Local group makes finals to bring USS Olympia to Port Royal

emoody@beaufortgazette.comNovember 28, 2012 

The S.C. Olympia Committee, based in Port Royal, and the Mare Island Historic Park Foundation of California will cooperate on national fundraising to preserve the USS Olympia.

COURTESY OF INDEPENDENCE SEAPORT MUSEUM

A Beaufort organization is one of two still in the running to bring a bedraggled battleship from Philadelphia to Port Royal, where members hope to impart enough polish to make it a historical landmark.

When the process started a year and a half ago, six groups and five cities applied to the Independence Seaport Museum to get the USS Olympia, believed to be the world's oldest steel warship still afloat.

Now, the field has been winnowed to the S.C. Olympia Committee and a group from Mare Island, Calif.

The plan is to relocate the 120-year-old, 344-foot ship to a spot by 11th Street Dockside restaurant and the Port Royal shrimp docks. A portable, submersible dry dock would be used to exhibit the ship while it is being repaired, S.C. Olympia Committee president Pete Richards said.

Port Royal Mayor Sam Murray said he supports the idea because it would bring tourists to town.

"It would be very exciting for it to come to Port Royal," he said. "Anything I can do to help bring it along, I'm happy to do that."

The ship needs about $10 million in repairs, according to the committee. The Olympia has not been dry-docked in 65 years, and its hull has deteriorated so much that the ship will sink in the next three years if not repaired, according to several inspections.

The committee must submit engineering and financing plans, along with environmental and other studies, to the museum by April, Richards said. That work alone will cost about $1 million, he added, but the committee has been raising money. He did not say how much money the group has.

Eventually, the group hopes to establish endowments to fund repairs and maintenance.

"It would be a great chance to make sure the ship is showcased and there for many, many generations," he said.

Launched in San Francisco in 1892, the Olympia was used by Commodore George Dewey to defeat a Spanish fleet in the Philippines in 1898 at the start of the Spanish-American War. It also was used during World War I before it was decommissioned in 1922.

The committee originally hoped to dock the Olympia at Parris Island, which once was home to the dry dock and coaling station for Naval Station Port Royal. Battleships like the Olympia were repaired and refueled there during the Spanish-American War, so the committee believes it has a historical context relevant to the Lowcountry.

"The key element in developing this as a national site is the fact that it's not just a ship," Richards said. "It's the whole story. It's the story of the Spanish-American War, and that has not been very well understood in American history."

The committee has an agreement with the town of Port Royal, with support from the S.C. State Ports Authority, to dock the ship offshore. The authority is attempting to sell 52 acres of waterfront property in Port Royal to a developer.

If the Olympia were placed in the spot the committee proposes, it would be visible to drivers crossing the Broad River and convenient for visitors to Marine Corps Recruit Depot Parris Island. Richards suggested it could be part of a "corridor" of historical landmarks from Charleston to Savannah, including Fort Fremont on St. Helena Island.

"It just all fits into the historic mold of this area," he said.

Related content

  1. Group advances in competition, wants more time to raise money to relocate battleship
  2. Local group moves forward with plans to relocate ailing battleship, Sept. 21, 2011
  3. Local group wants to save famous battleship and bring to Parris Island, April 20, 2011

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