United States Conservancy has created a virtual copy of the SS United States in order to raise money for the conservation of the real ship. Donors can purchase virtual pieces of the vessel for the price of $1 per square inch, and use that space to display things like photographs and messages. Creating a virtual ship like this is an interesting step not just the SS United States, but for museums in general: when you need to quickly raise funds or awareness for a project, what better way than by using the internet? The Conservancy has given an electronic version of the ship to the people, and let them run with it.

Financially, the project is off to an admirable start. The Conservancy needs $25 million to renovate the ship and convert its interior into a museum, and has raised $6 million already. The catch is that their current allotment of money will only allow them to hold on to the ship until November of this year. After that, the SS United States will be sold for scrap metal. A poor end for the flagship of the American merchant fleet and the world’s fastest transatlantic passenger ship.   Read more

Sketching History

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The bow of the ship takes form behind a thin veil of scaffolding. From The Mariners' Museum Collection.

Hello readers and welcome back to the Library blog! I have a special treat for you today: a glimpse at the birth of the fastest ocean liner ever built, the SS United States! Launched in 1952, the United States was at that time the largest passenger ship ever constructed in the United States.  She served in a place of honor as her namesake nation’s crown jewel for 17 years. Although retired in 1969 and currently in a state of disrepair, the United States deserves recognition for not just the people it ferried across the Atlantic, but for the engineering prowess and detailed specialization with which it fulfilled its role.

In a series of black and white pencil sketches, the artist C. E. Parkhurst captures the construction process of the United States as each piece of her frame – funnel, keel, stern, bow and propeller shaft – slowly comes into being. The pieces are shown individually at first, as each sketch focuses on a different aspect of the ship’s construction. By just looking at the sketch out of context, the individual pieces seem rather commonplace. It’s when one gets to the last of his sketches that one can see the pieces assembled into the whole, with the now-recognizable ship standing ready to sail into history.   Read more

"History or Baseball?"

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On Friday I had the pleasure of giving a tour of the museum to Jordan and Bryce, “baseball stars of the future”, and their mother, Sydney from Atlanta.  They seemed to really enjoy the experience, as did I.  I think, like many school children of today, American history is somewhat not a priority.  I stressed the importance of this subject, and encouraged them to go to the Atlanta History Museum for a more extensive lesson, since they live in the heart of the history of the Civil War!  I believe that their viewing of “The Battle of Hampton Roads” really got their attention.  Sidney grew up in Newport News and was visiting her mother here.  I told Sidney that if today’s experience didn’t plant seeds of history in the minds of her sons, I didn’t know what would.