Kinston Free Press
July 18, 2013
It’s a lot of hoopla about a ship that got stuck on a sandbar in its only attempt to get in on the Civil War.
But the CSS Neuse is about more than naval warfare, and the public got its first glimpse of the wreck of the ship in its new abode as the CSS Neuse Interpretive Center held its soft opening Thursday.
“What you get to see today is a beginning — this is not a finished product,” said Dale Coats, deputy director of North Carolina Historic Sites, to the gathered crowd before they entered the center. “What you see is a sneak-peek of what this museum will be.”
NCHS Director Keith Hardison mentioned the reasoning of opening the Neuse Center before the museum’s complete was to give the public access to its history without waiting another year before exhibits were finished.
“But here, we had concerns,” Hardison said of waiting until work is complete. “Number one, the boat belongs to the people. And the time it would take to do all these exhibits would be prohibitive in terms of denying public access.”
Hardison added that he’s looking for not only locals, but people from other states being drawn to the site.
“This town, this community, these organizations — you all have demonstrated … this is the greatest project I’ve got, and I work statewide. I’m real partial down here,” Hardison said.
As people entered the lobby/giftshop of the center, they were greeted by a spread of food provided by the Queen Street Deli & Bakery. From there, they went to the mezzanine of the area of the Neuse Center containing the remains of the ship.
It’s been said the CSS Neuse was built out of desperation, and there’s some truth to that. Neuse Center Operations Manager Morris Bass, dressed in a New York Militia uniform, discussed the history of the ship and the Eastern North Carolina region with attendees.
“We’ve got about 141 feet of actual ship that’s left today,” Bass said. “She was originally 34 feet wide. It displaced 260 tons of water when she was fully operational.”
Bass said Eastern North Carolina was important to the Confederate war effort because of supplies brought into Wilmington by blockade runners. Those goods moved up the rail line to Weldon, where they turned north to Petersburg and Richmond to aid the Army of Northern Virginia.
The Neuse, he said, was intended to act in protection of that process, but wasn’t able to make the voyage. Bass pointed out the hole made in the port side of the hull as Confederate troops scuttled the ship before evacuating Kinston.
Shortly before the Neuse Center opened, a new highway marker for the Neuse was unveiled in front of the Lenoir County Courthouse.
The center is open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., Tuesday-Saturday.