Historic Ships in Baltimore, Maryland, is a collection of four historic military vessels, all within walking distance of each other along Baltimore’s Inner Harbor. Visitors may board each of the ships. Collectively, the ships host a permanent collection of over 50,000 artifacts pertaining to the ships themselves, life on the ships, and the sailors who served on them. Visitors can also see the historic Seven Foot Knoll Lighthouse near the harbor’s entrance channel. Donations of artifacts have come mainly from former crew and their descendants.
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History: The lighthouse and various ships represent different eras in American military history. The lighthouse is the oldest screw pile lighthouse in Maryland and was built in 1855. The lighthouse was manned from 1855 through 1948. Although technologies existed to automate the lighthouse operations much sooner, the lighthouse keepers had provided life saving services in the past, and this was considered important enough to keep up to three men on duty. The circular structure is made of rolled iron. There is a deck area and a living space for the lighthouse keepers and their family as well as the light beacon itself, which was manned by hand and offered a light visible for up to 12 nautical miles. Originally located in Chesapeake Bay, it was brought to the inner harbor for the museum exhibit in 1988. The lighthouse was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1989. Visitors who begin their tour at the lighthouse stop next at the US Coast Guard Cutter Taney. The USCGC Taney was built in the mid-1930s and was in service for 50 years. The 327-foot-long cutter was used in combat on the eve of Pearl Harbor, and thereafter began anti-submarine patrol duties. By the late 1960s, the Taney was referred to as “the last survivor of Pearl Harbor” as the only ship from that era to remain in service. The ship was decommissioned in 1986 after over 50 years of continuous service and donated to the museum. The USS Torsk is a submarine commissioned in 1944 at the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard. The submarine was in service during World War II and is credited with sinking three Japanese ships, the last two of which were the last enemy warships to be torpedoed before the end of the war. The ship was decommissioned in 1968 after a career of over 10,600 dives. It arrived in Baltimore for the museum in 1972. Lightship 116 Chesapeake was considered one of the most advanced and capable ships of the US Lighthouse Service when she was built in 1930. The all-steel construction with a diesel-electric engine was designed for a crew of up to 16. By the mid-1960s, technology had rendered lightships obsolete. The Chesapeake was retired in 1970 and acquired by the National Park Service. She was donated to the Historic Ships in Baltimore in 1982. The US Frigate Constellation is the final stop on the tour of the four ships. This 164-foot ship is the second iteration of the Constellation, which was first built in Baltimore in 1797. The second Constellation was commissioned in 1855. The ship worked to free slaves in Africa on the Congo River in 1859 and 1860 just prior to the start of the US Civil War. After years of service she was stationed in Newport as a training vessel in 1894. In 1920, she was dry-docked for repair. The Navy continued to use her for training, using her rigging and sails for drills. In the 1920s the Navy discontinued sail training. After a brief return to battle between 1940 and1944 during World War II, she was ultimately decommissioned in 1955 when she was returned to Baltimore for historic preservation.
Ongoing Programs and Education: Educational events at the Historic Ships include special history tours of the attractions. Recent tours aboard the USS Constellation have been titled Seafarer’s Tales of Tradition, Toil, and a Touch of the Macabre and To Catch A Thief: Constellation Fights the Slave Trade. Ship’s Company talks gather volunteer sailors and marines to talk about service at sea. Hands-on activities show guests what day-to-day life is like aboard the ships. One-hour guided group tours are available. Topics include A Ship as a Machine and the Powder Monkey Tour aimed at kids, which teaches about the lives of the young boys who served as powder monkeys, carrying powder to the guns on the warships.
Pier I 301 East Pratt Street, Baltimore, MD 21202, website, Phone: 410-539-1797
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