USS Constitution undergoes extensive restoration

The USS Constitution, which was launched in 1797 in Boston, is being restored through 2017.
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The USS Constitution, which was launched in 1797 in Boston, is being restored through 2017 and entering dry docking for the first time since 2012.

Dubbed “Old Ironsides,” the Constitution will by dry-docked at the Charlestown Navy Yard in Boston in the second-oldest operational dry dock in the country. The Constitution was the first warship to enter that dock on June 24, 1833.

The process of moving the 217-year-old wooden-hulled frigate into dry dock for a three-year restoration began Friday, when the ship was moved into position immediately outside the historic dry dock 1 in Boston. Flooding of the dry dock took place on Sunday in preparation for dry docking the ship today in order to allow craftsmen to begin the restoration, which will include work mainly below the waterline and the bow area.

The work of this restoration will include replacing lower hull planking and caulking; removing the 1995 copper sheathing and replacing it with 3,400 sheets of new copper that will protect the ship’s hull below the waterline; the replacement of select deck beams; and ongoing preservation and repair of the ship’s rigging, upper masts and yards, according to the Naval History and Heritage Command.

Visitors will be able to engrave their names on the copper sheets that will protect the ship’s lower hull and will be installed in the restoration.

The estimated cost of the restoration is expected to be $12 million to $15 million and be paid for by the Navy. While the Constitution is in dry dock, the Navy will rehabilitate her Pier 1 berth. The Charlestown Navy Yard, the location of the dry dock where the Constitution will be for the 2015-17 restoration, is open daily, free of charge. On June 9, Constitution will reopen to the public with tours Tuesday through Sunday.

The Constitution’s upper deck will be open for limited visitation while the ship is in dry dock. Crew from the ship and the USS Constitution Museum staff will explain the history of “Old Ironsides” and the current restoration work.

The museum’s newest exhibit, “Forest to Frigate,” will open for the summer. Focusing on the Constitution’s construction, the exhibit will be a family-friendly show that will feature hands-on interactive displays and rare artifacts. The exhibition will explore the building of the ship and how its superior design and construction made the Constitution one of the most successful warships in the history of the Navy. Museum visitors will have the opportunity to meet and talk to a Constitution sailor.

The Constitution has a long history in American wars, including the American Revolution and the War of 1812. Since her return to Boston in 1934, the ship has only once left her home base at the Charlestown Navy Yard.

After the 1992-96 restoration, during which structural strength was returned to the nearly 200-year-old warship, she was towed to Marblehead, Mass., in 1997. On July 21, 1997, in celebration of her 200th anniversary, the ship set sail under her own power for the first time in 116 years.

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