BACKWATER (1882-1926)


Displayed below are the images of USS Constitution and her people during 1882-1926, as recorded down through the years, arranged in approximate chronological order of the event or person depicted. Undatable, general, images are grouped at the end. Where appropriate, commentary is provided to put the image in context and evaluate its accuracy.


This undated photograph is thought to have been taken at Portsmouth, New Hampshire, in the late summer of 1882, after the ship had been towed thence from New York and before construction of the "barn" was begun. Her upper masts had been sent down upon decommissioning the previous December. Clearly visible are the two pair of iron davits on either side of the quarterdeck, the galley smokestack rising midway between the fore and main masts, the slight "step" marking the forward extremity of the poop cabin, the railing around the poop deck, and the hinged gun port lids and new stern décor installed during the restoration of a decade earlier.

Moored alongside is some sort of a covered lighter, and what may be a smokestack rising near its forward end.


Constitution moored under the mast shears at Portsmouth Navy Yard, possibly soon after the erection of the "house" late in 1882. Note that no gangway is in place.


U.S. Navy

Constitution as a barracks ship at the Portsmouth Navy Yard during the period 1882-1897. Visible are the spencer gaffs of the fore and main masts, and the fore yard, retained for signalling purposes. Her jib boom is housed above her bowsprit. Although not in commission, she flies both jack and ensign.


Constitution at Portsmouth, New Hampshire, in the summer of 1897, shortly before her drydocking and transfer to Boston. Note that most of her gun ports are closed and are largely indistinguishable from the hull itself.


Constitution at Portsmouth, N.H., in 1896. Note that "gun port lids" have been installed both in the three stern windows of the Captainís Cabin and those above, in the poop cabin. Note, too, that fixed deadlights have been installed in the "panels" on either side of the Captainís Cabin windows. Also visible are the Charlie Noble with its bent top, venting the camboose on the gun deck, and another pipe forward, which may exhaust a heater on the berth deck.


U.S. Navy

Barracks ship Constitution at Boston, probably shortly after her move from Portsmouth in September 1897. Visible in this view is the deal sheathing that has been installed over most of the hull. Gone (from the previous view) are the spencer gaffs, the fore yard, and the flags.


The Bostonnian Society

Stern of Constitution, reportedly taken in 1897. Visible are the windowed three ports at spar deck level and what may be five sets of port covers at the gun deck level. Note that the stern davits are absent.


Constitution housed over as a barracks ("receiving") ship at Pier 1, Boston Navy Yard, probably shortly before the start of the 1905-07 restoration. Note the presence of windows at the berth deck level, as well as windows in the enclosed bowhead area. Note, too, that her hull is again painted black with a white "gun streak,' and that the billethead and trailboards have been fully decorated. The windows in the "house" are high above the spar deck; no additional deck was installed above it. This image copied from a postcard bearing a 1907 postmark.


U. S. Navy

View of Constitution's spar deck beneath the "house," ca. 1900. Points to notice:

- Hinged covers on hammock stowage aft of entry port, but open trough forward.

Fife rails of the 1847 pattern

Absence of main hatch, the area covered with narrower planking than rest of deck; the presence of the Charlie Noble (galley smokestack) in the approximate center of where the hatch once was

Four 32-pdr long guns housed in the extreme bow

At stem, ladder to door at top of bulwark providing access to jackstaff on bowsprit


U.S. Navy

Her 1905-1907 well in hand, Constitution begins to show her earlier outline. Forecastle and quarterdeck bulwarks have been restored to their original height and the waist area cleared on any bulwarks. Much work still has to be done in the bow head area.


A newspaper photo of Constitution's spar deck, ca. 1907, looking aft from the forecastle. Note the long guns cast for this restoration, the same model on both decks. Note also that the main hatch has not been restored and the Charlie Noble remains amidships, now much shortened that the "house" has been removed. What appears to be the fore topgallant mast rests between the lines of the main brace.


Constitution as she appeared near the conclusion of her restoration in 1907. (The yards have yet to be crossed.) Note the open waist, where only netting prevents people from falling overboard. This was the configuration during much of her early service, although a canvas screen was employed to hide the fact that there wasn't solid bulwark in the waist, as well. This image copied from a postcard postmarked in 1907.


U. S. Navy NH 55907

USS Constitution at Boston Navy Yard, 18 August 1914. Other than the fact that her topgallant yards have been sent down, she is complete as restored seven years earlier. She displays characteristics from several eras: the double dolphin striker, shortened gun streak, open waist, and low bulwarks of the War of 1812; the enclosed bowhead area of the 1860s; the billethead, trailboards, and Charlie Noble of the 1870s; and the all-32-pounder long gun batteries of 1848-55.


U.S. Navy

With America's entry into World War I, Congress ordered the construction of a class of battle cruisers, a type that had gained notoriety in Britain and Germany earlier in the war. The decision was made to name them in honor of some of the best known units of the early navy. In order to make "Constitution" available, the frigate was officially renamed USS Old Constitution in 1917. The artist's conception above is one of two known to have been made of the proposed ships. Not apparent in it is the fact that each was to have seven stacks, the second and fourth actually being athwartship pairs. (The other sketch trunked the seven into two broad funnels.) Incomplete at war's end, the ships were banned in the subsequent Washington Naval Limitations Treaty. Two were completed as the second and third aircraft carriers in the USN; the other four partial hulls were scrapped. USS Old Constitution became USS Constitution again in 1925.