Pennsylvania’s Flagship Niagara to Undergo Major Repairs

US Brig NiagaraCredit: Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission

HARRISBURG, PA — The Pennsylvania Historical & Museum Commission (PHMC) has unveiled plans for extensive repairs to the Commonwealth’s flagship, the U.S. Brig Niagara. This iconic vessel, which holds a significant place in Erie’s history, is set to undergo vital restoration efforts to ensure its return to sailing on the Great Lakes.

Essential Repairs and Upgrades

The Niagara requires substantial structural, planking, and systems repairs. The need for these repairs became evident during the 2023 sailing season when the ship lost one of its propellers. To address this and other issues, PHMC has planned a two-phase shipyard project.

In the first phase, both propellers will be replaced, and engine improvements will be made. Due to the custom-built nature of the five-blade, variable-pitch propellers, the start of this work is scheduled for the end of August 2024. The repairs will take place at a shipyard on the Great Lakes, likely in Cleveland.

While the ship is in the yard, a certified professional marine surveyor will conduct a below-the-waterline survey. This assessment will help develop a comprehensive plan for the second phase of repairs, focusing on the ship’s structural integrity.

Detailed Repair Plans

The second phase of repairs, informed by the initial survey, will occur during 2024-25. Key tasks will include:

  • Stabilizing the ship’s stem and bow assembly
  • Replacing deteriorated hull planking
  • Addressing wood deterioration above the waterline, including waterway timbers and gun ports
  • Replacing and recaulking the deck as needed
  • Upgrading electrical systems and installing new generators
  • Enhancing plumbing systems
  • Replacing and upgrading pumps
Collaboration and Expertise

PHMC is collaborating with former Niagara captains Walter Rybka and Wesley Heerssen as well as Erie Maritime Museum Site Administrator Jim Hall. In June, a team of museum volunteers and PHMC staff, guided by Heerssen, removed the ship’s cover in preparation for the upcoming repairs.

“Niagara has played a vital role in Erie’s history and is an integral part of its identity,” said PHMC’s Director of Historic Sites & Museums Melissa Mann. “She inspires Pennsylvanians and draws visitors to the Erie region. PHMC’s Erie Maritime Museum staff and professional marine consultants have been working tirelessly to prepare for Niagara’s upcoming shipyard experiences. We are looking forward to making the repairs necessary to return Niagara to sailing on the Great Lakes.”

Regulatory Oversight

The repair efforts are being coordinated with the U.S. Coast Guard, whose review and approval are necessary for the planned upgrades and modifications. This partnership ensures that all changes meet safety and regulatory standards.

Restoring the Niagara for Future Generations

The Niagara is not only a symbol of Erie’s maritime heritage but also a vital educational resource and tourist attraction. Its restoration is crucial for preserving this historical treasure and maintaining its role in educating the public about naval history.

The comprehensive repairs will ensure that the Niagara remains seaworthy and safe for future generations. By addressing both immediate mechanical issues and long-term structural needs, PHMC aims to preserve the vessel’s integrity and functionality.

Future Celebrations

The goal is to complete all repairs in time for the Niagara to participate in Pennsylvania’s Semiquincentennial celebration. This milestone event will commemorate 250 years of American history, and the Niagara’s presence will underscore the Commonwealth’s rich maritime legacy.

The planned repairs to the U.S. Brig Niagara reflect Pennsylvania’s commitment to preserving its historical assets. Through meticulous planning and collaboration with experts, the PHMC aims to ensure that this storied vessel continues to inspire and educate for years to come. As the flagship undergoes its much-needed restoration, the efforts will not only safeguard a piece of history but also enhance the cultural and educational fabric of the Erie region.

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