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368_00SeacoastNH.com Presents
Historic Portsmouth #368

According to historian Ray Brighton, in its heyday, Franklin Shiphouse was the most imposing structure on the old Portsmouth Navy Yard. Under its sky-lit roof many of the most historic vessels in the region were built. At one point in the 19th century it was, by some reports, the largest wooden building in the world. And it would last almost exactly 100 years. (Continued with photos below)

 

An item in The Portsmouth Journal of August 19, 1837, reports that the shiphouse “was completed a month or two since, and is one of the best to be found in the Union. It is 250 feet long, 130 feet base, and its roof is covered with about 150 tons of slate.” In 1854, the shiphouse was lengthened so that the keel of the USS Franklin could be laid in it. The Franklin was the biggest wooden warship built at the yard, but it was on the ways for ten years. And that long gestation period gave the shiphouse its name.

EVEN MORE on the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard Fire of 1936

It was used through the Civil War and during the building of early submarines including the L-8, the first submarine built in a government shipyard. Two other  wooden shiphouses, the Alabama and Santee, were razed in the 1890s, but the Franklin was saved. According to Brighton, “One of the features of the old building were galleries high on its walls where spectators could watch launchings. It was in the north gallery, then used for storage, that the fire started at 5:30 a.m. March 10, 1936. Within an hour, a century of service to the Navy had gone up in smoke - but it was a massive exit worthy of a massive building.”

Franklin Shiphouse burning in 1936 / Portsmouth Athenaeum photo on SeacaostNH.com

BONUS CLOSE-UP PHOTO

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