Tall Ship Elissa at the Texas Seaport Museum

Tall ship Elissa (photo courtesy of Texas Seaport Museum)

Tall ship Elissa (photo courtesy of Texas Seaport Museum)

The tall ship Elissa is a restored 19th-century merchant vessel at the Texas Seaport Museum in Galveston. She was built as the Age of Sail was coming to a close by Alexander Hall & Company in Aberdeen, Scotland, and launched October 27, 1877, to transport various types of cargo to ports throughout the world. Her career in maritime commerce lasted for more than 90 years.

Elissa has sailed under the flags of the United Kingdom, Norway, Sweden, Finland, Greece and the United States. She has an iron hull and is categorized as a three-masted barque with a total of 19 sails. Her foremast and main have both square and fore-and-aft sails, and her mizzenmast has fore-and-aft sails only. Her extreme length is 205 feet and she is 99 feet 9 inches tall at the mainmast.

When her current owner, the Galveston Historical Foundation (GHF), purchased her in 1975, she was in a scrap yard in the Greek port of Piraeus near Athens. Her name and design had been changed several times but she would be restored with her original name. Renaming her Elissa was significant not only for the ship’s history but also for Galveston. It was under her original name and design that she visited the Texas port twice: December 26, 1883, and September 8, 1886.

Tall ship Elissa sailing into Port Galveston, Texas. (photo courtesy of U.S. Navy by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Roadell Hickman)

Tall ship Elissa sailing into Port Galveston, Texas. (photo courtesy of U.S. Navy by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Roadell Hickman)

She was made seaworthy enough to be towed to Gibraltar where she spent the winter of 1978-79. During that time, she became the first object to be listed on the National Register of Historic Places while outside the United States territorial limits. Restoration work began soon after her arrival in Galveston the summer of 1979.

From 1982 to 1984, the GHF and the Texas Seaport Museum received several awards related to the ship’s preservation. The Texas Historical Commission and the National Register of Historic Places awarded the GHF for ship preservation. The National Maritime Historical Society awarded the museum for its volunteer program and ship restoration.

Her first voyage following her complete restoration was to Corpus Christi in 1985. She sailed to New York Harbor in 1986 to participate in the Statue of Liberty celebration and the parade of tall ships. In 1989, the ship visited various ports in the Gulf of Mexico from Texas to Florida over a period of three months in “Texas Proud Voyage.” One of the special guests aboard was the seventh grade student who had won an essay contest about the history of Elissa. An article about this was in the March 30, 1989, edition of The Victoria Advocate.

The accolades continued including designation as a National Historic Landmark in 1991, and state recognition of her maritime education and sail training programs. Elissa was named the Official Tall Ship of Texas by Governor Rick Perry on June 18, 2005.

When she is not out sailing, she is open to the public at Pier 21 at the Texas Seaport Museum. Information about the historic ship is available on the Elissa pages of the Galveston Historical Foundation’s website. The schedule and admission fees are under the section marked Hours, Tickets & Map. Volunteers share the story of this square-rigged sailing ship along with photos and videos that further document her history and restoration.

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