You may or may not be familiar with New Bedford native Colonel George Claghorn, a Revolutionary War patriot and master shipbuilder. Col. Claghorn's most significant accomplishment came when he was commissioned to build the U.S.S. Constitution, the Navy's oldest warship that's still afloat in Boston Harbor. The U.S.S. Constitution's victories at sea during the War of 1812 inspired our nation and helped mark the emergence of the United States as a world-class maritime power.

Just another minute of American History 101 before I share some pretty cool inside information. The frigate got its nickname "Old Ironsides" during the great naval battle where the Constitution sunk the British ship Guerriere. A sailor on the Guerriere saw 18-pound British cannonballs bouncing off the hull of the Constitution, blurting out, "Huzzah, her sides are made of iron!"

The reason the cannonballs bounced back was because of the kind of wood used in its construction, called white oak and live oak. According to an article in the American Society of Civil Engineers website, this kind of white oak, with a density of 75 pounds per cubic foot, gave the ship its iron-like strength. There aren't a lot of 200-year-old white oak trees laying around anymore. So how are repairs done to Old Ironsides?

I'm willing to bet you a bag of oyster crackers you didn't know the Navy manages its own white oak forest just for Old Ironsides. When the Constitution was constructed, there were plenty of white oaks, but over time, those resources dried up. The Navy back then was concerned about building the finest warships and decided to grow replacement timbers for its advanced warships.

At Naval Support Activity Crane, near Bloomington, Indiana, the Navy maintains "Constitution Grove," where a forest full of white oaks are grown for the sole purpose of restoring and refitting the world-famous U.S. Naval icon, Old Ironsides, that was built by a New Bedford native. And that's something we all can be proud of!

Phil Paleologos is the host of The Phil Paleologos Show on 1420 WBSM New Bedford. He can be heard weekdays from 6 a.m. to 10 a.m. Contact him at and follow him on Twitter @PhilPaleologos. The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the author.

WBSM-AM/AM 1420 logo
Enter your number to get our free mobile app

More From WBSM-AM/AM 1420