Work on hardluck ironclad’ is delayed again

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, May 28, 2002

Metro Masonry employeeNolan Thigpen works to remove mortar from bricks around one of the concrete mast supports near the USS Cairo. The bricks were removed to make room to install the 65-foot masts that will hold up the new canopy.(The Vicksburg Post/C. TODD SHERMAN)

[05/28/02]A difference in opinion on the placement of some of the anchor points for a new cover to protect the USS Cairo has added another delay in the project to provide better protection to the 140-year-old Union ironclad gunboat.

Called the “hardluck ironclad,” the Cairo was one of seven City Class ironclad gunboats built for Union forces during the War Between the States. It was built in 1862 in Mound City, Ill., just a few miles from its namesake city. The boats were built to help the Union take control of the Mississippi River and cut the Confederacy in two.

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The boat was involved in very little action before earning its fame in December of 1862. The Cairo was in the company of several other Union vessels on an expedition up the Yazoo River to clear the stream of what were called torpedoes at the time. Instead, it encountered a pair of the glass jugs filled with gunpowder and became the first war vessel sunk by an electrically detonated marine mine.

The Cairo remained hidden in the mud under the silt-laden water of the Yazoo River until it was located by Ed Bearss and others in 1962 and raised a year later. After efforts failed to raise restoration money privately and from the State of Mississippi, the National Park Service gained title to the remnants, restored the Cairo as much as possible and placed it on display in the Vicksburg National Military Park.

After the display and the accompanying museum for the artifacts recovered with the Cairo were opened in the 1970s, it soon became apparent the canopy over the boat was causing more damage than it prevented. The horizontal supports made a perfect place for birds to roost and nest. The resulting droppings were causing the wood of the Cairo to deteriorate.

As a way to extend the life of the remaining structure, the National Park Service awarded a contract to Malouf Construction Co. of Jackson to install a new, fabric canopy similar to a tent that had no supports birds could rest on.

Malouf began work on the canopy in June 2001 with a completion date this summer. However, in February unforeseen problems had pushed the project behind by a month and now the project has encountered another delay, said Bill Nichols, superintendent of the Vicksburg National Military Park.

When employees of Birdair Inc. of Amherst, N.Y., the designer and manufacturer of the canopy and its supports, arrived they checked the locations of the anchor points for the canopy and found some they believed mislocated.

“Malouf was resurveying the anchor points and was supposed to be finished today,” Nichols said late last week.

After that, representatives from Malouf, Birdair and the National Park Service were supposed to have met to decide what needed to be done.

As of Thursday, National Park Service contracting officials had not heard anything about what Malouf and Birdair may have decided. Work probably wasn’t to resume until at least today.

Because of the delays, Nichols said he had no idea when the project will be complete, but the cost should remain within the $3.1 million budgeted.

Another ongoing project, the repair to the Louisiana Monument is also making progress.

The monument was struck by lightning in 1999 and partially dismantled. Subsequent investigations revealed problems with the foundation that need to be corrected with four concrete pilings driven into the soil. Lightning arresters will also be installed.

Nichols said the architect and engineers preparing the plans are supposed to deliver final contract documents to the National Park Service soon which will permit advertising for a contractor.

Congress has allocated $960,000, and the project is estimated to cost about $790,000.