Monday, November 4, 2013

Receiving Ships Franklin and Richmond at NNSY

Shown here is a post card image of Norfolk Navy Yard's two "receiving ships," the steam frigate ex-USS Franklin and the historic steam sloop ex-USS Richmond. The Souvenir Postcard Company of New York produced and mass marketed the card in 1904.

Before the creation of training stations, transit personnel units, and recruitment districts, receiving ships served the Navy as all the above. It was a place for the Navy to train new sailors and to house veteran sailors in between ships. Usually receiving ships were ship-of-the-lines built in the 1820's and 30's. These monster ships were all too often laid up in a decommission status due to their enormous expense to operate them. As those ships rotted away, the Navy used Civil War-era vessels in the later part of the 19th century and early twentieth century. With much of their equipment removed and roof built over the upper decks, ships like Franklin and Richmond were common sights at the various Navy Yards. They came complete with electricity, galleys, training areas, and living quarters. Franklin had been in Hampton Roads as a receiving ship since 1877, with Richmond arriving in 1903. Both ships were berthed across the Elizabeth River opposite from the Navy Yard.

However, by the turn of the twentieth century, it was becoming apparent to senior Naval leadership that if the Navy was going to expand into a large modern fleet, the receiving ship system would have to go. If for no other reason, the Navy's medical community reported that these ships were less than ideal places to berth sailors. In 1904, for example, the ships' senior medical officer reported to the surgeon general that there were "100 cases" of measles in the Spring and a few cases of the mumps. The medical officer also had both ships' engineering spaces completely gutted, as unsused boilers had become havens for swarms of mosquitoes. The wooden hulls and floors of the ships did not stand up well in the humid summers of Hampton Roads, causing further concern for medical officers. Not helping the sanitary conditions was the large influx of new recruits. Each ship could safely house about 300 sailors and both frequently exceeded that limit. The two ships in 1904 had over 5,000 sailors coming and going.

The Navy had begun to build barracks on land at St. Helena, just south of the Navy Yard, both to provide relief of overcrowding and enforcement of basic sanitary standards. An outbreak of diphteria accelerated the construction of land based barracks, as medical officers placed both ships under quarantine and made other sailors sleep in tents. The creation of a tent camp was less than ideal as sailors still contracted various tropical diseases.

Franklin stayed at Norfolk Navy Yard until 1915, when the Navy struck her from the list of ships. She was sold to a salvager, who took her to Easport, Maine to be set on fire to recover her metal material. The Navy struck Richmond from the list in 1919. The removal of these two ships and others around the country marked the end of the receiving ship system.

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