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Friday, May 31 • 9:30am - 10:00am
(Wooden Artifacts) Schooner Virginia: Addressing Inherent Issues in Ship Restoration

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Historic ship preservation presents dilemmas for long-term management plans. Beyond practical concerns, money and other resources, a ship does not always remain in its original form. Ships can, and often, undergo major modifications throughout the course of a vessel’s lifespan. Those modifications are sometimes related solely to routine maintenance and repairs; but occasionally, vessel modification repurposes a ship for new tasks or modernizes an older vessel. Repurposed or renovated ships that transition from working vessels to museum objects challenge the accepted principles of ship preservation and/or restoration. To demonstrate, a mid-nineteenth century schooner, Virginia, will illuminate preservation and restoration concerns facing museum administration.

Constructed in Mobile Bay 1865, Virginia fished and sailed the Gulf of Mexico’s waters for nearly 125 years. During its expansive career, the 55 foot schooner underwent multiple alterations to update the ship’s form and propulsion; allowing it to continue functioning in a developing commercial fishing fleet. Originally a two-masted, sail powered vessel, the 1914 owner installed a diesel engine. This represents an early twentieth century trend for sailing vessels switching to auxiliary engines. In the late 1930s, owners removed both masts and an engine supplied the sole source of propulsion. After 1989, the final owner maintained the vessel until sold to the National Civil War Naval Museum. Since 2000, Virginia has remained stored at the Georgia-based museum awaiting final restoration decisions.

How then to proceed with restoration? Typically historic significance determines whether a ship warrants preservation, a lengthy and expensive process. Virginia serves to demonstrate the longevity of wooden shipbuilding and also several distinguishable trends in American maritime history. The question becomes how to justify saving one historic form of the vessel over another. Age, rarity, and rumored connections to Civil War smuggling, favor the eighteenth century centerboard schooner form. However, the early twentieth century auxiliary vessel included in the Historic American Merchant Marine Survey, of which only one other survey vessel remains, points to this era’s significance. Yet, the final phase of a diesel powered commercial fishing vessel deserves consideration because, according to a Coast Guard survey, Virginia operated as the oldest fishing vessel in America’s fleet until 1989. Discussion of Virginia’s potential restoration reveals fundamental questions regarding object significance and consideration of forms and elements to preserve which best represent an object with a complex history.

avatar for Nicole Wittig

Nicole Wittig

Student, East Carolina University

Friday May 31, 2013 9:30am - 10:00am EDT
JW Marriott Meeting Room 204-205 10 S West St Indianapolis, IN 46204

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