The origins of the Naval History & Heritage Command Detachment Boston (NHHC DET Boston), which performs USS Constitution‘s restorations, can be traced to September, 1897, when Constitution arrived at the Boston Navy Yard (a.k.a. the Charlestown Navy Yard), one month before the 100th anniversary of her October 21, 1797 launch. Although no one in 1897 could have predicted the ship’s future, the responsibility for the long-term care of the aged warship was permanently transferred to the Boston Navy Yard staff. From the 1906-07 restoration of the ship after her arrival ‘home’ to Boston, through to the closure of the Charlestown Navy Yard in 1974, hundreds of shipyard workers helped to maintain, re-build, restore, and research Constitution.

[Courtesy U.S. Navy]
A crane inserts a new bowsprit on May 1, 1907 in the final stages of re-rigging Constitution as part of the 1906-1907 restoration. [Courtesy U.S. Navy]
1929SparDkReplace
Boston Navy Yard workers install the spar deck waterways on August 1, 1929 as part of the 1927-1931 restoration. [Courtesy U.S. Navy]
[Courtesy Naval History & Heritage Command Detachment Boston]
Workers sand sections of the new bowsprit for post-WWII work on Constitution in the summer of 1949. [Courtesy Naval History & Heritage Command Detachment Boston]
The closure of the Charlestown Navy Yard did not interrupt the care of Constitution and from 1974 to 1991 SUPSHIP (Supervisor of Shipbuilding) Boston was the supervisory department over the USS Constitution Maintenance & Repair Division in the Yard. The management of the Navy Yard became the responsibility of the National Park Service through the Boston National Historical Park in 1974.

[Courtesy Naval History & Heritage Command Detachment Boston]
Riggers remove one of the replica 24-pound long guns in preparation for dry docking Constitution, ca. 1973 [Courtesy Naval History & Heritage Command Detachment Boston]
[Courtesy USS Constitution Museum]
Riggers stand next to the fore fighting top, which was removed prior to Constitution’s dry docking, ca. 1973 [Courtesy Naval History & Heritage Command Detachment Boston]
In 1991, oversight of the Maintenance & Repair Division was transferred to the Naval History & Heritage Command (the history program of the U.S. Navy). The preservation and educational mission of NHHC is embodied in the daily work of the NHHC Detachment Boston. The Detachment strives to be the recognized authority on Constitution’s history and through its continuing work on ‘Old Ironsides’ instill pride in America’s Ship of State.

[Courtesy Naval History & Heritage Command Detachment Boston]
In the late summer of 1995, Detachment Boston staff pose beneath the stern of Constitution at the end of her three-year dry docking, part of a 4-year, $12 million restoration. [Courtesy Naval History & Heritage Command Detachment Boston]
Preserving Constitution, the oldest commissioned warship afloat in the world, and helping to tell the story of the early U.S. Navy through restoration work, media opportunities, public events, and publications, is the everyday work of the Detachment Boston. Approximately every 10 to 20 years the ship undergoes some element of re-building, bringing to the attention of the ship’s visitors the unique skills of the shipwrights of the past as embodied by the Detachment’s ship restorers. Over 500,000 international visitors walk the decks of Constitution annually and marvel at her physical structure; they are thrilled with the story of her battle with HMS Guerriere where she earned her nickname – “Huzza! Her sides are made of iron!” For over 20 years, the care, preservation, and history of Constitution have been in the capable hands of the Naval History & Heritage Command Detachment Boston staff of ship restorers and historians.

 – M. M. Desy

The Author(s)

USS Constitution Museum