Located in Newport News, Virginia is the renowned “Mariner’s Museum”, home to over 35,000 maritime artifacts including one of pivotal Civil War importance, the “USS Monitor.”
Indicative of its Civil War significance, the “USS Monitor” has a dedicatory 63,500 square foot wing all to itself.
What follows is a brief description of the importance of this illustrious Civil War ship, the museum’s ongoing restoration efforts and what visitors to the museum can expect to find.
Why is the USS Monitor Special?
The “USS Monitor” was 987 tons of iron clad determination and her epic March 9th, 1862 confrontation with the “CSS Virginia” has been a source of study by many historians.
Known as the “Battle of Hampton Roads”, it signified the first time that two ironclad battleships fought against each other and resulted in a strategic draw.
Despite the battle’s official “draw” status, it was also considered a win for the Union who were able to use the ship to preserve their Norfolk blockade.
The ship was in service from late February 1862 until she sank off Cape Hatteras on New Year’s Eve 1862. She remained virtually undisturbed on the bottom of the Mid-Atlantic and encased in oceanic concretions until the early 1970’s.
At the time of her 1973 discovery, it was decided that the shipwreck site should be deemed a “National Marine Sanctuary” and as such only certain privileged, deep sea divers were able to gaze upon her once might decks. All this changed with the turn of the 21stcentury.
Restoration and Conservation Area
In 2001 the world watched in wonder as parts of the great Civil War ship were raised from its watery grave off North Carolina and sent off to the “Mariner’s Museum” in Newport News, Virginia for restoration.
The ongoing restoration efforts on the ship’s side-lever steam engine, shell gun carriages and revolving gun turret can be viewed both in person and online via a series of web cams set up by the “Mariner’s Museum” staff.
Though the museum’s restoration team is making progress, the detail work is expected to continue well into the 21st century. A blog has been established on the museum’s website so that the general public may read about the group’s progress.
In addition to witnessing the conservation efforts first hand, visitors may also partake of interactive exhibits and full-scale, walk through replicas located throughout the museum.
Highlights of the “USS Monitor” exhibit include the ship’s propeller, anchor, signal lantern, silverware, engine reversing wheel, engine room clock, pieces of naval uniforms and toiletries once belonging to the ship’s crew, unspent ammunition and crew correspondence.
Of particular interest are the letters of “USS Monitor” crewman George Geer , Paymaster William Keeler and the eyewitness accounts of H. Ashton Ramsey.
Gift Shop, Café and Grounds
The “Mariner’s Museum” also features a traditional museum gift shop, 550 acre park complete with a 167 acre lake and a wonderful café where visitors can enjoy lunch and a maritime movie throughout various times of the year.
The park is open year round and visitors may rent boats for a day of fishing on the lake. There is also a 5 mile walking path and picnic areas throughout.
Hours of Operation and Admission
Located within the “Mariner’s Museum”, the “USS Monitor Center” is open year round, Wednesday through Saturday from 10:00 am until 5:00 pm and on Sunday from noon until 5:00 pm.
As of 2011 admission is $14 for adults and $8 for children between the ages of 6 through 12. Children ages 5 and under are gratis and there are discounts available for students, senior citizens, groups and members of the military.
Those interested in learning more about the “USS Monitor” may want to pick up a copy of the book “Reign of Iron” by James Nelson.
USS Monitor Center
100 Museum Drive
Newport News, VA 23606
Mark St. John Erickson, “Rescued USS Monitor Steam Engine Returns to Civil War Appearance” Daily Press
Ocean Explorer NOAA, “Preserving the USS Monitor 2001” Ocean Explorer NOAA
Mariner’s Museum, “USS Monitor Center” Mariner’s Museum