Walking Tour

Stop #1


The Smith Shop (Building 43)

The Smith Shop (Bldg 43) looking east from the green at Stop #1

Built in 1861, Building 43 is one of the oldest buildings in the Watertown Arsenal Historic District. Along with buildings 313, 37 and 312, it was a part of the original Seacoast Gun Carriage Complex. While most buildings at the arsenal would be adapted and changed to meet the evolving needs of the Army’s ordnance department, the smith shop was the only building that would retain its original use throughout the arsenal’s history.

Inside The Smith Shop in 1982

From 1892 to 1900 the smith shop was equipped with huge 2 and 3.5 ton steam hammers and other equipment for forging steel castings as large as 8,000 lbs. During World War I, a rail crane and 5 ton steel hammer were added to support production of even larger components for 14 and 16-inch seacoast gun carriages. After World War II, building 43 supported the Arsenal’s ongoing research activities with experimental and specialty forgings up until the closure of the Army Technical Materials Laboratory in 1995.

The New Erecting Shop (Building 311)

The New Erecting Shop under construction in 1917
The New Erecting Shop in 1982 seen looking west from the green at Stop #1

In 1917, Congress appropriated funds for the Watertown Arsenal to produce carriages for 14 and 16-inch seacoast guns. Built in just over 9 months, the new Erecting Shop (Building 311) was one of the first of 23 buildings constructed over a four-year period to meet production demands for World War I and for the massive seacoast guns. At 462 feet long and 158 ft. wide, this steel framed building was believed to be one of the largest of its type in the U.S. at the time.

14-inch gun mounted rail gun being assembled in 1921

The shorter northern half of the Erecting Shop contained machining equipment and two circular erecting pits for assembling 14-inch gun carriages. The taller southern half contained similar equipment to accommodate the assembly of carriages for the larger 16-guns. Each side had railroad tracks that extended over 300 feet from doors at the eastern end and large overhead rail cranes for moving heavy parts and machinery. The largest of these cranes had a capacity of 225 tons.

In 1942 the Army added a western addition that doubled the size of 311. Along with new space for ordnance production, large this western addition contained space for a new experimental x-ray facility for non-destructive testing of metals. After World War II Building 311’s production areas remained active through the 1950s and early 1960s.

The Old Erecting Shop (Building 312)

The Old Erecting Shop seen looking south from the green at Stop #1

The Old Erecting Shop (Building 312) was built in 1894, and was a part of the Seacoast Gun Carriage Complex at the Arsenal. Significantly wider and taller than it’s predecessors, the Erecting Shop provided the space and the equipment necessary to assemble new, larger carriages for 8, 10 and 12 inch guns and field mortars.

10-inch mortars being assembled in the Old Erecting Shop in 1908

The Erecting shop was built strategically so that the three arched doors on the eastern side of the building lined up with corresponding doors at the west ends of the Foundry (building 37), the Heavy Machine shop (building 313S), and the Light Machine Shop (building 313N). Rail lines carried goods from these buildings and the Smith Shop to the Erecting Shop for assembly.

The Gleason Gear Cutter

In 1917, the assembly of gun carriages was transferred to building 311 and building 312 became a heavy machine shop. Its large, open workspace and high ceilings made it an ideal location for the large industrial machining tools needed for 14 and 16-inch gun carriages. One such tool was the massive 41 foot Gleason gear cutter, one of the largest of its kind in the world.

In 1960-61, the Old Erecting Shop’s machine tools were replaced with laboratories conducting metals and ceramics research for the Army Materials Research Agency. Activities at the labs included developing new techniques for growing synthetic sapphire crystals, the use of shock wave testing to determine the strength and tolerances of various metals, and a gas-powered ballistics range.

Go To Walking Tour: Stop #2