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Portsmouth Naval Shipyard
Seavey's Island, Kittery, Maine
Portsmouth Naval Shipyard.jpg
Portsmouth Naval Shipyard in 2004
Type Shipyard
Coordinates 43°4′44″N 70°44′3″W / 43.07889°N 70.73417°W / 43.07889; -70.73417Coordinates: 43°4′44″N 70°44′3″W / 43.07889°N 70.73417°W / 43.07889; -70.73417
Built 1800
In use 1800–Present
Open to
the public
Controlled by United States Navy
Capt. L. Bryant Fuller

The Portsmouth Naval Shipyard (PNS), often called the Portsmouth Navy Yard, is a United States Navy shipyard located in Kittery on the southern boundary of Maine near the city of Portsmouth, New Hampshire. It is used for remodeling and repairing the Navy's ships. The facility is sometimes confused with the Norfolk Naval Shipyard in Portsmouth, Virginia.



Shipyard in 1853

Established on 12 June 1800 during the administration of President John Adams, the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard is the oldest continuously-operating shipyard in the United States Navy. It is situated on a cluster of conjoined islands called Seavey's Island in the Piscataqua River, whose swift tidal current prevents ice from blocking navigation to the Atlantic Ocean. [1]

The area has a long tradition of shipbuilding. Since colonial settlement, New Hampshire and Maine forests provided lumber for wooden boat construction. Commissioned here in 1690, the Falkland is considered the first British warship built in the Thirteen Colonies. The Royal Navy reserved the tallest and straightest Eastern White Pine trees for masts, emblazing the bark with a crown symbol. During the Revolution, the Raleigh was built in 1776 on Badger's Island in Kittery, and would be the first vessel to fly an American flag into battle. Other warships followed, including the Ranger launched in 1777. Commanded by Captain John Paul Jones, it would be the first U. S. Navy vessel to receive an official salute at sea from a foreign power. When Secretary of the Navy Benjamin Stoddert decided to build the first federal shipyard, he located it where a proven workforce had proximity to abundant raw materials -- Fernald's Island, for which the government paid $5,500. To protect the new installation, old Fort William and Mary at the mouth of Portsmouth Harbor was rebuilt and renamed Fort Constitution. [2]

Commodore Isaac Hull was the first naval officer to command the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard, taking charge in 1800 until 1802, and again in 1812 during the War of 1812. The yard's first production was the 74-gun ship of the line Washington, supervised by local master shipbuilder William Badger and launched in 1814. Barracks were built in 1820, with Marine barracks added in 1827. A hospital was established in 1834. Architect Alexander Parris would be appointed chief engineer for the base. In 1838, the Franklin Shiphouse was completed -- 240 feet (73 m) long, 131 feet (40 m) wide and measuring 72 feet (22 m) from floor to center of its ridgepole. It carried 130 tons of slate on a gambrel roof. It was lengthened in 1854 to accommodate the Franklin (from which it took its name), the largest wooden warship built at the yard, and requiring a decade to finish. Considered one of the largest shiphouses in the country, the structure burned at 5:00 a.m. on 10 March 1936. Perhaps the most famous vessel ever overhauled at the yard was the Constitution, also called "Old Ironsides," in 1855. [3]

Treaty Building in 1912

Prisoners of war from the Spanish-American War were encamped in 1898 on the grounds of the base. In 1905, construction began on the Portsmouth Naval Prison, a military prison dubbed "The Castle" because of its resemblance to a crenellated castle. It was the principal prison for the Navy and Marine Corps, as well as housing for many German U-Boat crews after capture, until it closed in 1974. Also in 1905, the Portsmouth Navy Yard hosted the Treaty of Portsmouth which ended the Russo-Japanese War. [4] For arranging the peace conference, President Theodore Roosevelt would win the 1906 Nobel Peace Prize. Delegates met in the General Stores Building, now the Administration Building (called Building 86). In 2005, a summer-long series of events marked the 100th anniversary of the signing of the treaty, including a visit by a Navy destroyer, a parade, and a re-enactment of the arrival of diplomats from the two nations.

USS L-8 at PNS drydock in 1917

During World War I, the shipyard began constructing submarines, with the L-8 being the first ever built by a U. S. navy yard. Meanwhile, the base continued to overhaul and repair surface vessels. Consequently, the workforce grew to nearly 5,000 civilians. It would grow to almost 25,000 civilians in World War II when over 70 submarines were constructed at the yard, with a record of 4 launched in a single day. When the war ended, the shipyard became the Navy's center for submarine design and development. In 1953, the Albacore would revolutionize submarine design around the world with its teardrop hull and round cross-section. It is now a museum and tourist attraction in Portsmouth. Swordfish, the first nuclear-powered submarine built at the base, was launched in 1957. The last submarine built here was the Sand Lance, launched in 1969. Today the shipyard provides overhaul, refueling and modernization work. [5]

In 1994, the shipyard was placed on the EPA's National Priorities List (NPL) for environmental investigations/restorations under CERCLA (Superfund). In 2005, the BRAC (Base Realignment and Closure Committee) placed the yard on a list for base closures, effective by 2008. Employees organized the Save Our Shipyard campaign to influence the committee to reverse its decision. On 24 August 2005, the base was taken off the list and continues operating under its motto, "From Sails to Atoms." [6]

Boundary dispute

New Hampshire laid claim to the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard until the U.S. Supreme Court dismissed the case, asserting judicial estoppel.[7] Had it been found to belong to New Hampshire, base employees (and their spouses regardless of whether they themselves worked in Maine) from that state would no longer be required to pay Maine income tax. Despite the court's ruling, New Hampshire's 2006 Session House Joint Resolution 1 reaffirmed its sovereignty over Seavey's Island[8] and the base.

Notable ships built at shipyard predecessors

Piscataqua River region

Badger's Island

Notable ships built at the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard

USS Congress (right) and USS Susquehanna at Naples, painted in 1857, by Tommaso de Simone
"Government type" S class submarine S-13
Finback rescued pilot George H. W. Bush who would become 41st President of the United States
Balao was the first fleet submarine with a stronger pressure hull
Archerfish sank the Japanese aircraft carrier Shinano - the largest warship ever sunk by a submarine
Albacore pioneered the hull shape of modern United States submarines

See also


  • Portsmouth Naval Shipyard Museum & Research Library (Building 31)
  • Alden, John, CDR USN (November 1964). Portsmouth Naval Shipyard. United States Naval Institute Proceedings.  
  • Blackman, Raymond V.B. (1970-71). Jane's Fighting Ships. Jane's Yearbooks.  
  • Blair, Clay Jr. (1975). Silent Victory volume 2. J.B.Lippincott.  
  • Fahey, James C. (1941). The Ships and Aircraft of the U.S. Fleet, Two-Ocean Fleet Edition. Ships and Aircraft.  
  • Switzer, David C. (November 1964). Down-East Ships of the Union Navy. United States Naval Institute Proceedings.  

External links



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