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A Maritime Heritage Preserved

July 2024
4min read

THERE ARE hundreds of monuments to our maritime heritage across the nation: the frigate Constitution (Old Ironsides) is still afloat in Boston Harbor; the 1877 square-rigger Elissa is berthed in Galveston, Texas; and the legendary aircraft carrier of World War II, the Intrepid , is tied up at a Manhattan pier on the Hudson River. These are large and impressive examples, but there is an enormous amount of less spectacular activity carried on in the continuing effort to preserve this unique portion of our history.

In 1976 the National Trust created a special program for maritime preservation, and since then more than five million dollars has gone to museums, underwater archaeology projects, training programs, waterfront revitalization, and the restoration of every kind of vessel—from the great sailing ships to dugout canoes. The diversity of this enterprise is revealed by the following projects supported by grants from the Trust in 1982.


The S.S. Jeremiah O’Brien is the last unaltered Liberty Ship from a fleet of 2,751 vessels built to one design during World War II. It is still operable. Liberty ships were predicated on two ideas: we needed them fast and there was a shortage of material. They were the first ships to make use of prefabricated and welded units. The Jeremiah was placed on the National Register of Historic places in July 1978 and is in need of repairs. Grant: $3,000.


The schooner Bowdoin is the only wooden vessel designed for Arctic exploration still under the U.S. flag. An outstanding example of the art of New England shipbuilders, it is being restored in accordance with the original plans. When the work is done, the Bowdoin will return to service as a seagoing educational institution. Grant: $3,000.


The S.S. Baltimore had lain underwater for three years before it was raised by the Baltimore Museum of Industry. Built in 1906, it is the epitome of the standard technology of the time—two-cylinder reciprocating engines and a great mass of ancillary steam-operated machinery. The Baltimore served as a harbor tug for over fifty years, and the museum will bring it back to pristine condition. Grant: $5,250.


One of the great names in the annals of maritime heritage preservation is that of William A. Baker (1911–81), a naval architect who is to be honored by a full bibliography published by the New Bedford Whaling Museum. The museum notes that “more than any other single person, Baker brought to the task a rare combination of talents as naval architect, curator, draughtsman, historian and author. A description of his achievements will further the cause of maritime preservation by inspiring those who now carry on the work without him.” Grant: $4,100.


The Nantucket Historical Association was founded in 1894 to preserve the records and artifacts of the whaling industry. Its great collection of documents is housed in the Peter Foulger Museum. Better facilities for storage and protection are needed so that the material can be made readily available to the students and historians who come to Nantucket for research. Grant: $1,500.


The Tall Ships sail again! The same people who gave us Operation Sail in July 1976 will repeat the triumph of the Bicentennial in 1986. New York Harbor will be the scene once more, and again millions will watch it on television. Grant: $10,000.


The Calvert Marine Museum proposes to restore fully the Lore Oyster House as part of a comprehensive exhibition devoted to the seafood industry in the Chesapeake Bay region. They will begin by reassembling the Frank Benning Oyster Shell Crushing Mill. An important aspect of the industry was the processing of oyster shells for use as chicken feed, fertilizer, and road surfacing. Grant: $2,000.


The Thousand Islands Shipyard Museum has a unique collection of small craft and early power boats. The museum plans “to take measurements and make line drawings of at least five boats in our collection” to ensure that the hull shapes will be preserved in case of fire or some other calamity. Grant: $750.


The Wavertree , an 1885 square-rigged cargo vessel, is one of the few survivors of the age of deep-water sailing ships and one of the last square-rigged craft that actually sailed from the port of New York. It is being restored by the South Street Seaport Museum (most of the work is done—only the midship deckhouse needs fixing). When completed, the Wavertree will be an exhibition vessel as accurate as possible in every detail. She will be open to the public year round. Grant: $7,500.


Blossom’s Ferry, on the Cape Fear River near Wilmington, was an important link in the colonial transportation system. The history department at East Carolina University has begun a program in maritime history and underwater archaeology and plans to develop a two-month field research project to document vessels found near the site and to “recover associated material.” Slides and videotape will record the project and be used for an educational television program. Grant: $1,500.


Most of the existing historic sailing vessels cannot be used for training on the open sea because they are regulated as “passenger ships.” The rules regarding such ships are very strict, a situation that—at best—makes museums of them. A new Sailing School Ships Act will change the laws governing training and education at sea. The American Sail Training Association in Newport is making a strong effort to get this legislation passed. The bill has been written, and passage by the summer of 1983 seems feasible. Grant: $7,500.


From 1881 to 1973 the U.S. Life Saving Service and the U.S. Coast Guard operated a station at the head of the falls of the Ohio River to protect lives, property, and cargo. Two vessels survive from this era, the Belle of Louisville and the Major Andrew Broaddus . They represent the essence of the river life that led to the founding of Louisville. The Belle still plies the waters and the Broaddus is used as a docking ship. Its supply space and docking facilities are to be enlarged. Grant: $3,000.


A twenty-four-foot dugout canoe was recently found at the bottom of one of the lakes within the Lac du Flambeau Reservation, the preserve of the Chippewa tribe. It is, of course, much deteriorated, but it can be restored, exhibited, and studied. This particular dugout is one of the largest ever found in the area: it contains early-eighteenth-century metal tools, which indicates that it was in use during the critical early contacts between American Indians and Europeans. The site of the finding was near an island where the last great battle between the Sioux and the Chippewa reputedly took place. Grant: $6,000.


On September 10,1813, Comm. Oliver Hazard Perry defeated the British in the battle of Lake Erie. Perry’s flagship, the Niagara , is owned by the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission. Its wooden frame, subjected to rain and snowfall, is in need of a resident shipwright to supervise continual repairs. The Niagara is the only earlynineteenth-century military brig of its class in America. Grant: $2,000.


The Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum, which covers sixteen waterfront acres, will restore a free-black antebellum house that will be used “to interpret the history of the family that owned it and to show the importance of blacks in the Chesapeake Bay maritime community.” Grant: $5,000.

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