TEXAS CITY — The three-quarter-inch sheets of plywood creaked and groaned Wednesday as a massive Civil War-era Dahlgren gun was slowly pushed and pulled through the Texas City Museum.
The 8,400-pound gun spent more than 150 years under the murky waters of Galveston Bay and about another year at the Center for Maritime Archaeology and Conservation at Texas A&M University in College Station before finally arriving at what should be its permanent home in the museum, 409 Sixth St. N.
The gun, which is on loan to the Texas City Museum courtesy of the Underwater Archaeology Branch of the Naval History & Heritage Command of the Navy, is the first of many artifacts from a Union ship that have been salvaged from the bay and, after study and conservation, will be put on display at the museum.
The 9-inch Dahlgren gun came from the USS Westfield — the flagship of the federal forces off Galveston. The ship, originally a ferryboat meant to transport passengers, sank in Galveston Bay on Jan. 1, 1863, when Confederate forces retook Galveston from the Union. The Westfield was scuttled to keep her from being captured.
The remains of the ship sat at the bottom of the bay until a U.S. Army Corps of Engineers project to widen and deepen the Texas City ship channel led researchers to its remains.
With permits from the U.S. Navy and the Texas Historical Commission, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers contracted with Global Atkins to excavate the ship in 2009.
It took as many as 10 people on Wednesday to help push and pull the gun to the right spot in the museum.
A heavy move
Perry O’Brien, owner of the Texas City-based company Domac, Inc., was one of those lowering a shoulder to keep the heavy gun moving.
O’Brien donated his company’s time and equipment to move the artifact from College Station to its display in the museum.
O’Brien, who has moved other large objects in the city, such as the anchor from the V.A. Fogg that now sits in front of the museum, the train at Noble Park on Palmer Highway and the airplanes on display at Bay Street Park, wanted to do the job because the Dahlgren gun was unusual piece and because of his interest in history.
“It’s kind of a way of giving back,” O’Brien said, in discussing what would likely have been a $5,000 to $7,000 job.
But while the gun is a unique artifact, when it came to moving it, it was just another heavy load, O’Brien said.
It took a 20-ton crane to lift the gun off a flatbed trailer, swing it over the anchor outside the museum and place it on equipment rollers that can carry up to 28,000 pounds. Once it was rolled into the museum, a 5-ton A-frame gantry system was used to lift the gun up and then lower it on to a Marsilly carriage that was specially built by Glenn Grieco, a research associate with Texas A&M University.
“I’m as nervous as if I was having a child,” said Museum Curator Linda Turner.
Later, once the gun was safely in its carriage, Dennis Harris, co-director of the Texas City recreation and tourism department, said the gun was a sight for sore eyes.
“We had pondered for many, many months on how to get (the gun) in,” he said.
Visitors will be able to get a look at the historic gun starting today, he said.
“I think this is something Texas City residents can be very proud of,” he said.
But, Harris said, visitors should keep in mind that the exhibit is still a work in progress and there are many more pieces to put in place.
More to come
Now that the 11-foot-long gun is out of his way, Justin Parkoff, conservation phase project manager with the Conservation Research Laboratory at Texas A&M University, said he can start working on the rest of the artifacts that will eventually make their way to the museum.
“It’s a huge burden off my shoulders,” Parkoff said. “We can now move forward with the next part of the exhibit.”
Joining the Dahlgrun gun will be a reconstruction of the Westfield’s engine cylinder and the boiler, as well as personal effects found during the excavation, Parkoff said.
The rest of the artifacts should be in place by the end of the year, he said.
Donny Hamilton, director of the Conservation Research Laboratory, said the ultimate goal was to get these artifacts that have been at the bottom of the bay for so long out in front of the public.
“You can read about this in the history books, but archaeology, more than any other thing, allows you to touch history and you can see history,” Hamilton said. “You can read about a Dahlgren cannon, but it is much more impressive to actually see one.”
At a Glance
WHAT: A 9-inch Dahlgren gun from the USS Westfield is on display at the Texas City Museum.
HOURS: Tuesday through Saturday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.
LOCATION: 409 6th St. North in Texas City.
ADMISSION: $5 for Adult, $3 for seniors and children 6 and under are free.