Haven't been to Port Columbus lately? It's a different place

sokamoto@ledger-enquirer.comDecember 4, 2013 

  • Dec. 7-8: Victorian Christmas Open House, featuring a Victorian-era Santa Claus, carolers, museum tours, performances by the Columbus Brass, local performers and aspecial reading of “‘Twas the Night Before Christmas;” snacks from 12th Street Deli and Fountain City Coffee. This is a free event.

    Feb. 22: "Black in Blue," personal stories of African Americans, sailors and civilians, during the Civil War

    March 22: River Blast! An outdoor program featuring living history interpreters on the USS Water Witch. Indoor program features stories of sailors, soldiers and civilians during the Civil War

    March 22: “Rivers to the Past,” part of ArtBeat 2014, highlights the stories of women and children factory workers, sailors and soldiers and Afridan Americans living along the Chattahoochee River during the Civil War

    May 10: “White Water Ironclads!,” 11 a.m.-1 p.m., a recreation of a fleet of ironclad gunboats that shot the rapids of the Red River during the Red River Campaign in Louisiana

    June: Date to be determined. “Two Navies, One Ship — The Capture of the USS Water Witch,” commemorating the 150th anniversary of the capture of the ship by the Savannah Squadron of the Confederate Navy

  • What: The National Civil War Naval Museum at Port Columbus that houses artifacts from both navies during the Civil War

    Where: 1002 Victory Drive

    Hours: 12:30-4:30 p.m. Sunday-Monday; 10 a.m.-4:30 p.m. Tuesday–Saturday; closed Christmas Day, New Year’s Day, Easter Sunday, Thanksgiving Day

    Admission: $7.50, $6.50 for active military and seniors, $6 for students. The Victorian Christmas Open House on Saturday-Sunday is free.

    Information: 706-327-9798

Many people think the National Civil War Naval Museum at Port Columbus is still in a cramped building in the shadows of Golden Park.

But it's not.

Since 2001, the museum has occupied a 40,000-square-foot building on Victory Drive. And you can't miss it -- there's a full-sized replica of the USS Water Witch ship, a gunboat used by both navies during the Civil War.

The museum has been in existence "in various forms since 1963," said executive director Ken Johnston. In 1968, the city of Columbus took ownership.

Johnston has been at the museum for 3½ years, serving as executive director for the last two.

Since taking over, he has expanded programs, including the theater events for the museum and he has produced in-house video content.

Johnston has also increased the number of tours that visitors can take.

In the spring, the popular bicycle tours will begin again. It's $10.

Visitors begin at Ride On Bikes on Broadway, where they get on their own bikes or a rental, then ride on the Chattahoochee RiverWalk to the museum, where they get a tour.

"It's historic site after historic site and it's kind of cool," Johnston said. "It's an absolutely beautiful ride."

There is also a ghost tour on the last Thursday of each month (except November and December) at 8 p.m. This tour is $19 and must be reserved in advance.

The museum recently acquired letters and photographs from a captain of a gunboat that traveled along the Mississippi River.

Of all the artifacts, he said, the most spectacular are probably the flags that flew on vessels of both navies.

"The flags are a pretty good acquisition," he said. "The Water Witch material is pretty good, too. But probably the high-profile things are the flags."

And for those who have not been to the museum since it was near Golden Park, Johnston said, "There's so much more now."

Looking ahead, in May there will be an event that he admits is a little crazy.

With the kickoff of the whitewater rafting season, the museum will celebrate the 150th anniversary of the Red River Campaign in Louisiana.

It's a little-known campaign. The Red River flow was very low and a bunch of ironclads were upriver, stuck because the water was so low.

So a lieutenant colonel from Wisconsin, Joseph Bailey, who was a lumberman before joining the Union Army, thought of building a dam. He told his superiors that's what they did to move logs down river when the water was low.

So they built a dam and when the water level rose to the level they needed to get the ships down river, they blew the dams and the boats shot through the rapids.

Johnston thought it would be great to recreate a flotilla of ironclads shooting down the Chattahoochee.

Whitewater Express owner Dan Gilbert thought it was a good idea, too. The plan is to make structures around the whitewater rafts to make them look like miniature ironclads.

To get the community involved, Johnston is thinking of letting people build their own ironclads to take through the whitewater course.

"This happened in Louisiana, but we have a river with rapids," Johnston said. "It's crazy."

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