The Finest Restoration
“For nearly three decades, the 1877 sailing ship Elissa has been widely recognized as one of the finest maritime preservation projects in the world. Unlike some tall ships of today, the Elissa is not a replica but an authentic survivor from the Age of Sail. Over her century long commercial history, she carried cargos to ports around the world for a succession of owners. Her working life as a freighter came to an end in Piraeus, Greece where she was rescued from the salvage yard by a variety of ship preservationists who refused to let her die. The story of Elissa’s discovery and restoration by the Galveston Historical Foundation is nothing short of miraculous.”
– Kurt Voss ‘Galveston’s the ELISSA – The Tall Ship of Texas’ (Arcadia Publishing).
An Iron Barque of 1877
Growing up in Annapolis in the 1950’s, Saturday mornings sailing the wooden Naval Academy yawls, canoeing in college creek after school, looking out over the harbor at the oyster draggers drying their sails, I thought the fishing fleets of the world still worked under sail. I couldn't decide if I wanted to be a harpooner like the ones in Moby Dick or follow in the wake of that moment’s hero, Irving Johnson as he circumnavigated his Yankee for National Geographic.
Serving an apprenticeship in a small Connecticut shipyard, and another building musical instruments in Rhode Island, I eventually ‘found a home’, as sailors say, at South Street Seaport Museum in New York, simultaneously a carpenter on the big ships: WAVERTREE and PEKING, and curating the Museum’s model collection. Rigging restaurants between ships and maritime museums I carpetbagged the concept of historic ship restoration to Galveston, Texas. The idea caught fire and I found myself at the head of a rescue crew of volunteers off to Piraeus, Greece picking up the ELISSA torch from Peter Throckmorton and Karl Kortum. Now restored as leading light of the Texas Seaport Museum, new generations carry on her traditions. According to Peter Stanford, president emeritus of the National Maritime Historical Society: “Indeed, the restoration of this graceful barque of 1877 is reckoned by many to be the finest restoration of an active sailing ship extant.”