At its peak usage during World War II, when it employed some 70,000 men and women, the Brooklyn Navy Yard was the biggest industrial complex in U.S. history—no other site has yet to top that employment figure. But its importance to America began far before then, during the American Revolution, when the British docked their infamous prison ships here; conditions aboard them were so atrocious that more than 11,500 Americans perished here, more than the combined number of U.S. casualties in all the battles of the American Revolution. Most of their bodies were simply dumped overboard into the water, making these waters the largest Revolutionary graveyard in the States.

Today this 300-acre property is owned by the city of New York, which maintains its historic working dry docks. It also rents out space to dozens of manufacturers and artisans, including the company that builds the sets for Saturday Night Live; the soundstage where Boardwalk Empire and The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel are filmed; Nanette Lepore fashions; and Crye Precision, which designs and manufactures protective vests and helmets for the U.S. military. You’ll learn all of this, and more at the excellent (and free!) on-site museum, which displays historic artifacts and offers several well-crafted videos and oral histories (those dealing with the women who worked here during World War II are especially moving). Outsiders are not allowed to walk around the Navy Yards, however, except as part of a tour, so I recommend pairing a visit to the museum with one of the excellent 2-hour tours run by Turnstile. Most tours are devoted to the Yard’s history, though a few times a month, midweek,Turnstile tours visit the manufacturers and soundstages of today’s Navy Yard. Since the site is so large, most tours involve a bus, though you will get off the bus often, for a closer look.