The USS Constitution is not only the oldest commissioned ship in the United States Navy, its also the oldest commissioned ship still afloat in the world! Located in Boston, Massachusetts, the USS Constitution is part of the Freedom Trail and definitely a must see historical attraction!
The USS Constitution was commissioned by George Washington to protect America’s merchant ships. After three years of construction and three launch attempts the ship was finally launched in 1797.
The ship’s most noteworthy event was it’s involvement in the War of 1812. During the war the USS Constitution defeated five British warships and numerous merchant ships. During one of the battles in the War of 1812, British cannonballs that were fired at USS Constitution simply bounced off the sides of the ship and the crew said the ship must be made of iron. This is how it got the nickname of “Old Ironsides” It’s actually the triple layers of pine and oak used to construct the ship’s hull that gave it this iron strength.
The ship was retired in 1881 and was stationed at the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard in Kittery, Maine until 1907. At that point it was turned into a museum ship. In 1925, the first restoration of the USS Constitution began and then in 1931, it set sail for a 90 city tour of the United States. In 1934, the ship returned to it’s home port in Boston. In 1997 and 2012 it set sail to celebrate it’s bicentennial and the bicentennial of the War of 1812. It would undergo a few more restorations in the 1970s, 1990s and most recently in 2015-2017. It’s permenant home is the Charlestown Navy Yard and that’s where you can go see this historic ship.
As a fully commissioned ship of the the US Navy to this day, the USS Constitution does still make a few sails out into the Boston Harbor each year to turn the ship around so that each side is equally exposed while docked to help prevent damage to this old ship. Seeing this ship turn around is quite the sight and it was the annual 4th of July turn around sail that led me to spend a day being a tourist in my hometown and visiting this ship for the first time since I was a young child.
The event starts at 10am in the Charlestown Navy Yard where the USS Constitution begins it’s sail into the Boston Harbor. It heads into the harbor where it eventually reaches Castle Island in the South Boston neighborhood of Boston around 11:30am. Being that I live just on the other side of South Boston, I walked over and started the day there. The ship is usually at Castle Island until noon and there is a huge crowd waiting to witness the turn around of this ship.
Prior the ship turning around and heading back to it’s home at the Charlestown Navy Yard, the ship does a 21 gun salute. Then the turn around begins and even though I’ve seen it many times before, it’s still pretty amazing to see. Check out my video below to see for yourself.
If you want to catch the turn around from the water, there are many boating companies that do have cruises that day to see the turn around.
The turn around is a short but pretty amazing sight. This year I decided to then head over to the Charlestown Navy Yard to go on the ship since I hadn’t been on it since I was very young. And we all know that your perception of something when you are a young child vs. when you are an adult are completely different. The ship was going to be available for tours from 3pm-6pm that afternoon, so after lunch at the popular Sullivan’s at Castle Island, I set out for the Charlestown Navy Yard.
The USS Constitution is located in the oldest neighborhood of Boston, Charlestown. It’s docked at the Charlestown Navy Yard which is one of the oldest shipbuilding facilities in the United States. Since the USS Constitution is a stop along the Freedom Trail, the best way to get there is to walk there from Downtown Boston while following the famous red line on the ground that signifies the Freedom Trail.
The Charlestown Navy Yard is operated by the US National Park Service. Admission onto the ship is free and you will need to show your drivers license or passport and go thru security screening prior to entering.
Seeing the ship up close is pretty impressive, but once you get onto the ship that’s where things are really amazing to see. They have done a great job with the restorations over the years so we can all enjoy this beautiful ship.
There are three levels that you can explore, the top level and the two indoor levels. You will need to walk down the stairs into the lower levels like you are walking down a ladder, so it might be challenging for some. The one thing that was surprising to me when I was exploring the lower levels was how low the ceilings were. I’m pretty short, just 5 ft 2 in. and I even I felt like I almost had to duck in certain spots. I couldn’t figure out how these sailors, who I would assume would be MUCH taller than me could get around the boat. Well as it turns out the average height was only 5 ft 6 in. back then. It’s always surprising to me how much taller people are now compared to 200 years ago.
It was interesting to see how they lived on the ship. From the sleeping conditions of the majority of the sailors on the ship to the private bedrooms for those higher up in rank.
The second level of the ship was lined with cannons on both sides. Great to see the impressive cannons that they used to defend the ship.
There are sailors scattered thru the ship to answer any questions that you may have as you are exploring the ship.
After you are done exploring the USS Constitution, make sure to visit the other attractions at the Charlestown Navy Yard.
The USS Constitution Museum is a great place to check out either before or after visiting the ship. The museum is great for all age with lots of interactive activities that both kids and adults will enjoy. It’s a fun way to bring some more education about the history of the USS Constitution to your kids. The museum is free to enter but they do accept donations. There is a donation box when you walk in as well as a cashier if you would like to donate via debit or credit card. Donations help to keep the museum open.
Also located at the Navy Yard is the naval destroyer, USS Cassin Young. The USS Cassin Young was used in both World War II and the Korean War. It was named after Captain Cassin Young, a medal of honor recipient for his heroism at Pearl Harbor. It’s one of only four Fletcher class destroyers still afloat and is considered a National Historic Landmark.
Finally make sure to check out the view of Boston from the Navy Yard. While it might not be as impressive as other views of Boston, it’s a different perspective and a good mix of new modern buildings with old historic buildings such as the Old North Church and the Custom House.
The USS Constitution should be on everyone’s must see list when visiting Boston and if you happen to be in the city for the 4th of July, make sure to check out this 200 year old ship setting sail in the Boston Harbor.