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Rabbit Hole Leads Me to Moon

Recently I came across a scrapbook created for and donated to The Mariners’ Museum in 1935 by George W. Roper titled Shipyards and Ship Repair Yards of the Port of Norfolk and Hampton Roads. Roper wrote “a short account of each yard or plant of which I have been able to obtain any reliable record, beginning with the earliest.”1

The typewritten account is eight pages long, and is followed by 25-27 photographs of area shipyards, including Moon Shipyard and Repair Company. I thought, Moon – what a cool name! Curiosity over the name led me down the rabbit hole that is this blog. That, and the striking clarity and composition of the photographs, taken by Acme Photo of Norfolk (ca. 1930s), compelled me to seek out and share their history.

George Wisham Roper (1867-1946) was president of the Norfolk Shipbuilding and Dry Dock Company from 1916 until 1944. His writing provides background on his interest in many of these shipyards. Roper did not specifically mention the Moon Shipyard and Repair Company and Moon Engineering in his scrapbook, only including photographs of them. I began to wonder if there even was a person named Moon connected to this enterprise.

Norfolk Marine Railway Co., Acme Photo Company, Inc., Nov. 1934 (MS0598-PS485).

In his account, Roper introduces the reader to the Norfolk Marine Railway Company, Inc., and details its location. “This plant is situated on the Berkley side of the Elizabeth River, opposite Portsmouth, and nearly adjacent to ‘St. Helena’.”2 Over the next page and a half, Roper familiarizes us with John L. Thomas and his cousin, William B. Thomas, who “jointly built a small marine railway”3 in the 1870s. He goes into detail as to how the company evolved. Although never mentioned, at least a portion of this property was to become Moon Engineering and Moon Shipyard and Repair Company.

And so, we have a name! The obituary for Guy H. Moon (1880-1948) describes him as “co-founder of Moon Engineering Co., Inc., who also organized the Moon Shipyard & Repair Corp. in 1928. Prior to WWI, he was chief engineer of the Eastern Steamship Company. After the war, he went with the US Shipping Board at Norfolk, & shortly afterward was employed by the Eagle Iron Works at Norfolk.”4

Moon Engineering Company, Acme Photo Company, Inc., Nov. 1934 (MS0598-PS451).

In a 1935 booklet of marine repair plants in Norfolk, Virginia, Moon facilities were listed in three locations: Moon Shipyard and Repair Corporation at the eastern branch at foot of Brown and Lovitt Avenues. Moon Engineering Co., Inc. had two locations: the first at 535 Front Street, Atlantic City, Norfolk, featuring a machine shop, boiler shop, blacksmith shop and two marine railways. Located at the foot of First Street, on Smith Creek, the Hague, the company had a carpenter shop, electric-welding outfits and a marine railway.5

Moon Shipyard & Repair Corp., Acme Photo Company, Inc., Nov. 1934 (MS0598-PS501).

One of the things I learned through this research is that shipyards have a long history and over time, have expanded, merged, and changed owners. In this story, the names Thomas and Colonna figure prominently. George Roper joins the group in 1906 when he, along with Charles J. Colonna, purchased portions of the Thomas properties. In 1928, George C. Lyon acquired Moon Shipyard & Repair Corp., and it continued operating under this name until the late 1950s, when it became Lyon Shipyard.

The various companies associated with the name Moon continued serving military and commercial clients into the 21st century. Today, their Portsmouth site is active, and the Moon legacy continues in the Company History section of General Dynamics NASSCO website.6

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[1] George W. Roper, Shipyards and Ship Repair Yards of the Port of Norfolk and Hampton Roads, scrapbook, page 1, 1935. Mariners’ Museum MS0598.
[2] MS0598, page 2.
[3] Ibid.
[4] Guy H. Moon obituary, Accessed May 7, 2020.
[5] “The Ports of Norfolk, Portsmouth, Newport News and Hampton, Va.,” prepared by the Board of Engineers for Rivers and Harbors, War Department, 1935. Accessed May 8, 2020.
[6] Accessed May 9, 2020.

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