The Charleston Naval Shipyard exhibit is back in North Charleston after being displayed for more than 30 years on the USS Yorktown at Patriots Point. Referred to as “Shipyard Museum,” the exhibit pays tribute to the thousands who worked at the base before its 1996 closure.
“After years of Patriots Point maintaining and safekeeping the artifacts and historical documents from the former Charleston Naval Base, we are very pleased to finally receive the Navy Shipyard exhibit,” North Charleston Mayor Keith Summey said. “We are currently storing all items until a permanent location can be found within North Charleston. We intend to create a home for the exhibit that complements the Charleston Naval Base Memorial at Riverfront Park and appropriately tells the story of the Shipyard’s 90+ years of history,” he added.
The original exhibit was founded in 1981 by the late Palmer Olliff, who worked 48 years at the Charleston Naval Shipyard. When the shipyard closed in 1996, due to Base Realignment and Closure by the federal government, the exhibit was upgraded and expanded. Through the closure thousands of workers lost their jobs and many of those people participated in the 1996 exhibit expansion by donating items that would best tell the shipyard’s story to future generations. Artifacts, including tools and equipment built by the different shops that were part of the shipyard, range from 1920s to 1990s era.
“Patriots Point Naval and Maritime Museum has been honored to be the temporary home for very important artifacts from the Charleston Navy Yard. For generations, the Navy Yard helped define the Charleston area and certainly made us nationally relevant,” Patriots Point Executive Director Mac Burdette said. “As a museum, we feel it is very important that artifacts be exhibited whenever possible within the context of the history that made them important. From a community relations standpoint, I have always felt there was some level of unfairness that local residents who wanted to visit the exhibit on the Yorktown had to pay the admissions fee to our museum. I am sure that the museum at the Old Navy Shipyard will be more affordable for the former shipyard employees and their families who want to visit,” Burdette added.
“The City of North Charleston has demonstrated they know how to operate an exceptional museum by visiting the Fire Museum near the Tanger Outlet. This is a great decision for all who value the history of the Charleston area, North Charleston and the Shipyard that helped to defend this country through three major wars and the Cold War,” Burdette said. “We all owe a debt of gratitude to Mayor Summey and the North Charleston City Council for their efforts to make this transition a reality,” he added.
Transferring the exhibit was no simple task. According to Patriots Point Curator Melissa Buchanan the planning and execution of the move took more than six months.
“Artifact moves within a museum are a planned process and even more so once packed for shipping across town,” Buchanan said. “The moves are carefully planned as to prevent any damage with artifacts carefully wrapped, crated and moved in a precise order,” she added
The transition now frees up space for Patriots Point to use for traveling and rotational exhibits and possibly event space, Burdette said.