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An Old Dominion faculty member is working to save an empty British flour mill that contains timbers from a historic American warship.

Alan B. Flanders, adjunct assistant professor of history and a research fellow at Oxford University, is doing research on the mill in Wickham, a village near Portsmouth, England, in an effort to preserve the site.

Markings on the Georgia oak and pine timbers identify the boards as belonging to the USS Chesapeake, which was built at Gosport Navy Yard, now Norfolk Naval Shipyard in Portsmouth, Va., between December 1798 and December 1799.

"What we have is a frigate in a flour mill," Flanders told The Associated Press. "It truly is a bridge between the two countries." Still visible in the wood are the carved initials of U.S. sailors and stains from their candles and sperm-oil lamps.

It was common in earlier times for old ships to be broken up and their high-quality, seasoned wood used for other construction, an expert told the wire service.

The Chesapeake is the sister ship of the USS Constitution ("Old Ironsides") and the USS Constellation, and Flanders believes the mill may contain more original ship timber than either ship. The Constellation was rebuilt from the keel up in the 1940s and only 3 percent of the Constitution is original, he said.

During the War of 1812, Capt. James Lawrence shouted to the Chesapeake's crew, "Don't give up the ship!" as they tried to prevent the British from seizing the vessel.

The captured frigate was taken to England and recommissioned as the HMS Chesapeake. It was broken up in 1820 and its wood sold for construction.

Timbers that supported the Chesapeake's guns became crossbeams, which reinforce the three-story mill's floors. Timbers are also found in the attic.

Flanders has collected letters of support, including those from the commander of the Norfolk Naval Shipyard, in his effort to save the mill, which he describes as "an extraordinarily valuable maritime site."

This article was posted on: May 23, 2001

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