Groups from Mare Island and Port Royal Still Trying to Save USS Olympia

Two groups on opposite coasts of the United States are frantically working to save the 1895 built, SS Olympia, Admiral Dewey’s flagship in the Battle of Manila Bay and the last, just barely, surviving war ship from the Spanish-American War. The Mare Island Historic Park Foundation in Vallejo, California and the South Carolina Olympia Committee in Port Royal, South Carolina are the two remaining groups from a set of five cities and six organizations that had applied two years ago to take ownership of the Olympia.  The two groups are now working together to save the historic ship, but time is running out and funds are short.

In February of 2010, the Independence Seaport Museum in Philadelphia announced that it could not afford to keep the historic SS Olympia The ship has not been drydocked since 1945 and is, not surprisingly, in terrible shape.  There was even talk of sinking her as an artificial reef, but that possibility was precluded by the estimated $10 million cost to dredge the berth around the old ship in order to move her from the dock in the Delaware River.  Fortunately the scandal plagued museum lacked the money to even sink the ship.

Group trying to land USS Olympia running low on time

The clock is ticking for a a Mare Island group trying to raise money and public attention to save the only surviving steel warship of its era.

The Mare Island Historic Park Foundation is still trying to save and bring the late 1900s USS Olympia and bring it to Dry Dock 1 along the waterfront, but key organizer said much more is needed. 

“A lot of people believe that the government would step in if all else fails but that’s not true,” Mare Island foundation member Dennis Kelly said. 

“This is to say there’s been a lot of effort that’s gone into this (saving the ship) and the condition is dire,” Kelly said.

The USS Olympia is a 244-foot-long protected cruiser now moored on the Delaware River in Philadelphia and part of the Independence Seaport Museum, which is seeking a new steward.

Kelly said the Mare Island group has a few more months to raise funds and secure major donors to prove the ship should come to Vallejo and be opened as a living museum.

The Mare Island Historic Park Foundation is one of two groups trying to raise enough money to save the Olympia from demise.

In April the organization teamed up with the South Carolina Olympia Committee (SCOC) to work together to raise awareness and money to ensure the aging ship has a bright future.

Kelly said the old vessel is in danger of deteriorating completely. While the two groups are competing for the ship they can also work together to raise national awareness about the need to save.




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2 Responses to Groups from Mare Island and Port Royal Still Trying to Save USS Olympia

  1. Erik Abranson says:

    It would be a tragedy if the cruiser USS OLYMPIA (1892) were sunk or scrapped. She is a unique surviving representative of her type and period. Off the top of my head, I can only think of one other warship of her times preserved anywhere in the world, the Japanese pre-Dreadnought battleship MIKASA (1902), and she is “floating” ashore in a sea of concrete.

    Changing only the title of poem written in 1830 by Oliver Wendell Holmes:


    Aye tear her tattered ensign down
    long has it waved on high,
    And many an eye has danced to see
    That banner in the sky;
    Beneath it rung the battle shout,
    And burst the cannon’s roar;–
    The meteor of the ocean air
    Shall sweep the clouds no more.

    Her deck, once red with heroes’ blood,
    Where knelt the vanquished foe,
    When winds were hurrying o’er the flood,
    And waves were white below,
    No more shall feel the victor’s tread,
    Or know the conquered knee;–
    The harpies of the shore shall pluck
    The eagle of the sea!

    Oh, better that her shattered hulk
    Should sink beneath the wave;
    Her thunders shook the mighty deep,
    And there should be her grave;
    Nail to the mast her holy flag,
    Set every threadbare sail,
    And give her to the god of storms,
    The lightning and the gale!’

    That poem saved Old Ironsides (USS Constitution) from destruction. Metal can and should be recycled…

  2. Irwin Bryan says:

    I grew up in Philadelphia and toured the vessel as a boy in the 60’s and again with my kids in the early 80’s. She’s been a welcome sight on the waterfront at Penn’s Landing along I-95 just down from the Moshulu. It would be a shame to have her leave but she deserves to live on.
    Admiral Dewey”s flagship at Manila Bay when he uttered the words, “You may fire when ready, Gridley!”