Although USS Constitution underwent several periods of repair and rebuilding in her long career, her first true restoration took place in 1906 when a very modest sum of $100,000 was allocated by the U.S. Congress in that year’s naval appropriation bill. Naval Constructor Elliot Snow oversaw the work, which began in the summer of 1906 and was completed by August 1907. In that one year of work, Constitution was transformed from her days as a receiving ship to the appearance of an early 19th century sailing warship. This restoration, which was primarily cosmetic, included the removal of the enormous barn-like structure, the installation of a sailing rig, and the opening of the waist bulwarks. Added to the list of work accomplished was the casting of 54 guns for the spar and guns decks, thereby re-establishing an armament aboard (even if fake) for the first time in nearly 30 years.
It’s not quite clear to us today how Naval Constructor Snow determined the gun pattern for the spar and gun deck batteries. Snow’s purported research lead him to believe that there was no documentation left regarding Constitution‘s War of 1812 armament. Based on the guns that he ordered cast in the Charlestown Navy Yard in 1906, we think he instead relied on information from Louis Tousard’s late 18th-century treatise American Artillerist’s Companion and used a French pattern.
In 1925, the decision was made to extensively restore “Old Ironsides.” The 54 replica guns were removed and stored at the Navy Yard prior to the ship entering dry dock in June 1927. In his 1931 final report, Lieutenant John Lord, the restoration superintendent, noted:
“All of these guns [from the 1906 restoration] were discarded as they were not of the type carried by the Constitution.”
Lord had conducted his own research and came to the inaccurate conclusion that Constitution was originally outfitted with English guns in 1797. It turns out his guns, which were installed on the ship at the end of the restoration, were no more correct than Snow’s French pattern 1906 guns.
Lack of funding was again an issue in the 1927-1931 restoration. By 1928, the decision was made to sell materials removed from the ship, including the replica guns, as a way to raise money for the restoration. Many of the items sold were inaccurately described as “original” (i.e. from the original construction of the ship in 1795-1797). This inaccurate description carried over to the identifying plaques of some of the 1906 guns as they found new homes across the country. According to a October 21, 1928 Daily Boston Globe article, “Selling Relics of Constitution:”
“There are 21 [guns] in all, and they will be sold at $150 each. They will not be replaced on the Constitution, as they are not exact copies of the original gun…They are being sought as ornaments for lawns and public parks.”
Today, we know that at least 33 of the 1906 replica guns were dispersed across the United States and many now decorate courtyards, college campuses, cemeteries, and parks around the nation. Below is a list of locations where we know the guns exist today or have existed in the past, and we are constantly on the lookout for more. Have you seen a USS Constitution 1906 replica gun somewhere? Let us know!
USS Constitution Gun Locations Across the United States
Approximately 14 guns in 10 locations throughout eastern Massachusetts (see map below).
- Orono, Maine
2 guns on the University of Maine, Orono campus.
- Schoharie, New York
1 gun purchased in 1928 by Peter A. Leinenger and displayed at the Schoharie Central School.
- Newport, Rhode Island
1 gun transferred to Newport c.1930 and originally placed at a local beach. It was moved to Fort Adams State Park sometime c. 1996.
- Wilmington, Delaware
2 guns at the Nemours Mansion, Alfred I. DuPont Institute.
- Annapolis, Maryland
2 guns were transferred from the Charlestown Navy Yard to the gates of the football field of the United States Naval Academy in the summer of 2008.
- Norton, Virginia
1 gun donated to the City Municipal Building in 1933.
- St. Augustine, Florida
2 guns at the Fountain of Youth Park.
- Lake Wales, Florida
1 gun originally installed next to the city library and dedicated in 1933 by the Daughters of the American Revolution Lake Wales Chapter. The gun is now located outside the Lake Wales Depot Museum and was rededicated by the DAR on October 21, 2012.
- Perrysburg, Ohio
2 guns mounted in the Maumee River National Park as companion pieces to a statue of Oliver Hazard Perry.
- Galion, Ohio
1 gun obtained by Galion Mayor Wilbur M. King in 1934. It was moved to the Galion Reservoir Park entrance in Crawford County and dedicated on October 15, 1967.
- Lexington, Missouri
1 gun acquired in 1934 by the George Thomas Cullom Post, American Legion, and placed at Masonic College Park.
- Seattle, Washington
2 guns placed at Veterans Memorial Cemetery at Evergreen-Washelli in 1929.
- *New location discovered on April 12, 2016! Los Angeles, California
1 gun presented to the City of Los Angeles by the Army and Navy Club Post No. 294 American Legion July 4, 1935. The gun is located in Pershing Square, Los Angeles, which is overseen by the Los Angeles Conservancy.
USS Constitution Gun Locations in Eastern Massachusetts
- Charlestown Navy Yard & Boston Common
1 gun in the Charlestown Navy Yard. 2 were sold on Boston Common by Revere Legionnaires in 1942 as part of a WWII scrap metal drive. The current existence of the latter 2 guns is unknown.
1 gun at the Scrap Yard. This gun is shown in a photo published in the April 6, 1942 issue of Life magazine. It was purchased for $50 at the same WWII scrap metal drive.
1 gun loaned by the U.S. Navy to the City of Medford in 1938. The loan was transferred to Tufts University in 1957.
2 guns located outside the Belmont Lions Club.
- South Boston
1 gun at Fort Independence on Castle Island.
- West Roxbury
1 gun at the Gethsemane Cemetery, placed there in 1932 in honor of Civil War Camp Andrews.
1 gun located on the Cole Parkway side of the Scituate Federal Savings Bank.
- New Bedford
1 gun missing as of 1940.
2 guns at Stage Fort Park.
- *Updated! Rockport
1 gun presented to the Sandy Bay Historical Society and dedicated on August 20, 1931. Today, it is located on the Community House lawn at 58 Broadway.
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.
Manager of Curatorial Affairs, USS Constitution Museum
Kate Monea is the Manager of Curatorial Affairs at the USS Constitution Museum.