The restored Watch Box is a charming slice of history in the Navy Yard. Photo © Chris Spielmann
The building was lifted onto a barge for the trip upriver to the Navy Yard in Southeast DC.
The earliest known picture of the Watch Box, taken in approximately 1870.
The earliest known picture of the Watch Box, taken in approximately 1870.

Applause: Living History

The Washington Navy Yard’s diminutive Watch Box has had a checkered past. First erected around 1840 as a sentry post for marines guarding the Latrobe Gate (above, right), it was replaced by a firehouse in 1909 and sent—minus its porch—down the Potomac via barge to Indian Head Naval Yard. It was thoroughly dilapidated by the time Naval Facilities Command contacted architecture firm EYP in 2014 with the idea of restoring and relocating it in the Navy Yard as a historic relic.

A small addition to the original structure was removed and lead paint scraped off the exterior before it made the return trip upriver (above, left) to the Southeast DC campus. The firehouse is still operational, so the 450-square-foot Watch Box was sited nearby.

Architect Matthew Chalifoux spearheaded a restoration effort that unfolded like a detective story. “The mandate was to make it look the way it was in 1840,” he says. “We were trying to recreate something that was gone, to understand changes to a building over time.” Aided by old photographs and clues in the existing structure, the EYP team reconstructed the porch and patched the distinctive clapboard exterior with salvaged pieces of the discarded addition. Research determined that a brick floor—on the porch and inside—would have been accurate to the period, and decorative details and colors were drawn from similar period buildings.

A winner of two historic-preservation awards, the Watch Box can be seen on visits to the Navy Yard’s museum.  —Julie Sanders

RESTORATION ARCHITECTURE: MATTHEW CHALIFOUX, FAIA, Anthony Bochicchio, AIA, EYP, Washington, DC. GENERAL CONTRACTOR: Summit Construction Inc., Frederick, Maryland.