A New Home After 48 Years
When questioned by superiors on the possible threat from the Confederate ironclad gunboat being built on the Neuse River upstream from New Bern, Gen. John Peck of the Union Army scoffed: "I don't believe in the iron clad [sic]. Hitherto it has been a question of iron and time." Paraphrasing the general, former state underwater archaeologist Leslie S. Bright now considers it "a question of wood and time."
Since 1964, the CSS Neuse has waged a second battle for survival—not against Union forces but against the elements of nature and time, as she remained exposed beneath an open-air shelter. To combat these elements, the ironclad's remains were moved in June of 2012 to the CSS Neuse Civil War Interpretive Center at 100 N. Queen Street in downtown Kinston. This new, climate-contolled facility provides optimal conditions for preservation by regulating the humidity and temperature around the ship.
Moving the Neuse in 1998 following Hurricane Fran.
Sections of the hull are removed from the original shelter, prior to transport to a temporary facility on higher ground.
Why Move the CSS Neuse?
Plans to enclose the CSS Neuse were well underway in September 1996, when Hurricane Fran made a direct hit on eastern North Carolina. The resulting flood waters from the Neuse River exceeded the "one hundred year" flood levels of 1964, and reached the boat itself. In 1999, rising waters from Hurricane Floyd entered the visitor center, which was eventually condemned. Though the Neuse had by then been moved to higher ground, the only way to ensure the future of the ship and her artifacts meant moving to a new facility. The C.S.S. Neuse Gunboat Association, a non-profit support group, selected and purchased the property at 100 North Queen Street, donating it to the State of North Carolina to serve as the site for the CSS Neuse Civil War Interpretive Center. The Center opened its doors on July 18, 2013, and remains available for tours while permanent exhibits are in development.
How Downtown Helps Tell the Story
By locating to downtown Kinston, the CSS Neuse is now closer to the site of the "Cat Hole," where she was outfitted and docked during the Civil War. The Neuse is also closer to the site of her recovery from the Neuse River in the 1960's. These locations, as well as a full-sized replica of the Neuse are visible from the Interpretive Center's mezzanine window. Downtown Kinston also makes the Neuse centrally located for visitors to see other local attractions.
Future for CSS Neuse
In addition to preserving the remains, the enclosure of the hull at the C.S.S. Neuse Civil War Interpretive Center provides the site with additional exhibit space, allowing the scope of exhibits to include a more regional approach. Future exhibits will focus on the two battles that took place in Kinston, as well as aspects of the Civil War in other areas of eastern North Carolina, including Goldsboro, Seven Springs, and New Bern. The additional space will also feature interactive exhibits, an education room, and a gift shop.
Flood Damage from Hurricane Fran.
The high water reached the Neuse under its shelter at right. The blacksmith shop in the background is half submerged, while the picnic facilities are completely covered by flood waters from the Neuse River.
A Brief Outline of Preservation Efforts at CSS Neuse State Historic Site
- Recovery of the CSS Neuse begun by three local businessmen.
- November 1963
- Governor Terry Sanford approved the allocation of $10,000 for moving the ship and applying wood preservatives to the hull.
- CSS Neuse removed from recovery site and relocated to the Governor Caswell Memorial Park by agreement of the Richard Caswell Memorial Commission and the Lenoir County Confederate Centennial Committee.
- July 1, 1965
- Caswell Memorial Park becomes part of the Historic Sites Section, North Carolina Office of Archives and History.
- Open-sided shelter constructed over the gunboat to protect it from rain; windblown precipitation and humidity still a problem under this structure.
- Formal preservation of the hull began; care, maintenance, and protection for the vessel carried out by site staff with advice from the state's Underwater Archaeology Unit at Fort Fisher; various topical treatments applied at regular intervals.
- CSS Neuse Visitor Center constructed.
- March 1992
- Site staff attended a Waterlogged Wood Workshop at the North Carolina Maritime Museum in Beaufort; advice received there spurred the most recent preservation efforts.
- March 1993
- Began developing plan to get the CSS Neuse enclosed in an environmentally controlled facility.
- December 1993
- Applied for a Conservation Assessment Program (CAP) grant through the National Institute for the Conservation of Cultural Property.
- February 1994
- Met with section administration about further preservation of the CSS Neuse and how the site would best fit with the proposed "Civil War Corridor." The recommendation was to develop a presentation package to sell the idea of enclosing the ship and developing a regional Civil War Museum.
- April 1994
- Site staff notified that project qualified for CAP grant but funding not available.
- August 1994
- Met with Kinston Convention and Visitors Bureau executive Jim Godfrey and Kermit Smith of the East Group architectural firm. KCVB agreed to fund development of presentation package valued at $8,400.00.
- December 1994
- Second CAP grant application submitted.
- April 1994
- Notified of CAP grant award valued at $3,660.00.
- November 1995
- CAP grant assessment done; recommendation was to provide the CSS Neuse with a more controlled environment.
- March 1996
- East Group site plan/schematics completed.
- September 1996
- Hurricane Fran hit eastern North Carolina and a resulting flood damaged the hull of the CSS Neuse. Extensive flooding required the state to rethink any possibility of enclosing the existing shelter.
- December 1996-January 1997
- Treatments of sodium borate began per preservationists' recommendations.
- February 1997
- Decision was made to redirect state repair and renovation funding for Neuse visitor center renovations to the removal of the gunboat from the floodplain.
- April 1997
- Design firm of McConnell and Associates selected.
- June 1997
- Met at site with McConnell and Associates to include site needs input.
- September 1997
- Schematics presented to Historic Sites Section by design firm.
- March 1998
- Bid opening.
- April 1998
- Construction of new shelter began.
- Construction completed.
- September 1999
- Hurricane Floyd put three feet of water in the Visitor Center. The entire area was devastated by the flooding.
- October 1999
- Artifacts moved to Raleigh for re-conservation.
- February to April 2006
Visitor Center torn down because of mold and mildew.
- July 2003 to June 2004
- An addition to the Caswell Memorial provides new offices and restrooms to replace those lost at the Visitor Center.
- October 2003
- The old East Group building at 100 N. Queen Street was donated to and accepted by the State.
- April 2005
- Small exhibits produced with the assistance of East Carolina University’s Museum Studies program. The exhibit opens in the new building at 100 N. Queen Street with staff manning the building every Thursday.
- Initial tract of land purchased and donated to the State by the C.S.S. Neuse Gunboat Association for relocating the CSS Neuse.
- Old rundown buildings are demolished to make way for the new museum for the CSS Neuse.
- 3 million dollars appropriated by the State for the project of moving the CSS Neuse to a fully enclosed and climate controlled building at the Queen Street property.
- Project to move the CSS Neuse to the Queen Street property begins.
- February 5, 2009
- 2nd tract of land purchased and donated to the State by the Gunboat Association for relocating the CSS Neuse.
- Life and safety upgrades completed at the former East Group building, 100 N. Queen Street.
- Oct. 28, 2010
- Upgrades unveiled to the community, along with plans for the future of the project.
- April 21, 2011
- Groundbreaking Ceremony for the CSS Neuse Civil War Interpretive Center.
- May 2011
- Construction begins.
- June 23, 2012
- CSS Neuse is moved 2.7 miles from 2612 W. Vernon Ave. site to new home at 100 North Queen Street.
- July 18, 2013
- The C.S.S. Neuse Civil War Interpretive Center opens to the public with temporary exhibits.
Reassembling the Fragments of the Neuse.
The first segment of the hull arrives at the new temporary facility on higher ground at the site, not far from the Caswell Memorial.
All photographs © North Carolina Office of Archives & History