Floating a Watch Box Down the Potomac: a Section 106 Success Story

By Amanda Apple, Preservation Officer, Review and Compliance

Starting Condition of Watch Box at NSF Indian Head

Starting Condition of Watch Box at NSF Indian Head

Until recently, the oldest building at Naval Support Facility (NSF) Indian Head in Southern Maryland was believed to be the watch box (also known as a guard shack). Originally, in 1854, this little yellow building helped secure the Eighth Street entrance of the Washington Navy Yard. The watch box functioned as a sentry post manned by Marines until approximately

1905, after which it was relocated to NSF Indian Head by barge. Munitions produced at the Navy Yard were shipped down the Potomac River for proving at Indian Head on a regular basis, so the inclusion of the 13’x13’ building would not have been considered unusual. At NSF Indian Head, the watch box served as a foreman’s office, the main telephone switch facility, and a grounds store house between 1911 and 1932, after which time it was finally abandoned to the elements. In 1997, the watch box was identified as a contributing element to the Naval Proving Ground Historic District, significant as the original location of the proof work for the Navy Yard, and for its later role in testing smokeless powder manufactured at the nearby Single Base line.

Loaded on the travel dolly

Loaded on the travel dolly

Recently, the Navy decided to demolish its deteriorating and unused Piers 3 and 4 at the Washington Navy Yard, contributing elements to the Central Yard National Historic Landmark. As part of its obligations under Section 106 of the National Historic Preservation Act, the Navy entered into an agreement with the State Historic Preservation Officers for Maryland and the District of Columbia to mitigate the harm to the historic district caused by the demolition of the piers. All parties agreed that the relocation of the little watch box from NSF Indian Head to its original home at the Navy Yard would help mitigate the loss. NSF Indian Head had no potential beneficial reuse for this building, due to its small size and extensive renovation costs.

Watch Box being lifted on to the barge at NSF Indian Head. Photo courtesy of Thomas Wright, NSF Indian Head

Watch Box being lifted on to the barge at NSF Indian Head. Photo courtesy of Thomas Wright, NSF Indian Head

In April 2015, the watch box started its journey home to Washington. The 11-ton, Italianate – style building had an internal wood frame fabricated with custom corner angles and cables on the exterior which were attached to a steel beam base, so as help the building maintain its shape and not be damaged in the move. The building was lifted and placed on a remote controlled travel dolly and driven approximately half a mile to the pier at NSF Indian Head, where it was then placed on a barge with a crane. After a five hour barge ride back up the Potomac River, the watch box was offloaded with the crane at the Navy Yard.

Watch box being craned off the barge at the Washington Navy Yard.

Watch box being craned off the barge at the Washington Navy Yard.

The watch box is currently waiting in a parking lot for its final move to West Leutze Park. When the project is complete, the historic watch box will be positioned just south of its original location on the Washington Navy Yard. It will be restored to serve as a historic and educational display. Stay tuned to see the final product in a future post!

Advertisements

3 thoughts on “Floating a Watch Box Down the Potomac: a Section 106 Success Story

  1. Interesting to see how large it is, compared to the tiny glass guard boxes at State Center where the guards barely have room to turn around in. Utilitarian buildings for this purpose in the mid 19th century valued human work space more than we do in the 21st.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s