A National Treasure: The U.S.S. Constitution

At dock in the Charlestown Navy Yard in Cambridge, Massachusetts is the oldest commissioned warship in the US Navy, and one of the few remaining wooden warships in the world.  Laid down in 1794, this ship was part of an order of six frigates authorized by President George Washington. She took to the seas in 1798 and fought brilliantly in operations during the War of 1812 and along the Barbary Coast.

Today, she rests at anchor in Boston Harbor where visitors can come aboard to see her in all of her majesty.

This is a view of the stern as you prepare to board. The ornate woodwork on the exterior of the ship captures your attention. The windowed areas along the back are the location of the captain’s cabin.

This is one of the cannon positions on the upper deck.  Unlike the guns below, which were designed for range, these upper guns are known as carronades and were designed to fire much larger shells a shorter distance to smash opposing ships hulls.

This is the ship’s wheel, but it didn’t start as the ship’s wheel.  The Constitution originally had a single wheel to steer her over the high seas. During the war of 1812, the ship battled the HMS Java.  A shot from the Java splintered Constitution’s wheel, but the Constitution gave better than she got, leaving the Java as a total loss.  Before sinking the Java, the crew of the Constitution retrieved Java’s wheel and installed it on Constitution.  That’s where it is today.

This is the ship’s capstan.  It was used by sailors to gain mechanical advantage over the massive lines used to rig the sails.  The bronze cap helps to protect the wood.

A view up the ship’s bowsprit.  Imagine shimmying up that…

When the Constitution needs some serious work, she comes to the dry dock.  This huge facility allows yard workers to bring her in, close the gate, drain the water and have the ship’s keel settle on the blocks.  Once there, workers can gain access to the hull for repairs and maintenance.

7 thoughts on “A National Treasure: The U.S.S. Constitution”

  1. I think maritime woodworking can show some of the best craftsmanship around. The details never seem to be lost in the mass of these great works. Thanks for sharing!

  2. In 2001, I was visiting Boston with my family. The tour dropped us off at the Navy Yard and we wandered around. We couldn’t go on the ship because they were having a change of command ceremony on the ship. As we were standing around just off the ship people started coming off after the ceremony. All of the sudden, I see Norm Abram and Russell Morash walk past me. As they continued on, I realized that Tom Silva was with them too. My family wasn’t too impressed. I managed to snap a slightly blurry picture of Norm turned the other way but Russell was looking right at me.

  3. It is nice to see my work so well photographed I was the Shipwright who built and refurbished all of the transom bright-work and built the new Quarter Gallery in you picture.
    It was a labor of love for the four years I worked on the U.S.S. Constitution even
    with the 118 mile daily one way commute from my home in Maine and Charlestown the last 18 months of employment

  4. Ralph –

    My compliments. That ship is a real beauty, and the work you guys did was outstanding. A true national treasure you are!

  5. When my family and I toured this wonderful ship ten or twelve years ago, our tour ended with the guide leaning against the wheel. He asked if there were any questions and I asked if that was the Java’s wheel. He said it was. But I toured the ship again a couple years ago and asked the same question; this time the guide acted like that was a stupid question and said it was not. Can anyone help me with this question? If the Java’s wheel was removed, where is it now? Surely it has been saved! Thank goodness this terrific part of U.S. history has been saved and so well maintained!

  6. No, Steve, the wheel is the Java’s. The original wheel for the Constitution was a single wheel, the Java was the double one. I was there in 2010, and it’s still the way it was left.

  7. nope its not the real wheel. that was taken off to keep it from rot. you can find it at the museum. that wheel is the replacement. it has carred a two wheel, wheel ever scents.

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