In 2015, 200 years after retiring from combat with an undefeated record, “Old Ironsides” will enter dry dock for 3 years of restoration. You’ll still be able to view the lovely black-hulled vessel, one of the U.S. Navy’s six original frigates; check ahead to see whether guided 30-minute tours, led by active-duty sailors in 1812 dress uniforms, are available during your visit. Before boarding, all visitors aged 18 and up must show a government photo ID and pass through security. Tip: If you’re traveling with kids, be sure to check out the interactive site www.asailorslifeforme.org before you visit.
The ship was constructed in the North End from 1794 to 1797 at a cost of $302,718 (about $4 million in current dollars, adjusted for inflation), using bolts, spikes, and other fittings from Paul Revere’s foundry. As the United States built its naval and military reputation, the Constitution battled French privateers and Barbary pirates, repelling the British fleet during the War of 1812, participating in 33 engagements, and capturing 20 vessels. The frigate earned its nickname during a battle on August 19, 1812, when shots from HMS Guerriere bounced off its thick oak hull as if it were iron.
In 1830, Oliver Wendell Holmes’s poem “Old Ironsides” helped launch a preservation movement that rescued the frigate from destruction. When the Constitution is afloat, tugs tow it into the harbor every Fourth of July for its celebratory “turnaround cruise,” which includes a naturalization ceremony for new U.S. citizens.
Adjacent to the ship in Building 5, National Park Service rangers staff the Navy Yard Visitor Center (tel 617/242-5601; www.nps.gov/bost), where a 10-minute video about the history of the installation runs in a loop.
To continue on the Freedom Trail: Walk straight ahead to the museum entrance.