about the museum

NAVAL SHIPYARD MUSEUM

The Portsmouth Naval Shipyard Museum grew out of an April 1949 call for artifacts by Norfolk Navy Yard Commander Admiral Homer N. Wallin, and opened under the curation of local Portsmouth World War I veteran Marshall W. Butt on March 24, 1950 in Building No. 33 on the shipyard.
Portsmouth Naval Museum
Service to the Fleet front page article on the opening of the original incarnation of the Shipyard Museum.
Portsmouth Naval Shipyard Museum Image.
Marshall W. Butt seated in the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard Museum’s Staff Office.  Portsmouth Naval Shipyard Museum Photograph.
Marshall W. Butt seated in the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard Museum’s Staff Office.

By the end of the 1950s, however, it was decided to move the museum from its restrictive location on the shipyard to a more public venue in the city of Portsmouth itself. On January 27, 1963, the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard officially reopened in the former 1919 Elizabeth River Ferry maintenance Building along Water Street in the heart of downtown Portsmouth.

Opening Day crowds at the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard Museum on January 27, 1963.  Portsmouth Naval Shipyard Museum Photograph.
Opening Day crowds at the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard Museum on January 27, 1963.
Portsmouth Naval Shipyard Museum Photograph.
The museum continued to grow its collection in the 1960s, displaying numerous ship models and antique firearms on loan from the Navy as local residents began donating artifacts from the nineteenth century through World War II. Several large pieces of the USS Hartford were also displayed here for a time as well, given the vessel’s sinking at the shipyard in 1956.
An April 1965 view of the museum’s interior, with the USS Hartford’s stern eagle visible on the rear wall.  Portsmouth Naval Shipyard Museum Photograph.
An April 1965 view of the museum’s interior, with the USS Hartford’s stern eagle visible on the rear wall.
Portsmouth Naval Shipyard Museum Photograph.
An interior view of the museum’s displays from the late 1960s.  Portsmouth Naval Shipyard Museum Photograph.
An interior view of the museum’s displays from the late 1960s.
Portsmouth Naval Shipyard Museum Photograph.
A large number of artifacts from the Battle of the Ironclads quickly rose in popularity as well, with the museum eventually acquiring cannonballs, armor plates, books, and even a gun carriage related to this pivotal naval battle.
A mid-1990s image of an armor plate from CSS Virginia on display at the museum.  The small case partially visible to the left held a cannonball from the battle.  Portsmouth Naval Shipyard Museum Photograph.
A mid-1990s image of an armor plate from CSS Virginia on display at the museum. The small case partially visible to the left held a cannonball from the battle. Portsmouth Naval Shipyard Museum Photograph.
Over time, the museum expanded outward to create outdoor displays around the High Street turnaround. These included nineteenth century cannons, World War II vintage torpedoes, a Mercury Program training capsule, and a real Polaris Missile in the center of the turnaround. These displays were paired with the newly established Lightship Museum in 1967 to form Riverside Park.
Curator Marshall W. Butt speaking with Captain McDonnell following the August 2, 1967 presentation of three World War II torpedoes to the museum.  United States Navy Photograph.
Curator Marshall W. Butt speaking with Captain McDonnell following the August 2, 1967 presentation of three World War II torpedoes to the museum. United States Navy Photograph.
A March 1971 view of the museum and its outdoor displays.  Portsmouth Naval Shipyard Museum Photograph.
A March 1971 view of the museum and its outdoor displays.
Portsmouth Naval Shipyard Museum Photograph.
Naval Museum
A 1960s vintage IMPKO Decal produced for the museum showing the approach along Water Street.
Portsmouth Naval Shipyard Museum Image.
Construction and expansion in the decades since the museum’s opening has seen a large reduction in these outdoor displays. Riverside Park gave way to the Admiral’s Landing condominiums in the early 1990s, and the Polaris Missile turnabout was lost to multiple waterline changes, the most recent of which is the revitalized passenger ferry dock. The museum itself has continued to remain strong, offering visitors a chance to examine the evolution of both the shipyard and the symbiotic town of Portsmouth from the earliest days of shipbuilding in the eighteenth century through to the dawn of the nuclear age in the 1950s.
The Portsmouth Naval Shipyard Museum in 2019.  Portsmouth Naval Shipyard Museum Photograph.
The Portsmouth Naval Shipyard Museum in 2019. Portsmouth Naval Shipyard Museum Photograph.