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Washington Navy Yard shootings: Base has long military history

September 16, 2013|By Timothy M. Phelps

WASHINGTON -- The Washington Navy Yard, where at least 12 people were killed in a shooting rampage Monday, is the Navy’s oldest land base.

Just 3.5 miles from the White House, the Navy Yard is tucked away from the center of Washington along the shore of the Anacostia River, a small tributary of the Potomac. Outside of the Navy, the base is not well known, even to many Washingtonians.

The Navy Yard became the service’s largest shipbuilding facility after it was established in 1799, according to a Navy website. During the War of 1812, with British forces marching on the city, the yard’s buildings were mostly burned to the ground to keep them from falling into enemy hands.

After that, military officials decided the Anacostia was too shallow for an active base. The yard was limited to shipbuilding and, by the middle of the 19th century, mostly to manufacturing ordnance. For a century it supplied many of the cannons, other weapons and ammunition used by the U.S. fleet.

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During the Civil War, with Confederate troops across the Potomac in Virginia, the base once again became a key strategic defense facility. President Lincoln visited frequently, as depicted in the 2012 movie “Lincoln.” After Lincoln’s assassination, eight of the conspirators who plotted his death were brought to the yard, as was the body of assassin John Wilkes Booth.

By World War II, it had become the largest naval ordinance plant in the world, according to the Navy. But in the 1960s, its factories were converted to office space.

The yard is now an important administrative center for the Navy, housing thousands of civilian and military workers, including the Naval Sea Systems Command, which provides the Navy with military materiel.

For that reason, the Washington Navy Yard is known as “the Quarterdeck of the Navy.”

The neighborhood around the Navy Yard, once almost exclusively industrial, has in recent years been redeveloped as a residential area, adjacent to Capitol Hill. The Washington Nationals ballpark is just upriver from the base.


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