The SS Selma, the concrete shipwreck in the Houston Ship Channel that’s one of the region’s oddest landmarks, will turn 100 next month.
But as a small group of Selma supporters prepare to celebrate the anniversary of the wreck, as they’ve done for the past 26 years, the Selma’s owner says its days might be numbered.
At the current rate of deterioration, the wreck could be completely submerged within the next couple of decades, said Ken Cox, the president of the corporation that owns the Selma.
“It’s deteriorating, deteriorating greatly,” Cox said. “It really, really is in pretty bad shape and could be completely under water within 15 years.”
There are no plans, right now, to try to stop that from happening, Cox said.
The Selma has sat in its final resting place, in the Houston Ship Channel about a mile north of Pelican Island, since it was scuttled in 1922.
It had launched only three years earlier, from Mobile, Alabama, on June 28, 1919. It was one of 12 experimental ships built during World War I that was constructed using concrete instead of steel because of a metal shortage.
The ship never saw service during the war. The day it launched was the same day Germany signed the Treaty of Versailles, which officially ended the war. It was instead put to service as an oil tanker.
The ship was abandoned after it hit a reef that ripped a 60-foot hole in its hull, which could not be repaired.
Since its sinking, the Selma has been many things, including home to a hermit and a place of refuge during strong and sudden storms, said Norma Jean Nelson, a member of the Crew of the SS Selma, a group of enthusiasts who celebrate the ship with a party every year.
Nelson hoped the 100th anniversary of the ship’s launch would bring more attention to the landmark, she said.
“It’s a part of Galveston history,” Nelson said. “I would just like to see her never forgotten. A lot of people know of the Selma, but they don’t know the Selma.”
While the ship has sat in the ship channel for generations, interest in preserving it and its history took sharper focus in the 1990s, when it was purchased by A. Pat Daniels, a retired journalist who was once a reporter and editor at The Daily News.
The Selma was declared a state archeological landmark in 1993, and a sign honoring the ship was placed on Pelican Island. It also is on the National Register of Historic Places.
Today, the Selma is one of the dozens of historical sites around Galveston Island. While it is, officially, closed to the public, the vessel sometimes is used by anglers who want to make use of reef-like qualities, and by urban explorers who want to see the ship up close.
The wreck is one of the locations on the Galveston Historical Foundation’s tours of Galveston Harbor, and for visitors, represents one of the truly unique sights on the island.
“People think of historic Galveston as more of the turn of the century,” said Will Wright, the chief creative officer at the historical foundation. “For them to come up and see something of that nature, that’s visually pretty different, it ties into a different aspect of the community.”
The Crew of the SS Selma plans to celebrate the ship’s centennial with at private party in Galveston on May 11.