Old Ironsides finds new berth at Orange Library
Last updated 5/2/2023 at 8:27pm
A replica of the most famous ship in the history of the United States Navy is now located in Orange. The three-foot long ship model of the USS Constitution was built by long-time Orange resident Dean Sechler and was donated to the Orange Public Library by his daughter Joan Tharp on Friday, April 28.
Sechler moved to Orange from Pennsylvania and worked on Chemical Row for decades. In his spare time Dean built close to thirty ship models, all in great detail. Sechler passed away seven years ago.
The ship model kit of the USS Constitution was purchased by Sechler for about $300, and then he meticulously put the hundreds of plywood, beech, mahogany, walnut, and metal parts like the fifty cannons together to form the marvelous looking ship. Sechler indicated previously he worked on this particular model of "Old Ironsides" for more than a year.
The time spent making the models of ships like the USS Constitution was lengthy, but was enjoyable to Sechler according to his daughter. "It was a hobby that he had and he just enjoyed it. He was so good with his hands. He built a lot of things, but he got into ship building and he got into it enthusiastically," Tharp remembered.
The modeler's daughter said this ship was probably his most favorite that he built. "He wanted it to be put in the Orange Library. He spent hours and hours on it and took over a year to make. It was difficult to make, all of them were difficult. He used to say not just anybody can make these ships," Tharp reminded.
As an example Sechler had a friend who was an expert clock maker who wanted to build a ship model, but got so frustrated with it he asked Dean to finish it for him. Tharp added the clock maker then made a grandfather clock for the Sechlers in a trade for the ship model that Dean completed for him.
No dollar amount can be put on the value of Sechler's model of the USS Constitution or any of the other over two dozen models he constructed. "My dad did search out some museums on the east coast of the United States to see if they would like to have his ships because he liked to have them all in one place. He said that he would donate the models to them on the condition that they do not sell any of the ships for money, and the museums said they could not promise him that. So, my dad decided to keep the ships," Tharp recalled.
With the passing of Tharp's mother Evelyn Sechler in the last year Joan has been giving her father's models away to family and friends. Tharp stated, "When I give a ship away I kind of have to know the person and know if they're going to admire his craftsmanship and take care of the ship."
The ship donated to the Orange Public Library will be displayed in the lobby inside a glass case on a table next to the large map of the greater Orange area near the building's entrance. "Having come from a family that has been using the library since I've been here it's just very exciting," Head Librarian Brenna Manasco commented.
The actual USS Constitution was launched in 1797 as one of the six original frigates authorized by the Naval Act of 1794 and was the third of these ships built for the U.S. Navy. The Constitution got her nickname "Old Ironsides" from her famous engagement with the British warship HMS Guerriere on August 19, 1812 when cannon balls shot from the British ship bounced off the side of her hull as if it were made of iron.
The famous old sailing warship is now a floating museum in Boston harbor. The City of Orange actually got an up close look at the USS Constitution during her three-year tour of 90 port cities between 1931-34.
Visitors in Orange can now see an excellent likeness of the grand ole lady in the Orange Public Library. The library is open Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays from 10 AM to 5 PM, Tuesdays and Thursdays 10 AM to 7 PM, and on Saturdays from 10 AM to 2 PM.