Hotel Ironsides

April 6th, 2011

Launched in 1797 as one of six frigates built to protect U.S. maritime interests abroad, the USS Constitution can be toured today at the same place it was built, the  Charlestown Navy Yard in Boston.   The  journey toward notoriety as one of the remarkable success stories of historical preservation was an uncharted one.  Starting around 1830, Oliver Wendell Holmes, responding to a rumor that she might be scrapped, penned a poem that generated enough public outrage to save her  and she was sent back to Charlestown for repairs at Dry Dock No 1. In 1834, a figurehead depicting Andrew Jackson was carved and subsequently decapitated. From 1835-38, she was the flagship of the Mediterranean squadron. In 1844, she circumnavigated the world. During the 1850s, she patrolled the African coastline against slavers. Docked at Annapolis as a training ship for the Naval Academy, she was almost destroyed by Confederate forces in 1860. In the 1880s,  she sat docked at Portsmouth New Hampshire, enduring a rather undignified stint as an office and  barracks  for navy recruits.  In the 1920s, leaking was so bad she had to be pumped every day. A silent film entitled “Old Ironsides”  helped raise funds for restoration.  She was a centerpiece at Boston Harbor during the 1976 Bicentennial Celebrations and in 1992 she underwent another restoration.  In 1997 she sailed on her own for the first time in 116 years.  Commanded by a U.S. Navy Commander, today the USS Constitution is the oldest commissioned warship afloat in the world.

For more, see Toll, Ian W. Six Frigates.  New York:  W.W. Norton and Company. 2006.