Another piece of 19th-century ship Westfield goes on display
By Trishna Buch
ONE OF THE two engine-room boilers from the Civil War gunboat USS Westfield has arrived at its new home at the Texas City museum, ending a landlubber journey that has taken some seven years.
The boiler is one of several vital components of the ship to be donated on permanent loan to the museum after their restoration by staff and students at Texas A&M University following her recovery in 2009.
When its exhibit is finished, museum visitors will see two versions, one complete with replica furnace flames and flowing water thanks to the wonders of modern technology in the form of LED lights.
Among hundreds of other Westfield artifacts already at the Sixth Street museum are her largest cannon, a nine-inch Dahlgren whose operation required a 16-strong crew and a powderman, and several cannonballs.
The ship, which Union forces regarded as their flagship during their occupation of Galveston, had been lying in Galveston Bay since being blown up to prevent her capture during a sneak attack by the Confederates on New Year’s Day in 1863.
The two museum-exhibit versions of the boiler are one pre- and one post-explosion.
Justin Parkoff, archaeological conservator for Texas A&M’s conservation research laboratory, oversaw the boiler’s delivery to the museum and is the brains behind the museum’s exhibit of the Westfield relics.
Parkoff, who will be presented with his PhD on Saturday for his work on the conservation project, said: “The Westfield was underwater for almost 150 years. In 2009, the US Army Corps Of Engineers, orchestrated her recovery in advance of the Texas City ship channel improvement project.”
The ship’s remains, raised from 47 feet below the surface about a mile and a half off the end of the Texas City dike, were sent for conservation to the A&M laboratory in College Station, from where the boiler was taken to the museum on Tuesday.
A&M researchers are building a major exhibit at the museum to tell the tale of the Westfield.
“Half of the boiler exhibit structure is a replica designed to show the public how the boiler once appeared,” Parkoff said.
“The other half is a skeleton structure that will hold hundreds of original authentic artifacts that were recovered from the wreck site.”
The museum hopes to have the exhibit complete by the end of the year. It has just completed a three-week annual cataloging of its Westfield collection, a requirement of its permanent loan by the US Navy, which officially owns the relics.
Top, the boiler arrives; center, Justin Parkoff with part of the museum exhibit; bottom, the delivery crew celebrates a job well done. – Photos by Donna Carter