A Place in Time spotlights a significant cultural resource - a district, site, building, structure or object - entered in the National Register of Historic Places.

The United States’ late entry into World War I required the expedient creation of naval resources, including battleships and transport ships . The Emergency Fleet Corporation, established by the U.S. Shipping Board on April 16, 1917, to provide for the procurement, construction, and disposal of merchant vessels, retained the Merchant Shipbuilding Corporation, a private ship manufacturer, to build a shipyard on the Delaware River in Bristol, Bucks County. The facility, Harriman Yard of the Merchant Shipbuilding Corporation, consisted of thirty buildings housing every trade required for shipbuilding.

The General Stores and Mold Loft Building, one of the first buildings constructed at Harriman Yard, is the last remaining major vestige of the shipyard, one of only three prefabricated shipbuilding facilities in the nation established for the manufacture of transport ships during World War I. Of the buildings erected at the shipyard, the General Stores and Mold Loft Building, a three-story, reinforced concrete building, was the most impressive in size and the most important in function.

Before the development of the lofting system at the opening of the twentieth century, ships were constructed much like houses, with each piece fitted to the ship as it stood on the shipway. As the construction of ships changed from wood to iron and finally to steel, it became necessary to introduce some system whereby the work of preparing the hull materials could be undertaken independent of the vessel to expedite the construction process. Workers in the mold loft, known as loftsmen, were highly skilled and loft­ing was highly regarded as a profession.

Mold lofts were large, open buildings with smooth floors of sufficient size so that the plans of a ship hull could be laid out in full scale. Draftsmen prepared small-scale blueprints of the hull which were delivered to the mold loft, where the lines of the ship (indicating the steel plates that made up the hull) were precisely drawn on the building’s floor by the loftsmen. Full-size templates or molds were made in lightweight wood or paper for each section of the hull using the floor lines as guides. The templates were then taken to the yard’s steel fabrication shop where the actual hull plates were manufactured.

Despite being the smallest of the three shipyards – with only twelve shipways – ­Harriman Yard manufactured the largest vessels with the greatest cargo capacity in comparison with those built at Newark, New Jersey, and Philadelphia’s Hog Island. Harriman Yard employed ninety-five hundred workers who kept the plant operational nearly twenty-four hours a day.

 

Recent Additions to the National Register of Historic Places

St. John the Evangelist Roman Catholic Church and School Building
Wilkes-Barre, Luzerne County
July 30, 2003

Buckingham Friends Meeting House
Buckingham Township, Bucks County
Designated a National Historic Landmark
July 31, 2003

Class and Nachod Brewery
Philadelphia, Philadelphia County
July 31, 2003

General Stores and Mold Loft Building, Harriman Yard of the Merchant Shipbuilding Corporation
Bristol, Bucks County
July 31, 2003

N. Snellenburg Company Department Store Warehouse
Philadelphia, Philadelphia County
July 31, 2003

Dr. Thomas R. Kerr House and Office
Oakmont, Allegheny County
September 2, 2003

Wyalusing Borough Historic District Wyalusing,
Bradford County
September 15, 2003

Jefferson Elementary School Pottstown,
Montgomery County
September 30, 2003