by Aaron Kinney
Charles F. Adams class destroyers were the meanest warships of their time, armed with advanced guided missiles and object detection systems. Their cutting-edge technology helped them to defend aircraft carriers against enemy planes, ships and submarines from the 1960s to the early ‘90s.
But, like everything else, ships get old. As the Adams class was unable to keep up with new technologies, the Navy phased it out completely by 1993. The last of its kind, the ex-USS Charles F. Adams (DDG 2) has been preserved by the Navy for more than 20 years.
Since then, multiple groups have tried and failed to acquire it. The Jacksonville Historic Naval Ship Association hopes to succeed where others failed and transform the Adams into an interactive ship museum in downtown Jacksonville.
At the Jacksonville Landing, in a shop where the only standing rule is a very strict “Kids have to touch stuff,” sits a model of the Adams. Its home, the Adams Class Naval Ship Museum Store, is dedicated to bringing the JHNSA’s goal to fruition.
Pat Stroud, the Navy veteran who manages the store, says the ship included innovative communications equipment, sonar and radar, and the ability to launch multiple Tartar guided missiles at once. Stroud served in the Navy for 29 years before retiring in 1993. Though he never served on an Adams class vessel, he rode four on separate occasions.
“Adams class vessels were the first ones designed from the keel up after World War II to carry guided missiles,” Stroud says. “They served in the Cold War. As a matter of fact, one of the first operations that the Adams was sent on was in the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962.”
Although previous vessels had been retrofitted with guided missiles, like the Forrest Sherman class, they weren’t able to fully utilize the new technology. Adams class destroyers, however, seamlessly integrated the missiles. “This was the first ship that had missile capability that could throw three missiles in the air at one time and go to three different targets,” says Joe Snowberger, vice president of the JHNSA. “You could pretty well put an umbrella of missiles in the air around what you were protecting.”
Of the 23 ships in its class built for the U.S. Navy, Stroud says the Adams is the only one afloat. The remainder have all been scrapped or sunk as targets. Three vessels built for the Royal Australian Navy were also scrapped, along with two of the three built for the West German Navy—the third, the Mölders, is now a ship museum.
“The USS Charles F. Adams has been on what the Navy calls donation hold,” says John O’Neil, a retired Navy captain and the executive director of the JHNSA. Meaning, he says, the Navy deems it historically significant. Such ships generally become museums, like the ex-USS Alabama (BB 60) in Mobile, Ala., and the ex-USS Yorktown (CV 10) in Mount Pleasant, S.C.
Snowberger says there are about 35 of these museums in the U.S. and that they experience varying degrees of success. “There’s well-supported state and nationally funded historic ship museums that are almost national icons and have federal budgets,” Snowberger says. “There are…very static ship museums that nobody touches. Dynamic ship museums are entertainment- and activity-oriented.”
The JHNSA plans to convert the Adams into an interactive museum. While on board, visitors will be able to participate in simulated combat and reconnaissance exercises in a remodeled combat information center, which originally served as the ship’s combat hub. “We have about all the gizmos that were taken off the ship and other ships,” O’Neil says, adding that the new CIC will support activities like target tracking, signal decoding and ship-to-ship combat. “We intend on using large-screen displays, kind of like the one I bought for my house.”
The Adams museum would also feature tours of its main and upper decks, and youth organizations could stay in the berthing compartments for overnight visits. “It’s way more than just an old ship you’re gonna take your grandson to and say, ‘I served on that,’” Snowberger says. “Not that that’s not awesome in its own self.”
But before the Adams can become an attraction, there’s a lot of costly work to do. First, O’Neil says, it must be cleaned and towed to the Southbank, which will cost about $300,000. Another $3 million will be spent on repairs and remodeling, including the removal of two sonar domes and the ship’s propellers. Finally, Snowberger says, the ship must be moored at a pier, which is expected to cost about another $6 million.
O’Neil says the JHNSA has spent about $250,000 on a comprehensive 996-page document that covers every aspect of the museum. He says the Florida Department of Transportation, Florida Department of Environmental Protection and the Waterways Commission have all vetted the project. “All the alphabet soup of the regulators have all said, ‘Great spot,’” O’Neil says.
Local business owners, like Toney Sleiman, owner of the Jacksonville Landing, have thrown in their support too. W.W. Gay Mechanical Contractor, Inc. and Taylor Engineering have supplied technical input.
The Next Step
The base cost is about $9 million, but the JHNSA estimates that costs could run up to $12 million. To that end, it’s raising the money to hire a professional fundraiser, who will then secure the majority of the funding. “We’re going to hire a professional fundraiser because we’re all volunteers,” Snowberger says. “We’re not opposed to government funds coming to help us out. We think this is very worthy of some public funding, but in this economy so far we are completely privately funded.”
As for the benefits, O’Neil says the JHNSA expects the Adams museum to bring $3.5 million in business to the city from Navy veteran reunions, tourism and field trips. And Snowberger says the museum will create 25-30 direct jobs, as well as 75-100 indirect jobs.
Not only that, but Snowberger says the Adams museum would also serve as an excellent educational platform. Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts and area schools would be able to take field trips to a local ship museum rather than traveling to Alabama or South Carolina. Duval County Public Schools were among the first to support the JHNSA. “We want to use the Adams not only to revitalize Downtown,” Stroud says, “but to serve as an educational platform for high school students, university students and ROTC students, so they can see the heritage that the Adams actually has.”
When asked, “Why Jacksonville?” Snowberger is quick to counter with, “Why not Jacksonville? With 25 percent of our population having actual military experience (or relations with military experience), there’s an immediate connection.”
After 9/11, NAS Jacksonville and Naval Station Mayport (where the Adams was stationed for 21 years of its 30-year career) closed to the public for security reasons. Civilians have had little direct interaction with the Navy since then. Stroud says bringing the Adams back to Jacksonville would not only raise awareness, but also improve relations between civilians and military personnel.
“I tell people all the time, ‘I got three full-time jobs, and one of them pays me!’” Snowberger says, adding with a laugh that the JHNSA is not paying work. “We’ve given hundreds and thousands of hours over the last two years to bring this to the city.” This is the closest a group has come to acquiring the Adams, but nothing is for certain. After all, efforts to move the ship to Tampa, Fla., and Bay City, Mich., have been made and abandoned. Not that that will stop the JHNSA, which is as it should be.
“We need volunteers,” O’Neil says. “We need to go and get the ship because the Navy’s not gonna keep it forever.”