U.S.R.S. Wabash doing duty as a receiving ship in the Charleston Navy Yard in the late 1870s.

New Life as Floating Barracks

For 37 years, U.S.R.S. Wabash lay anchored just off here, the longest serving receiving ship in the U.S. Navy. From the moment in 1862 when the Navy launched its first iron-hulled battleship, the days of wooden ships in combat were numbered. In the decades that followed, several decommissioned wooden vessels found new uses at Navy yards as receiving ships. U.S.R.S. Wabash, U.S.R.S. Constitution, and the first vessel ever built here at the Charlestown Navy Yard, U.S.R.S. Independence, were among them.

These receiving ships often housed several hundred sailors. To increase usable space, the upper rigging was removed from the masts and a roof covered the top deck—transforming the once stately vessels. They served many purposes: recruiting stations, transit barracks, and hospitals, as well as training centers for both recruits and teenage boys, who began their apprenticeships on board.

After World War I, the Navy phased out receiving ships, replacing them with on-shore barracks.


What happened to the U.S.S. Wabash? [expand]

How did the Harborwalk come to exist? [expand]

How did Colonial laws help create today's Harborwalk? [expand]



Banner image: Courtesy of the National Park Service

Wabash under sail: Courtesy of the Navy Art Collection, Washington, DC. U.S. Naval History and Heritage Command

Recruits around cannon: Courtesy of the Boston Public Library, Pictorial Archive Collection

Recruits picnicking: Courtesy of Historic New England

U.S.S. Constitution: Courtesy of the Stephen Landrigan collection

Translation and recording thanks to the generosity of the Boston Marine Society

Our gratitude to the Perkins School for the Blind and David W. Cook for their partnership in creating the audio files.

About us

The Friends of the Boston Harborwalk is a group of volunteers, affiliated with Boston Harbor Now, dedicated to enhancing enjoyment of Boston's 43-mile Harborwalk. The Friends meet monthly to plan and coordinate our three main priorities.

1. Host monthly two-hour long tours connected to the Harborwalk or Boston Harbor;

2. Facilitate waterfront clean-up days to ensure that the full length of the Harborwalk is clean, safe, and inviting;

3. Create engaging interpretive signs to help people learn about and enjoy the rich stories connected to Boston's waterfront.

For more information and to join the Friends, contact Mike Manning, Chair, mmanning@bostonharbornow.org .