Historic Watch Box

NAVFAC Washington

Washington, DC

Cultural Government

Watch Box exterior with historic cannons

Originally constructed in the 1840s, this guard house was the "check-in" location for all visitors to the Washington Navy Yard, including President Lincoln who frequently traveled to the base during the Civil War. As a result, the small structure is historically significant as one of the last places where the President made an official call only days before his assassination.

In 1906, the structure was moved to Indian Head, Maryland, where it remained for over 100 years. When the Watchbox was identified as an important contributing element to the Washington Navy Yard Historic District, NAVFAC arranged for its return and restoration.

The delicate structure was transported by barge down the Potomac River and sensitively relocated near its original site, across from the Main Parade Ground. Our preservation team restored the porch canopy with its columns and returned the Watchbox to its original design to help educate the public about the important role the Washington Navy Yard played during the Civil War.

Awards & Honors

  1. Design Excellence in Historic Resources

    AIA Washington, DC

Third Life

This historic Watchbox is now in its “third life”. Built in 1853-1854, it served as entrance security for the Washington Navy Yard for nearly 50 years. By 1909, it had been moved by barge to Indian Head Naval Proving Ground in nearby Maryland, where the Watchbox served as offices and store house before being left vacant. Its “third life” began thanks to the Historic Preservation Act, with the Navy proposing to reclaim and restore the Watchbox to the Washington Navy Yard. A construction barge was used to bring the building upriver and motorized wheel sets carried it from the Navy Yard docks to the new foundations. The original wrap-around porch was restored, along with other elements visible in historic photos. Today, the Watchbox holds a place of prominence at the Navy Yard and reflects the original character of the 1850s.

Historic Preservation

Watchbox Roll and Restoration

As part of the move from Indian Head back to the Washington Navy Yard, the 11-ton Watchbox was transported upriver on a construction barge and then moved with motorized wheel sets from the docks to its new foundations. While the technology of moving a building is much more sophisticated today, the route was very similar to the one taken in 1909.

Historic Preservation

The successful team of historic preservation architects from EYP Architecture and Engineering and Summit Construction and Environmental Service spent months on each small detail, which in the end, resulted in this Navy Yard gem.

Igor Boras, Engineering Branch Senior Construction Manager, Public Works Department Washington

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