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Land Plat Purchase

On 29 July 1900 John D. Long, Secretary of the Navy, appointed a military board to determine the feasibility of changing the location of the Port Royal Naval Station to Charleston.

The board found Charleston to be an ideal location because it was strongly fortified against attack:, offered good protection from storm tides, had a channel well marked for navigation, plus it had plenty of anchorage and three railroads served the city.

On 11 January 1901 the board stated its findings. “We have the honor to recommend that it is expedient to transfer the Naval Station now at Port Royal, South Carolina to a point near the city of Charleston.”

The city of Charleston lies at the end of a fiat peninsula between the Ashley and Cooper Rivers. The site selected for the navy Yard was approximately seven miles from the tip, commonly known as the Charleston Neck. The main road in the interior ran through settlements and plantations known as Long Point, Marshlands, Retreat, and The Grove.

On 13 August 1901 the United States Navy, represented by Captain Lonnecker and Paymaster Skelding, took formal possession of 171 acres of Chicora Park, 258 acres of Marshlands Plantation, and 760 acres of marshlands to the south. Captain Lonnecker subsequently became the first Commandant of the newly formed Navy Yard.

Formative Period 1902-1915

In 1902 work: had begun on the first drydock: and it was completed in 1907. By 1901 the powerhouse was ready to supply electricity to the drydock pumps, the yard had five shops, an administrative storage building, a dispensary, officers’ quarters, and four piers. The yard had one small suction dredge and a tug, SEBAGO.

In 1901 the Reserve Torpedo Flotilla was sent to Charleston from the Norfolk: Navy Yard. USS BAL TIM ORE was the first station ship and in 1912 Admiral David Farragut’s famous fighting flagship, USS HARTFORD, was made the station ship.

Also, in 1912 the Navy transferred a Machinist Mate School from Norfolk to the yard and in 1914 a clothing factory was relocated from the Brooklyn Navy Yard.

The yard’s early mission was to repair small vessels, provide a limited amount of overhaul support, and provide ships with stores. By 1913, the mission was expanded to include serving as a docking and repair station, due to the large number of torpedo boats and destroyers on the Atlantic Coast.

In 1914 the floating derrick CREIGHTON was launched and in 1915 work had begun on the U.S. tug WANDO.

World War I Period 1916-1919

By 1916 the navy yard was building torpedo boats and other small craft, docking and repairing vessels, including the Coast Guard’s, making major alterations to vessels, serving as a destroyer and submarine base, plus manufacturing machinery parts and producing naval clothing.

During World War I, considerable expansion took place which included the construction of barracks, a hospital, shop buildings, ammunition depots, and 12 storehouses. Locomotive cranes and motor trucks were also procured. Work had begun on an additional 1000 foot drydock but was halted after the war.

During this period repairs were made to 35 destroyers and small craft, plus minor work on 125 vessels. Five German vessels were repaired and converted to a transport and cargo carriers. Several English and French vessels were repaired and outfitted. A total of 18 new constructions were completed which included the yard’s first destroyer, USS TILLMAN.

The clothing factory increased its daily output from 2700 garments to 11,000 and the enrollment at the Machinists Mate School increased from 300 to 600 men.

Jo 1917 Camp Bagley, a naval training center, was established at the yard on property which was leased from the city.

On 1 July 1919 the yard’s post office was made a branch of the Charleston Post Office.

Peacetime Period 1920-1938

This period of the yard’s history was marked by severe cutbacks and lack of development after World War I due to the Disarmament Treaty of 1923, the Washington Naval Conference of 1922, and the London Conference of 1930 which had provisions for limiting the equipping and development of fighting forces of all nations.

Camp Bagley and the naval clothing factory were closed and the Machinists mate School was transferred back to the Norfolk Navy Yard.

On 10 July 1922, the Secretary of the Navy issued General Order No. 87 proclaiming that as soon as practical the Charleston navy yard would be considered closed to the repairing and supplying of naval vessels. A closure date of 1 September was in effect and later extended to 1 November of that same year.

The Charleston Cltamber of Commerce appealed for maintaining the yard because it had done splendid service in assigned work, had a low percentage of operating costs, it would be extravagant and not economical to close, plus it was disadvantageous to the safety of the Navy to abandon the yard. Fortunately, the arguments were heard and General Order No. 87 was rescinded.

In 1933 the mission of the yard changed with the assignment of new construction work. An extensive build-up program began to make this a first class yard. Buildings were moved, extended, or replaced. Numerous work projects were made possible by the Work Project Administration (WPA) and the Public Works Administration (PWA). Streets were paved, railroad tracks laid, and numerous ground improvements were made.

During this period, nine vessels were constructed and Admiral David Farragut’s famous fighting flagship, USS HARTFORD, was decommissioned and restored to its original condition so it could be retained as a relic.

World War II Period 1939-1946

In this period the Navy yard became a first class national defense activity. The yard constructed, repaired, overhauled, altered, converted, and docked destroyers and other vessels.

The outbreak of war in 1941 readied the yard for the construction of a second drydock, more piers, and the extensions and construction of several shops. Approximately 193 additional acres of land were purchased on the northern and eastern boundaries of the yard to be used primarily as storage space.

During World War II, the yard reached peak employment with approximately 26,000 civilians who worked in 1,359 vessels. The largest new construction workload of the yard’s history was also accomplished. Damaged ships were repaired, combat vessels overhauled, and over 253 warships were constructed and launched.

In 1941, due to the housing shortage, the United States Housing Authority authorized three apartment projects to be constructed: Tom McMillan, Ben Tillman and George Lagare Homes.

In 1942, drydock No.2, Piers F, G, and J were completed and by 1943 drydock. No. 3 at the south yard was nearing completion and would be used for shipbuilding.

Until 14 September 1945, the Navy yard bad been under the control of the Commandant, Sixth Naval District. General Order No. 223 created the Charleston Naval Shipyard, making it independent of the Naval Base.

At the end of World War II, the work. load shifted from new construction to the decommissioning and preservation of vessels. The yard’s Iast new construction, BRYCE CANYON, was started on 7 March 1946 and placed into preservation status.

Cold War Period 1947-1958

In 1947 the shipyard was commended by Forces Afloat and the Bureau of Ships for work performed on the German U-2512 which was surrendered to the Allies at Horten, Norway in 1945. In 1948 the shipyard was officially designated a submarine repair facility due to Charleston’s mild climate, closeness to operating areas, and its waterfront accessibility. The first submarine to be overhauled at the shipyard was USS CONGER (SS 477).

In 1949 a board of admirals recommended that the shipyard be closed. Senators Burnet Maybank and Olin D. Johnson, and Congressman L. Mendel Rivers successfully convinced the Secretary of the Navy and the Chief of Naval Operations to keep the yard open.

The outbreak. of the Korean War revived the construction of USS BRYCE CANYON (AD 36) and the reactivations of various vessels. However, by the end of the decade, approximately 100 vessels were worked and transferred to foreign flags.

On 1 March 1956, the shipyard reached a milestone by completing its 50th submarine overhaul, USS THREADFIN (SS 410).

During this period of the shipyard’s history, conversions and design became an important part of the workload.

Nuclear Age 1959-1993

The shipyard was introduced to the nuclear age in 1959 with the conversion of USS PROTEUS (AS 19) which represented the largest job of this type since World War II. Also, eight ships were worked and turned over to foreign governments and 60 ship availabilities were completed that year.

The Electric and Electronic Shops achieved an all-time Navy record with three million man-hours worked without a disabling work injury.

In the 1960s the shipyard came of age in the Polaris and nuclear field with the completion of PROTEUS and the first drydocking of a fleet ballistic missile submarine, USS GEORGE WASHINGTON. Forty-eight availabilities were completed in 1960.

In 1961, Charleston began its first nuclear submarine overhaul, USS SCORPION (SSN 589). Three SSBN technical availabilities were completed and the first Polaris submarine post shakedown availability was started that year.

In 1965, the shipyard was assigned its first fleet ballistic missile submarine overhaul, THOMAS A. EDISON. The conversion of a Navy seaplane tender into a floating Aircraft Maintenance Facility was the first of its type. Another significant accomplishment was the first refueling of a nuclear submarine, USS SKIPJACK.

This heavy workload of refueling and overhauling nuclear submarines continued until the late 1980s, when the shipyard began nuclear submarine deactivations due to the aging fleet and the SALT Treaty Agreements.

Charleston Naval Shipyard was tasked with the conversions of Moored Training Ship (MTS) 1 and MTS 2 which are used to train ship’s force in the operation of nuclear submarines.

On 22 September 1988 the shipyard was in the destructive path of Hurricane Hugo which caused an estimated damage of $89 million to the yard.

Base Closure 1993-1996

When the Charleston Naval Complex was unexpectedly placed on the Base Closure list, Save Our Shipyard became the cry of the day. It could be seen on bumper stickers, buttons, and T-shirts all over town.

A petition with 135,751 names was collected and sent to elected officials as well as phone calls and letters of protest which were circulated in the community to spotlight the economic impact of the shipyard.

A 4-1/2 mile march by approximately 2000 citizens was held, starting at the Spruill Avenue Gate and ending at the North Charleston Coliseum with a Defense of Charleston Rally.

Local representatives from each command on the closure list went to Washington, DC to plead their case before the Base Realignment and Closure Commission (BRAC).

Despite the best efforts of concerned citizens and elected officials, the Charleston Naval Complex could not be saved. In June of 1993, the BRAC sided with the recommendations of then Secretary of Defense Aspen and voted to close the Charleston Naval Complex. These recommendations were upheld and signed into law by President Clinton. Charleston Naval Shipyard was given a closure date of 1 April 1996.

Jim Courter, Chairman of the BRAC, stated the situation well, when he described it as “nuclear warfare on Charleston”. Although the shipyard had survived other closure attempts, downsizing, and natural disasters, she could not escape this last event. The closure of the Charleston Naval Complex directly affected the lives of 25,000 civilians and 15,000 military personnel.

Since its early conception, the shipyard and the presence of the Navy had been as natural to the Low Country as the lovely palmettoes, majestic oaks, and towering southern pines. It was unthinkable that any of these familiar sights would be here no longer.

Although the shipyard was tom apart and dismantled, she held her head high until 1 April 1996, the final day in what was once America’s greatest naval shipyard. She will always be remembered for her many years of faithful, dedicated service to the fleet. Charleston Naval Shipyard had a glorious history and served our nation wen.

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