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Chain Forge and Foundry

Now another under-used building in the Navy Yard, Building 105 once produced nearly all of the anchor chain used by navy submarines and ships.

For a quick summary of just the facts on this property, click here.

Building 105 in the Navy Yard, the enormous Chain Forge and Foundry Building, was built in 1904. For 70 years the chain forge housed a "monumental assemblage" of machinery and forges. Most of the anchor chain used by navy submarines and ships was made there.

Several foundry machines in the chain forge were prototypes and in 1926 A.M. Leahy and Charles G. Lutts invented at the foundry the die-lock chain, the strongest chain ever produced. While the chain was itself a significant invention and was important to the navy, it also represented the vital role the chain forge building played in innovative design and production for the modern navy and for foundry technology.

In 60 years the chain forge shop made 6 million pounds of die-lock anchor chain for navy ships.

The western part of the building served as an electrical power substation until Building 108 became the central power source. Several sheds were added on the north side (near 13th Street) in an area used for steel storage. The south end, the locomotive roundhouse portion, was remodeled and a new interior built by WPA workers.

The die-lock process

Railroad flat bed cars carried cut nickel-alloy rods into the forge, where oil burning furnaces at temperatures as high as 2,300 degrees Fahrenheit would bend the rods to be shaped into links.

Above was an electric monorail used to lift links, which each could weigh 360 pounds. A complete chain could weigh 16 tons. A link was carried to the furnace by monorail, heated at 2,300 degrees, and then brought back to be placed under a drop hammer and pounded seven times, with 25,000 pounds of pressure per square inch. Each link, made of stem and socket, after being pummeled by the drop hammer, returned to the fire to be heated and then pummeled again, for a total of four times.

At the end of this process there was no telling the stem apart from the socket. The two parts were completely fused into one.

Since the chain forge closed

Some of the forging equipment has remained in the building. In the 1980s, there was a proposal to convert the chain forge into 78,000 square feet of  floor office space and an 8,000 square-foot museum-type display, devoted to a National Park Service exhibit of the remaining chain forge equipment. The principal tenant would have been Great American Salvage Company. This development never happened. (see JUST THE FACTS)

As of Fall 2010, the building still held the kilns, forges, test pits and casting ovens used to manufacture chains. That equipment and machinery are owned by the NPS. 

Besides being subject to guidelines of the Boston Redevelopment Authority, the building is also on the National Register of Historic Places by both the United States Department of Interior and the Massachusetts Historical Commission and is within the Historic Monument Area of the Charlestown Navy Yard.

In the Fall of 2010 Kavanaugh Advisory Group (KAG) of Danvers was tentatively designated developer of Building 105, to determine the feasibility for its use by Massachusetts Eye and Ear Infirmary. MEEI was interested in leasing up to 100,000 square feet for research and development. Kavanaugh's redeveloper designation was extended by the BRA to July 2011.

Information for this article was compiled from many sources, including the following: Waterfront Activation Network Plan; Boston Naval Yard Inventory of Buildings (p. 17); Preservation as a Tool for Waterfront Revitalization by Julie Therese Donofrio, University of Pennsylvania; http://www.youtube.com/watch v=tXveKuExkWI&feature=mfu_in_order&list=UL; Boston Naval Shipyard, report by the National Park Service; City of Boston press release August 13, 2009; http://www.archive.org/stream/proposalforbuild00myer#page/n11/mode/2up; The Navy Yard News, Fall 2010.

naomi kooker July 21, 2011 at 03:01 PM
Love the detail about the actual chains, their weight, and what it took to build them. The reader really gets a sense of history and the importance of the place.
Helen O'Neil July 21, 2011 at 08:56 PM
Thanks for your comment, Naomi. What got my attention was the conditions these men worked under, such as working a furnace that was running at 2,300 degrees. (It makes today's 95 degrees a piece of cake, wouldn't you say?)
Timothy Lutts August 24, 2012 at 12:35 PM
The co-inventor of Die-Lock Chain was Carlton G. Lutts (there was no Charles). He was my grandfather.
William Brewster August 24, 2012 at 12:58 PM
It would be great if the forge could be preserved as a national historical site as doing so would probably go a long way towards offsetting the more commercialized aspects of the navy yard as a whole.
Jay K. August 24, 2012 at 01:44 PM
This made me curious as to what a die-lock chain looks like. I found this in case anyone is interested: http://books.google.com/books?id=Jt8DAAAAMBAJ&pg=PA55&lpg=PA55&dq=die-lock+anchor+chain&source=bl&ots=bVK3ua-gfX&sig=nwYzudQrbpPv1crPosT-MEfeyd8&hl=en#v=onepage&q=die-lock%20anchor%20chain&f=false
Helen O'Neil August 24, 2012 at 10:10 PM
Timothy, Thank you for letting us know about your grandfather’s correct first name.The Boston Naval Yard Inventory of Buildings (p. 17) states ‘In 1926 die-lock chain was developed by A.M. Leahy and Charles G. Lutts.' It’s great to get the correction.
Helen O'Neil August 24, 2012 at 10:23 PM
Jay, Great photos.Thank you. Don't know if you noticed the uploaded YouTube video. Check it out. It takes you inside the chain forge and includes actual footage of the die-lock chain making process. It's fantastic.
Helen O'Neil August 24, 2012 at 10:27 PM
I agree. It is a beautiful building.

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