Editorials

Keep digging for details on USS Olympia concept

The good news about a local effort to land one of America's most historic ships here is that it fortifies a growing movement to capitalize on Beaufort County's wealth of history.

The bad news is that it would cost millions to do it.

Despite that significant challenge, the local effort should get a chance to succeed. A privately funded feasibility study is the next step, and the goal of saving the USS Olympia from becoming a fishing reef makes it worthwhile.

The Olympia -- according to the dream of a small group called the S.C. Olympia Committee -- would be rescued from a Philadelphia museum that cannot afford it and brought to Parris Island. It would be docked in the historical dry-dock at Parris Island, which, like the ship, would have to be refurbished.

Why Parris Island, now home to the Marine Corps Recruit Depot Parris Island?

Therein lies the story that Beaufort County should capitalize on and make better known.

The Olympia is the sole surviving warship of the Spanish-American War, where she served as Adm. George Dewey's flagship in the Battle of Manila Bay.

The U.S. Naval Station Port Royal on Parris Island played a major role in the Spanish-American War.

Its dry-dock was the only one south of Norfolk, Va., and among the 22 ships to visit the station were the battleships USS Maine, USS Massachusetts, USS Texas and USS Indiana.

The dry-dock and coaling facilities were pivotal to the new Navy in the 1890s and crucial to the outcome of the Spanish-American War.

Three nationally registered historic sites are linked to the Spanish-American War: Fort Fremont on Lands End, the hospital at Fort Fremont and the dry-dock at Parris Island.

Bringing the USS Olympia here would help the world understand the significance of Parris Island, then and now, and how Beaufort County touched many major facets of history, from 16th-century settlements to the 20th-century civil rights movement.

We encourage all efforts to document and present to visitors -- both virtual and real -- the story of Beaufort County as seen at such places as Penn Center, Mitchelville, Parris Island and downtown Beaufort.

Clearly, money is a key ingredient to many of these efforts.

As for the USS Olympia idea, the early financial estimates are staggering -- perhaps $10 million just to stabilize the 1892 vessel to the condition she was in when the Independence Seaport Museum obtained her.

That demands a national effort because locally that kind of money almost certainly would be impossible to come by.

The local committee realizes this. And it quickly told Parris Island leadership that the move would not cost the U.S. Marine Corps. It does see the influx of visitors to Parris Island -- primarily the family of graduating recruits -- as a likely audience to tour the historic ship.

The local committee is not alone in seeking to become the new home to the Olympia.

We encourage the committee to keep pushing to get to the nitty-gritty, the hard dollars and cents, and then let the community look at the challenges and possibilities. Nothing ventured is nothing gained. And capitalizing on Beaufort County's history should have a great future.

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