One of the fun facts we learned on our recent Openhousenewyork architectural tour of the Hudson River was that military ships were once a familiar presence on the Hudson River in Upper Manhattan. We went around digging for vintage photos to see if this occurrence had been documented.

Manhattan was once a prominent hub for naval activity— especially in the early to mid-twentieth century. World War II, in particular, ushered in the acme years of shipbuilding in New York City, during which the Port of New York had forty active shipyards. The ships in the Hudson were a part of the U.S. Reserve Fleet, which not only stationed ships on the East Coast, but also in states as far as Oregon. Although the Hudson River Reserve Fleet once numbered at an impressive 189 ships, its figures slowly diminished until the last two ships were finally sold as scrap metal in 1971.

The maritime tradition eventually went into decline following the end of the war, and not even the Brooklyn Navy Yard was spared from closure in 1966. As for New York’s military boats, they were either dismantled and recycled, turned into museum sites, or “mothballed”— that is, placed into a reserve fleet in case of an emergency.

See more from our Vintage Photography column.