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ELISSA, the jewel of Galveston Harbor and the most daunting restoration project ever taken on by the Galveston Historical Foundation, has just been named the Official Tall Ship of Texas. The resolutions, HCR 117, authored by Representative Craig Eiland and carried by Senator Mike Jackson, passed both houses of the Texas legislature in May and was signed by Governor Rick Perry on June 18, 2005.
As one of only three pre-20th-century tall ships in the United States that has been restored to full sailing capacity, Elissa has already been declared a National Historic Landmark and one of America's Treasures by the US Department of the Interior.
ELISSA is a three-masted, iron-hulled sailing ship built in 1877 in Aberdeen, Scotland by Alexander Hall & Company. She carries nineteen sails covering over one-quarter of an acre in surface area. Tall ships are classified by the configuration of their sailing rig. In ELISSA's case, she is a 'barque' because she carries square and fore-and-aft sails on her fore and mainmasts, but only fore-and-aft sails on her mizzenmast. From her stern to the tip of her jibboom she measures 205 feet. Her height is 99 feet, 9 inches at the main mast and she displaces about 620 tons at her current ballast. But, she is much more than iron, wood and canvas .
According to the Marjorie Lyle, granddaughter of ELISSA's builder, Henry Fowler Watt, the name was taken from the epic Roman poem The Aeneid, in
which the tragedy of Dido, Queen of Carthage, is the unifying theme of the first four books of that tale. Dido was originally a Phoenician princess
named Elissa, who fled from Tyre to Africa and founded Carthage.
Unlike some tall ships of today ELISSA is not a replica, but a survivor. She was built during the decline of the "Age of Sail", to fill a niche in maritime commerce. Over her 90-year commercial history, she carried a variety of cargos to ports around the world, for a succession of owners. Her working life as a freighter came to an end in Piraeus Harbor, Greece, where she was rescued from the salvage yard by a variety of ship preservationists who refused to let her die. The story of ELISSA's discovery and restoration is nothing short of miraculous, and is beautifully retold in photographs and two video presentations at the Texas Seaport Museum.
Today ELISSA is much more than an artifact from a bygone era. She is a fully-functional vessel that continues to sail annually during sea trials in the Gulf of Mexico. Thanks to GALVESTON HISTORICAL FOUNDATION and its commitment to bring history to life, combined with the dedication of hundreds of volunteers who keep her seaworthy and train each year to sail her, ELISSA and the art of 19th Century square-rigged sailing are alive and well.
ELISSA's wake is 123 years and counting . . . Come experience her magic at Texas Seaport Museum, Pier 21, Galveston, Texas.
See Texas Seaport Museum - HOME of the 1877 Tall Ship ELISSA
House Concurrent Resolution No. 117, 79th Legislature, Regular Session (2005)
By: Eiland H.C.R. No. 117
WHEREAS, The history of Texas is not complete without
recognition of the ships, seaports, and maritime heritage that
contributed so greatly to the development, economy, immigration,
and culture of the state in the 19th century, and the state's
preeminent symbol of this thrilling bygone era is the tall ship
WHEREAS, In the 1970s, the city of Galveston was looking for a
ship to complement the restoration and redevelopment of the Strand,
known in the 1800s as the Wall Street of the South, and to help
Texans recognize and interpret the state's maritime heritage; and
WHEREAS, Constructed in 1877 in Aberdeen, Scotland, Elissa is
a three-masted, iron-hulled tall ship of the "barque" type,
measuring 205 feet long and 99 feet, 9 inches high at the mainmast,
with a cargo capacity equivalent to that of eight railroad boxcars;
WHEREAS, Elissa transported a variety of goods around the
world over the course of her more than 90 years of commercial
history, first calling at Galveston in December 1883 with a cargo of
bananas and one passenger, then sailing for Liverpool, England,
with a cargo of cotton, and calling at Galveston again in September
1886 with a cargo of what was probably lumber or sugar and sailing
for Pensacola, Florida, in ballast; and
WHEREAS, Built at the dawn of the steamship era, Elissa
filled a niche in maritime commerce, calling on many ports, and she
was sold from owner to owner, sailing under different names before
being readied for the scrap yards of Piraeus, Greece, where she was
recognized by a maritime archeologist; and
WHEREAS, Elissa was acquired by the Galveston Historical
Foundation in 1975, and after some initial work in Greece, she was
towed in 1978 to the Royal Navy yard in Gibraltar; that same year,
Elissa was placed on the National Register of Historic Places,
becoming the first object to achieve this status while outside the
territorial limits of the United States; and
WHEREAS, In 1979, Elissa returned to Galveston, her former
port of call and new home, and intensive efforts began to raise
funding and restore her to her 1877 sailing configuration; that
goal achieved, Elissa sailed again on the Gulf of Mexico in
September 1982; and
WHEREAS, Elissa is preserved and maintained by her volunteer
crew, who donate thousands of hours annually and sail her at least
once a year to preserve the seamanship skills of square-rig
handling for future generations, providing guests with the rare
opportunity to sail on a historic vessel; and
WHEREAS, Restored to her former glory as a seaworthy sailing
ship, Elissa is an irreplaceable piece of living history, and her
stature is underscored by her designation as one of "America's
Treasures" by the National Trust for Historic Preservation and as a
National Historic Landmark; and
WHEREAS, Elissa, with the support of the Texas Seaport
Museum, provides students and the public with a rare opportunity to
visualize the maritime heritage and culture of Texas and its
coastal waters; and
WHEREAS, Even today, the sight of Elissa in full sail evokes
the color and excitement of the age of sailing ships, and this
vibrant reminder of an essential piece of our shared history,
representing Texas, is indeed deserving of special recognition;
now, therefore, be it
RESOLVED, That the 79th Legislature of the State of Texas
hereby designate Elissa the official tall ship of Texas.