Graving Dock No. 1–Past, Present and Future

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The Municipal Art Society, in concert with the Metropolitan Waterfront Alliance, the Save the Graving Dock Committee, the Roebling Chapter of the Society for Industrial Archeology and PortSide, opened its exhibit last night at the Urban Center, Big Box on the Basin.

The impetus for the exhibit is Ikea’s development of the former Todd Shipyard on the Eerie Basin in Red Hook. Part of the shipyard is currently occupied by Graving Dock No. 1, a massive concrete canyon cut into the shipyard for maritime ship repair, and its pumphouse (which is half-demolished as of now).

The M.A.S. is trying to get Ikea to preserve the graving dock, even going so far as to commission an alternative design for the Ikea store that would allow the two to co-exist–and the graving dock to remain in operation.

Aerial view of the shipyard.

Although Ikea is currently demolishing the existing buildings on the site (the graving dock is still untouched), the M.A.S. is calling on the Army Corps of Engineers to compel Ikea change its design–adding another 10 feet to the height of the building in order to accommodate a level of parking, obviating the need to fill in the graving dock with rubble, paving it over and turning it into a parking lot. According to M.S.A. president Kent Barwick, with these minor changes to the Ikea design, the store can create the same number of parking spaces as it originally planned. “This is not a situation where there has to be someone who loses,” he told The Real Estate last night. “The Army Corps’ responsibility is to consider [the graving dock’s] use …. If you want to maintain shipping, you need to have a place to repair ships.”

The Eerie Basin (on which the shipyard sits) was developed in the 1850’s as a terminus for the Eerie Canal. Its 2,500-foot breakwater is a long cul-de-sac (Columbia Street) on which a police evidence-impound lot now sits. The graving dock was built in 1866 along with its steam-powered seven-foot-diameter centrifugal pumps that still purportedly lie beneath the ruins of the pumphouse (capable of removing 23,500 gallons of water per minute), but in the post-Civil War era the glut of surplus warships and and a well-developed iron shipworks infrastructure on the Delaware River caused Eerie Basin business to sputter.

Opening day, Graving Dock No. 1.

In 1915, William H. Todd and other employees of the shipyard bought it before a British firm could take it over, and in World War I 2,500 people were employed there. During World War II, employment ballooned to 20,000. And, according to old-timers in the neighborhood, there was a bar on every corner serving both shipyard workers and G.I.’s whose troop ships were temporarily docked in the harbor.

Containerization in the 1960’s killed most of the shipping business in the area, and in 1985 the United States Dredging Company bought the shipyard. When it went bankrupt in 1993, Stevens Technical Services leased the property, using the graving dock to service tugs and barges. Last year Ikea bought the land and the graving dock is no longer in use.

-Matthew Grace

Graving Dock No. 1–Past, Present and Future