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.
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.
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.
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.
Margherita M. Desy
Historian, Naval History & Heritage Command
Margherita M. Desy is the Historian for USS Constitution at Naval History and Heritage Command Detachment Boston.