Navy Yard has history, activities for all

BOSTON— In the early hours of the morning, not long after the sun has risen over the Boston skyline, the Charlestown Navy Yard is quiet. A local resident jogs with his dog, while a couple enjoys sandwiches on one of the benches looking towards the USS Constitution and the USS Cassin Young.

Hungry seagulls circle overhead, scanning the water for a tasty breakfast. A water shuttle signals its arrival and soon the empty dock is filled by 50 three-foot-tall explorers and their chaperones, eager to get aboard the historic ships and take a walk through history.

The day has begun.

A large crane at the Charlestown Navy Yard illustrates the functional nature of the historical park (Photo by Christine Dominguez).

The Navy Yard, when it was still in service, was a crucial part of the U.S. Navy’s daily operations.

“[The Navy Yard] is a place where ships were built, repaired, fixed up and supplied. Without that, you don’t have a Navy,” said Emily Prigot, a park ranger stationed at the Bunker Hill Monument, which is two blocks from the yard. “It’s also where rope was made [and] where anchor chains were developed and made for the entire Navy. It’s amazing as far as the technology and the technological breakthroughs, but that’s what happened in the Navy Yard.”

Despite being located in Charlestown, the Navy Yard is a big part of the Boston National Historical Park and is on the famed Freedom Trail. Located on the Charles River overlooking Boston Harbor, visitors can get to the yard by catching a ride on a water shuttle, hailing a taxi, driving their personal cars, or by following the Freedom Trail on foot. Public parking is available at the Nautica Parking Garage across from park’s Visitor Center on Constitution Road.

Established in 1800, the naval shipyard was one of six commissioned by the Navy to help build ships that would defend the United Stated from pirates that had been plundering their merchant ships. As the years passed, the Navy Yard became more and more vital to the Navy and the American war effort.

It was the War of 1812 that transformed it from a small supply depot to an esteemed navy yard, when it was commissioned to build the nation’s first ship of the line. During World Wars I and II, the yard was mainly a construction yard, building battleships, destroyers and tank landing ships. After it was closed in 1974, Boston National Historical Park acquired 30 acres of the Navy Yard, preserving an important part of U.S. history.

To bring that history alive for visitors, the Charlestown Navy Yard offers a variety of activities. The most popular attraction at the Navy Yard is the USS Constitution, the nation’s most famous naval vessel.

Also known as “Old Ironsides,” it is the oldest commissioned warship in the world that is still in use and its Turnaround Cruise is held annually on the 4 th of July. The Constitution is located on Dry Dock 1, where official tours are run by the U.S. Navy free of charge.

“It’s not just about the ships themselves, but it’s also about the men and women who built those ships – their craft, their skills, their use of technology to fight, in their own way, on the home front,” said Prigot.

Designed to help make the history of the park come alive for visitors, the USS Constitution Museum is free of charge, exhibiting displays on the Barbary pirates, life as a sailor, and much more. A donation is requested at the door.

In addition to the Constitution is the USS Cassin Young, a World War II destroyer that also served in the Cold War. It is one of three Fletcher-class destroyers left of the 175 that were built and it was struck twice by kamikaze pilots. The main deck is opened to the public and park rangers give 45-minute tours of the ship, going into areas of the vessel that are not open to the general public.

The Charlestown Navy Yard was more than just a place where ships were built and restocked; it was also a living place for high ranking officers.

Sitting on a hill overlooking the waterfront, the elegant commandant’s house is one of the oldest structures in the Navy Yard, built in 1805 by the first commandant of the Navy Yard and his family.

The Commandant’s House is a historical mansion overlooking the waterfront (Photo by Christine Dominguez).

The historic mansion has been host to royalty, dignitaries, presidents and captains of industry. Today, it continues serving the same purpose it has for generations: to meet and entertain. The elegant house can be rented out for weddings, corporate functions and other social events.

Just outside of Gate 1 is the Visitor Center, where helpful park rangers stand by to answer any questions. There is a small display and gift shop in the air-conditioned facility, as well as clean restrooms.

Visitors can also enjoy an audiovisual presentation , “The Whites of Their Eyes,” about the Battle of Bunker Hill, the first major battle of the American Revolution to which the Charlestown peninsula was crucial. For visitors with special needs, the center is wheelchair accessible.

The Charlestown Navy Yard is full of history that comes alive at the turn of every corner. Whether it be steering the wheel of the USS Constitution or taking a walk through the old buildings and piers, visitors can expect to get the most out of everything the yard has to offer.

“For me, it comes down to…remembering the freedoms that people have been fighting for, remembering the expense of freedom,” said Prigot. “The American Revolution was over in 1781…but war continued on. There have always been freedoms to fight for and the Charlestown Navy Yard is a part of that story.”

The Charlestown Navy Yard closed in 1974, but the Boston National Historical Park has preserved the old buildings, giving visitors the sense of what the working Navy Yard was like (Photo by Christine Dominguez).




Charlestown Navy Yard

Navy Yard Address
Charlestown Navy Yard, Constitution Road, Charlestown, MA 02129.
Web: http://www/, Navy Yard phone: 617-242-5601

Driving Directions:
From South: I-93 N to exit 28( Sullivan Square). At end of ramp, turn right onto Cambridge Street to first light. Enter traffic circle and take first right onto Rutherford Avenue Move left and at City Square, just before bridge, turn left onto Chelsea Street. Follow directions for all (below).

From West: Mass Turnpike to I-93 N. Follow above.

From North (Route 1): Route 1 South over Tobin Bridge. Follow signs for Charlestown. Exit is one mile after bridge and takes you into tunnel. In tunnel, follow exit sign for Charlestown and proceed to light. At light, turn right onto Rutherford Avenue and immediately get into left lane. At next light, turn left onto Chelsea Street. Follow directions for all (below)

From North (93 South): I-93 S. to Exit 28/Sullivan Square. Stay left on exit ramp for about one-third of a mile. Proceed up ramp to Rutherford Avenue. Follow signs for Rutherford Avenue / City Square. After Bunker Hill Community College, get into left lane. Just before bridge at City Square turn left onto Chelsea Street. Follow directions for all (below)

For All: At first light, turn right onto Warren Street, then first left onto Constitution Road. Visitor Center is on Constitution Road on right.

Charlestown Navy Yard Visitor Center:
Open daily, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Location is Bunker Hill Pavilion, Constitution Road, Charlestown, MA 02129. “The Whites of Their Eyes” presentation opened seasonally; call 617-241-7575 for group reservations. Hours: shown every half hour, from 9:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.
Fees: Children (4-12) $2, students / seniors $3, adults $4, groups: $1.50 per child (under 12), $2.50 per student and senior, $3.50 per chaperone/adult.
Commandant’s House: call 617-263-6490 or email

USS Constitution:
Summer [April 1 – Oct. 31] – Tuesday through Sunday 10 a.m. to 5:50 p.m.
Winter [Nov. 1 – March 31] – Thursday through Sunday 10 a.m. to 3:50 p.m.
Tours every 30 minutes ending at 3:30 p.m. year round
It is recommended to arrive at least a half-hour early to allow time to get through security, which is required for all visitors.
Fee: Free

USS Constitution Museum:
Hours: Summer – daily 9 a.m. – 6 p.m., Winter – daily 10 a.m. – 5 p.m.
Fee: Free, but donations are welcome

USS Cassin Young
Hours: Monday – Wednesday – Guided tours only – 11 a.m., 2 p.m. and 3 p.m.
Thursday – Sunday: Main Deck open (weather permitting) for self-guided visit 11 a.m. – 3 p.m. Tours offered at 11 a.m. and 2 p.m.

All park sites (except U.S.S. Constitution) and the Visitor Center are closed Thanksgiving Day, Dec. 25, and Jan. 1.

Although public transportation is strongly recommended, discounted parking with Boston National Historical Park validation is available from Nautica Parking Garage across from park’s Visitor Center on Constitution Road. For more information please call the Visitor Center at 617-242-5601.

Public Transportation:
Water transportation runs frequently between downtown Boston ( Long Wharf) and the Charlestown Navy Yard. Taxi fares range between $10 and $12 from downtown Boston to the Yard.

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