The Brown in drydock in Norfolk as maintenance wraps up. Photo: SS John W. Brown/Facebook

World War II Liberty Ship to Arrive at Temporary Baltimore Home

After months of angst over the future of the World War II Liberty Ship S.S. John W. Brown, Bay Bulletin can report that the museum ship has now secured temporary and forever homes– both in her home port of Baltimore.

Last November, Project Liberty Ship, the volunteer-run nonprofit that operates the  John W. Brown, announced that she would lose her berth on the Canton docks in Southeast Baltimore because there was no way to pay the lease. If another Baltimore pier large enough for the 440-foot ship with public access couldn’t be found, the liberty ship might have had to move to a different city. That would not only be a shame since she was built in Baltimore, but would also pose problems for her devoted volunteers, who live mostly in the area.

Then, in the last few days of 2019, Project Liberty Ship announced it had found the perfect solution: Baltimore shipbuilder Maritime Applied Physics Corp. will build an $18 million custom dock for the John W. Brown at the former Bethlehem Steel site where the ship happened to be built and launched in 1942.

But with the new dock’s completion expected in another two years, questions remained about where the Liberty Ship would go in the meantime.

Now, with the Brown’s annual winter maintenance finished up at a Norfolk, Virginia shipyard, Project Liberty Ship says she’s headed for an interim mooring site at Pier 13 on the Canton waterfront, around the corner from her previous home.

In the new location, the Liberty Ship will be able to continue pierside visits and living history cruises that feature 1940s-era entertainment and vintage aircraft fly-bys. Three cruises are set for this year. John W. Brown is one of two remaining operational World War II Liberty Ships out of 2,710 built in an emergency shipbuilding program to carry troops and cargo. She’s an important monument to the war effort.

Photo: N.S. Savannah Association/Facebook

John W. Brown will arrive back in Baltimore on Sunday, where the 78-year-old ship will share the pier with the NS Savannah, an equally fascinating historical vessel. The Savannah is the world’s first nuclear-powered combination cargo and passenger ship, built in the late 1950s. The federal government-owned ship is currently in Philadelphia undergoing work related to its nuclear power plant decommissioning, but will join the Brown in mid-February.

Project Liberty Ship’s Mike Barnes, who has led the effort to keep the ship in Baltimore, says, “The John W. Brown has joined the Savannah at Pier 13 several times in recent years to celebrate National Maritime Day. The new location fits our needs well. It provides the large commercial dock that our historic merchant vessel requires for maintenance and operation, and allows good public access for our ongoing educational mission.”

The owners of the pier, Greenspring Real Estate Partners, Inc., see the historical significance.

Principal Dan Flamholz says he’s “thrilled” about the arrangement:

“The Brown has a great longstanding reputation in Baltimore and we thank the many men and women who not only served our country on the vessel, but who have also worked tirelessly to persevere the history of the ship in Baltimore.”

To catch a glimpse of the ship at her new home come Sunday, pass by Pier 13 at 4601 Newgate Avenue in Baltimore. For more information, visit the Brown’s website.

Meg Walburn Viviano