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USS Constitution - Early Restoration History

This section documents the early restorations which were instrumental in allowing Constitution to survive.

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1857-1858 Restoration

USS Constitution’s 1850s restoration at the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard, Kittery, ME not only refurbished the ship as needed, but altered her from a warship to a sailing training vessel for the young U.S. Naval Academy. This photograph of Constitution hauled on the ways is the first ever taken – note how the hull looms over the people on the pier next to her.

c.1875 Restoration, Philadelphia

This restoration (1873-1877) was intented to prepare Constitution for the 1876 Centennial of the American Revolution. Sadly, the work was not finished in time for the Philadelphia festivities. Upon the completion of the work, Constitution sailed across the Atlantic in March, 1878 to carry the United States exhibits to the Exposition Universelle, Paris, 1878-79. She returned to Philadelphia in May, 1879, and again took up her duties as a sailing training ship.

1881 Sail

This remarkable photograph was taken by Army Private Hendrickson in the summer of 1881 as Constitution was sailing towards Hampton Roads, Virginia. It is the only known photograph of the ship under sail. Months after this photo was taken, Constitution was retired as a sailing training ship and was sent to the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard, Kittery, ME to become a receiving ship.

c.1900 Receiving Ship – Charlestown Navy Yard, Boston

Constitution became a "receiving ship" in 1882 at the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard, Kittery, ME when a large barn was built over her top deck and offices and barracks were installed on board. A receiving ship was a place where officers and enlisted personnel would await new orders. She was returned to Boston in September, 1897, one month before her centenary, still with the barn attached; the barn would not be removed until the superficial restoration of 1906-1907.

1927 - 1931 Restoration

When Constitution entered Dry Dock #1 in the Charlestown Navy Yard it was only her second time into this particular dock. She has the distinction, however, of being the first vessel to ever enter Dry Dock #1, on June 24, 1833, in the presence of Vice President Martin Van Buren and with Commodore Isaac Hull directing the docking from the ship’s quarter deck. This docking in June, 1927, marked the beginning of a 4-year, nearly $1 million restoration of the ship.

In 2015, USS Constitution is due back into this dock for her next significant below the waterline restoration.

Spring 1929

In just a few short months, the Stock Market would crash and the Great Depression would begin, plunging the U.S. and the world into financial chaos for years. Here, on Constitution’s spar deck, Lt. John A. Lord stands amidst a different "chaos" – that of a multi-year, near complete re-building of "Old Ironsides". By the time this restoration was completed, 85% of the ship had been "renewed" (the U.S. Navy’s term) – i.e. "replaced".

1931-1934 National Cruise

To thank the citizens of the U.S. who had donated money and materials to the 1927-1931 restoration, the U.S. Navy sent Constitution on a "National Cruise" – a 3-year, 3-coast trip where she visited 76 ports for 90 stops and hosted over 4.6 million men, women, and children. This photograph shows Constitution being tugged into Corpus Christie, Texas, February 14, 1932.

c.1931, Constitution Crew Furling the Main Sail

USS Constitution was outfitted with 36 sails, of the potential 48, for the National Cruise. The ship never sailed under her own power, however, due to scheduling and time constraints; she was towed by the minesweeper USS Grebe for most of the trip. Constitution sailors did demonstrate sail handling at the dockside when the ship visited the different ports on the three coasts.

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