The Norfolk Naval Shipyard is the nation's oldest and most venerable facility for shipbuilding and repair. Established under King George III in 1767 as the Gosport Shipyard, Virginia usurped it during the American Revolution. It was leased to the U.S. Navy in 1794, purchased outright in 1801, and enlarged in the decades following the War of 1812. The shipyard was burned twice during the Civil War: first by fleeing Union troops and then by fleeing Confederate troops. Between the two conflagrations, Confederate shipbuilders covered the charred remnants of the frigate USS Merrimac with iron plates and rechristened it the CSS Virginia, a bold maneuver that, however briefly, provided the South with an unrivaled naval advantage. In the years since the Civil War the shipyard has been expanded and modernized continuously and is still in active service.
Only Trophy Park, a greensward filled with military hardware on the north side of the shipyard, is open regularly to the public via trolley tours that leave from the Portsmouth Visitor Information Center (High Street Landing). Visible on the perimeter of the park are Quarters A, B, and C (c. 1837–1842), Greek Revival houses adapted from Asher Benjamin's Practical House Carpenter (1830). Quarters A still serves as the residence of the shipyard commandant. This section of the shipyard is surrounded by a brick wall designed by John Haviland in 1831; closed Confederate embrasures may be seen on its exterior. Unfortunately, Dry Dock 1 (1827–1834), the oldest dry dock in the western hemisphere, is not open to the public because it is still in active use. Historic and didactic exhibits related to the shipyard and a restored lightship may be found at the Naval Shipyard Museum (2 High Street).