The USS Olympia is one of the oldest steel ships in the world. Built during a period where ships built with vertical-stroke reciprocating three-cylinder triple-expansion engines were rare, the Olympia was one of her kind constructed with the front-line alloy steel. She was Commodore Dewey’s flagship at the Battle of Manila and the only surviving example of Teddy Roosevelt’s Great White Fleet from the 1900s. She served until World War II, and is now the oldest steel warship still afloat. For years, the Olympia has been open for tourists to explore and learn about the rich history of the ship; however, today her future is uncertain.
Currently docked at the Independence Seaport Museum on the Delaware River in Philadelphia, the Olympia is looking for a new home. In 1996, she was in danger of being scrapped until the museum took stewardship of her. According to the ISM’s president, “ISM has performed numerous preservation projects on the Olympia since taking stewardship of the vessel in 1996, including multiple surveys to determine condition of the hull and the overall condition of the ship…” From replacing about nine hundred square feet of engine and boiler room steel floor plates to updating the alarm system to alert to any flooding, the museum has attempted to ensure the safe condition and preservation of the vessel. Because the Olympia remains afloat, she suffers from erosion, and therefore requires more attention.
Unfortunately, the museum no longer has the funds to preserve the ship. Due to the economy, many non-profit organizations have had to re-asses their financial commitments and cut back in many areas. According to the president, “The Museum’s Board of Directors adopted a new strategic plan in 2010 that included finding a new organization to take stewardship of the Olympia. The Olympia does not have significant ties to the Philadelphia area and is inconsistent with the Museum’s revised mission of connecting Delaware River region residents to their maritime heritage, past, present and future.”
The museum is now putting the ship up for bid. “While the long-term future of the ship is uncertain the museum hopes to find a responsible organization to take over stewardship so the Olympia can remain a historic ship museum,” commented ISM chair Peter McCausland.
So far, the Navy Yard Association of Mare Island, a nonprofit organization based out of the San Francisco Bay Area, has shown significant interest in this ship. They are gathering resources in hopes to “Bring the Olympia Home to the San Francisco Bay Area.” The ship was initially constructed in San Francisco, hence the desire to bring the ship back to its birthplace. The Navy Yard Association has launched a webpage detailing the plan they hope to follow to save the USS Olympia from scrapping. In order to be given stewardship of this vessel, an organization must have the necessary funds and prove that they can maintain preservation of the ship.
For now, the ship will remain open to the public at the Independence Seaport Museum.
While the future of the ship is uncertain, with such a rich history, many would be disappointed to see the USS Olympia face scrapping and hope to see her transferred to a new situation where she can continue to remind Americans of our deep heritage.