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Why Does the US Navy Maintain A Grove of White Oaks?

USS Constitution, the 224-year-old warship, also known as Old Ironsides, is still afloat up to this day. The ship still has most of the original material as when it was first built. How did the US Navy make this possible? 

There are 64,000 acres worth of White Oak Trees in Crane, Indiana. This patch of land is called the “Constitution Grove,” where its trees are used to supply timbers used to maintain USS Constitution.

Constitution Grove

In 1940, the U.S. Navy purchased land in Crane, Indiana. The land was used as storage for ammunition during World War II since the Navy deemed that the site was safe from enemy bombing and attacks due to its geographical location.

The land, around 40% larger than Washington, D.C., reached its full potential in the eighties. And in the nineties, it was the highest producing and most profitable forest that the Navy managed. Its primary purpose is to grow and regenerate great white oak trees for the sole purpose of rebuilding and maintaining the USS Constitution, the oldest American warship still afloat. (Source: Garden and Health)

In 1973, the Naval Facilities Engineering Command, or NAVFAC, in Crane, Indiana, was designated as the leading supplier of white oak planks specifically used to maintain the USS Constitution.

On May 8, 1976, Commander Tyrone Martin, then commanding officer of the USS Constitution, and H. Robert Freneau, then-Secretary of the Naval Special Assistant, dedicated a ceremony for the Constitution Grove. One hundred fifty white oak trees spread across the 64,000 acres of land were designated to the ship. (Source: USS Constitution Museum)

Old Ironsides

Old Ironsides was the nickname earned by the USS Constitution in the War of 1812. The great ship won a battle against the British Guerriere under the command of Captain Isaac Hull. American sailors dubbed the ship as Old Ironsides when they observed that the British could not penetrate the oak sides of the Constitution.

Old Ironsides was the first frigate ship built by the U.S. Navy, launching in Boston, Massachusetts, on October 21, 1797. The USS Constitution is the oldest battleship afloat until today, though it now serves as an icon that is part of the Boston National Historical Park. The ship is open for the public to visit as part of the museum. (Source: Fantastic Facts)

Maintaining the USS Constitution

It is no easy task to maintain the 224-year-old battleship. The ship’s wooden hull planks and knees were initially made with the best white oak of sufficient size and clarity as described by the first Secretary of War, Henry Knox.

To maintain the ship and the forest, mature white oak trees are cut at specific times of the year to ensure they are suitable material for the boat. Trees older than eighty years old are carefully selected by one of three professional foresters to ensure that the forest continues to thrive and provide the sufficient material needed by Old Ironsides.

Trees cut down are stored and seasoned in Boston until they are used for the maintenance of the ship. In the 2015-2017 restoration of Old Ironsides, 96 planks above and below the waterline were replaced by either laminated or solid white oak planks. (Source: USS Constitution Museum)

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