A silver service from the USS Marietta, a gunboat commissioned in 1897 and decommissioned in 1919, is now on exhibit at the Ohio River Museum in Marietta. The citizens of Marietta raised funds to pay for the silver service, which was presented to the U.S. Navy by the people of Marietta in 1899 for use on the gunboat named for their city. The service is engraved with coats of arms of both the City of Marietta and the State of Ohio.
Twenty-Seven Pieces Made by Shreve, Crump & Low On long-term loan to the Ohio Historical Society from the U.S. Navy, the service comprises 27 pieces of sterling silver made by Shreve, Crump & Low of Boston, including 16 punch cups lined with gold, a punch bowl, a ladle, three fruit bowls, two bonbon dishes and four candy dishes. “Curiously, not all the pieces match,” says Ohio Historical Society curator Cliff Eckle, who worked with OHS volunteers to prepare the pieces for exhibit. “The cups are one style. The punch bowl and ladle are another. The dishes are similar in that all have pierced work but they’re not all the same – the designs are slightly different.”
Why Silver on a Gunboat? “A warship’s silver served a valuable function,” Eckle says. “An important peacetime mission of the Navy has always been to provide a mobile demonstration of national strength, ‘showing the flag’ in foreign waters to impress other governments and displaying the country’s might in home ports to stimulate patriotic pride. This was especially true during the two decades prior to World War I, which saw the United States emerge as a naval power.” “When U.S. Navy ships entered a foreign port, it was usually to great fanfare and ceremony. It was not uncommon for a reception or dinner to be held onboard to exchange official social courtesies with local dignitaries. Many of these formal receptions took place in a ship’s wardroom – the club dining room of the ship’s officers – and the silver service was the centerpiece of these occasions,” he says. Friends of the Museums, a Marietta group that manages the Ohio River Museum and the nearby Campus Martius Museum for the Ohio Historical Society, sought to have the silver service exhibited there for its association with the history of the city. “We are eager to collaborate with our site management partners whenever we can safely display objects at the sites and make them more accessible,” says Ohio Historical Society curator Lisa Wood.
USS Marietta Served Until 1919 According to the Department of the Navy’s Naval Historical Center, the USS Marietta was a 1000-ton gunboat built at San Francisco, Calif. Commissioned in September 1897, the Marietta briefly served with the Pacific Squadron, then accompanied the USS Oregon on a voyage around South America to join the Spanish-American War fleet off Cuba. After the war, the Marietta served in Asiatic, Caribbean, European and western Atlantic waters. During World War I, she performed convoy duties in the Atlantic, and off of Europe. Decommissioned in July 1919, the Marietta was sold in March 1920. Other exhibits at the Ohio River Museum depict the river’s natural history and the history of boat building and steamboats on the Ohio. The museum is located at 601 Front St. (intersection of Front and St. Clair) in Marietta. For more information including hours, admission and directions, visit Ohio River Museum or call 800.860.0145.