Thomas Jefferson Papers

To Thomas Jefferson from Robert Smith, 8 December 1802

From Robert Smith

Nav Dep
8 Decr 1802


I have the honor to enclose two copies of a report made to me by B. H. Latrobe Esq on the subject of a Dry Dock, at this place, of a size sufficient to contain Twelve frigates of 44 guns—in which report he mentions the site that would, in his opinion, be the best—the works necessary to be erected, accompanied by Drawings—the means of supplying the Dock with Water—& the probable period it would take to complete the works—to which he has subjoined the necessary Estimates, exhibiting the probable cost.

I also enclose two Copies of a Report made to me by Capt Tingey, in pursuance of instructions to examine the streams of water in the neighbourhood.

I have the honor to be with the greatest respect & esteem, Sir, your mo ob Sv

Rt Smith

RC (DNA: RG 233, PM, 7th Cong., 2d sess.); in a clerk’s hand, signed by Smith; addressed: “President of the United States”; endorsed by a House clerk. RC (DNA: RG 46, LPPM, 7th Cong., 2d sess.); in a clerk’s hand, signed by Smith; endorsed by a Senate clerk. FC (Lb in DNA: RG 45, LSP). Enclosures: (1) Benjamin Henry Latrobe to Robert Smith, Washington, 4 Dec. 1802, presenting plans and estimates for the proposed “dry dock or naval arsenal” at Washington in which 12 frigates of 44 guns could be laid up; since the plan had already been “so far matured by the President of the United States,” Latrobe suggests where the works can “most advantageously be erected, & designs and estimates of the works which are necessary to carry it into effect”; since the Eastern Branch of the Potomac contains a bottom mostly of mud, Latrobe strongly recommends locating the locks for entering the dry dock at the end of 9th Street east of the Capitol and bounding the navy yard, where a “Spit of hard gravel” running into the channel will furnish a solid foundation; a valley running up the direction of the street will also save more than half the digging necessary for the works; Latrobe suggests purchasing the lots between 9th and 10th Streets south of the intersection of Virginia and Georgia Avenues, but if such extensive purchases prove impracticable, Latrobe suggests vacating the streets only as far as the navy yard and running the arsenal east to west at right angles with the locks; the latter plan, however, would necessitate the construction of a “turning Dock,” the expense of which might offset any savings on land purchases and also render the location and erection of storehouses inconvenient; regarding the necessary works, Latrobe first mentions two locks, each of 12 feet lift, to raise vessels from the Eastern Branch into the dry dock, which would contain 23 feet of water; once the water is drained from the dry dock, vessels would settle on blocks prepared in the slips and thereby, in the words of the president, “be perfectly drained and rendered as safe against decay as the internal timbers of a house”; in the dry dock, vessels may be built or repaired at leisure, and single vessels may be docked for repair between the dry dock and locks without the necessity of filling the dry dock; regarding the naval arsenal, Latrobe emphasizes that it will admit the free passage of air and be built of “solid masonry” to protect it from fire; Latrobe agrees that the president’s suggestion to model the arsenal roof after the Halle aux Bleds in Paris “is certainly the cheapest and I think the best,” but Latrobe does not include estimates for ornamentation since they are not “within the compass of the arts in America at present”; Latrobe prefers using the Potomac River to supply the dry dock by means of a canal from the locks at the Little Falls canal through Georgetown to Rock Creek, thence through the city to the navy yard; such a canal would fill the works within 12 hours and also convey timber, stores, and provisions to the navy yard from western Virginia, Maryland, and Pennsylvania; at the request of the president, Latrobe has also considered Tiber Creek as a water source, but finds it inadequate; using the water measurements calculated by Thomas Tingey and Nicholas King, Latrobe calculates that it would take 29 days to fill the dry dock using water taken directly from Tiber Creek and Stoddert’s Spring, which would be reduced to three days by increasing the dimensions of the canal and constructing a reservoir on Piney Branch; Latrobe estimates that if workmen can be procured immediately from Philadelphia and Washington, the locks can be completed by the end of 1803 and the naval arsenal by the end of 1804; a canal from the Tiber could be completed in 1803, but if not, then the locks only could be filled by means of pumps in three days; a Potomac canal could not be completed before the end of 1805; Latrobe urges workmen to be engaged before the first of March, by which time most have already planned their employment for the season; Latrobe is confident in his estimates for labor and materials, but cautions that there could be significant variation in those for land purchases and because of the uncertain foundation below the bed of the Eastern Branch harbor (Tr in DNA: RG 233, PM, endorsed by a House clerk; Tr in DNA: RG 46, LPPM, endorsed by a Senate clerk). (2) Latrobe, estimate of the cost of constructing the locks, naval arsenal, and canal, Washington, 4 Dec. 1802, calculating $167,968 for excavating, walling, iron work, and pumping for the locks; $222,013 for constructing the walls and roof of the naval arsenal; and $27,295 for masonry, excavating, and land purchases for a canal from Tiber Creek and Stoddert’s Spring to the navy yard and a reservoir on Piney Branch, making an aggregate cost of $417,276 (Tr in DLC, in Meriwether Lewis’s hand, including recapitulation of aggregate cost at foot of text, endorsed by TJ: “Dry dock at Washington Latrobe’s estimate. 1802”; Tr in DNA: RG 233, PM, with recapitulation of aggregate cost at foot of text in TJ’s hand; Tr in DNA: RG 46, LPPM, with recapitulation of aggregate cost in TJ’s hand at foot of text, endorsed by a Senate clerk). (3) Latrobe, drawings, 4 Dec. 1802, including “Section of Locks” and “Plan of Locks necessary to elevate the Ships into the Arsenal” and a “Plan of the Principal Dry Dock or Naval Arsenal, to contain Frigates in three tier of four ships each,” with north, south, and side elevations and sections looking to and from the Eastern Branch (DLC: Prints and Photographs Division; reproduced in Darwin H. Stapleton, ed., The Engineering Drawings of Benjamin Henry Latrobe [New Haven, 1980], 119–20). (4) Thomas Tingey to Robert Smith, 22 Oct. 1802 (see Smith to TJ, 23 Oct. 1802). Enclosed in TJ to the Senate and the House of Representatives, 27 Dec. 1802.

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