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After 11 years and $1.5 million, there is no hope for Water Witch at Naval Museum

The replication of the U.S.S. Water Witch at the Port Columbus has incurred damages that prevent the public from boarding the exhibit. The sidewheel gunboat launched in 1851 from the Washington Navy Yard.
The replication of the U.S.S. Water Witch at the Port Columbus has incurred damages that prevent the public from boarding the exhibit. The sidewheel gunboat launched in 1851 from the Washington Navy Yard. rtrimarchi@ledger-enquirer.com

Concerns are growing over the Water Witch on Victory Drive, 11 years after supporters raised $1.5 million to place the Civil War replica in front of the National Civil War Naval Museum at Port Columbus.

A visitor said anyone inclined to enter the 1002 Victory Drive museum might get turned off by the obvious neglect of the boat, but the executive director noted that artifacts inside the building are in much better condition. The boat is a replica of the Union ship, USS Water Witch, which was captured by the Confederate Navy on June 3, 1864, but it has been battered by the weather since it arrived in 2008.

“It does look terrible and I’m embarrassed by it,” Holly Wait, executive director of the museum said Friday. “Right now, we’ve got to have a plan to replace it because we had some people in 2008 gave money to build that ship. We don’t want to just take it down without letting them know why and what has happened.”

The replica arrived seven years after the museum moved to the 40,000 square-foot facility in 2001 at a cost of $8 million. It has highlighted the warship CSS Jackson and the CSS Chattahoochee, a gunboat. It also features other ships, uniforms, equipment and weapons used by the Union Navy from the North and the Confederate States Navy or the Southern/rebel forces.

Placed at the front of the facility, the Water Witch was expected to draw visitors to the museum. An exhibit company, the builder of the ship, used interior lumber or untreated wood for a boat placed outside on a concrete base.

“Once it got weathered, water oozed down into the guts of it,” Wait said. “We replaced and repaired , spent well over $100,000 trying to keep it in shape and finally , it’s just like we can’t keep doing it.”

And the scuppers that drain water off the deck were too small to handle the amount of water on the ship. Water wouldn’t properly flow through, causing the deck to rot. “When the ship got cracks and holes, water went everywhere inside,” she said. “It became a soggy mess. There is no hope.”

Wait said a board member is working on a plan that includes a sign where the ship is displayed. “The Water Witch is closed while we are looking for a solution,” she said.

While the replica may be in disrepair in front of the facility, Wait said a trained and experienced curator takes care of the collection of artifacts inside the museum. “We are very serious about caring for our artifacts,” she said.

The museum would like to have a big education space outside to look like a dock. “We kind of want that area to look like a naval yard,” she said. “We got cannons out there sitting outside. Having a dock there even though there is no water, it would not be out of place at all.”

To help the museum, Wait said people are welcome to make donations by writing shipyard on their check. Call 706-327-9798, go to www.portcolumbus.org or mail donations to the National Civil War Naval Museum at Port Columbus, 1002 Victory Drive, Columbus, Ga., 31901.

If you’ve seen something that needs attention, give me a call at 706-571-8576.

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