USS Susquehanna replica in U.S. Naval Academy

A Gettysburg man devoted two years to building a from scratch model of the 1847 USS Susquehanna, and now the ship lays anchored in the U.S. Naval Academy.

Gilbert McArdle, M.D. built the 5-foot-tall paddle wheel frigate to a scale of one-eighth of an inch to a foot in his home workshop. Like other models he’s built, McArdle carved and cut each piece of wood by hand.

His hand-eye coordination and attention to detail comes from his experience as a surgeon. McArdle retired from WellSpan Gettysburg Hospital 20 years ago.

McArdle has been building model ships and airplanes since his youth, publishing several instructional books along the way. Some of his models have gone on to the USS Constitution Museum in Boston and the Smithsonian.

McArdle’s publisher, SeaWatch Books LLC, told him there was a need for a model of the USS Susquehanna, a Union blockade vessel from the Civil War. He started his project with research, obtaining old plans for the ship from the National Archives in College Park, Md. Many of the plans were incomplete, so he had to spend months online and at libraries looking for clues as to how to build a historically accurate model.

The ship was first a flagship of the East India Squadron for Commodore Matthew Perry in his voyage to Japan to secure a trade treaty.

The USS Susquehanna was de-commissioned in 1855 but re-commissioned a year later to join the Mediterranean squadron, according to McArdle’s book, "The Paddle Wheel Frigate USS Susquehanna 1847." During the Civil War, the ship participated in the capture of British and Confederate schooners, helped capture southern ports, and established blockades. Afterward, the USS Susquehanna served as a flagship for the North Atlantic and West Indian squadrons until it was de-commissioned for the final time at the New York Navy Yard Jan. 14, 1868 and sold for scrap in 1883. 300×250 image ad The boxwood hull of the model ship is covered in 3,000 copper plates, which McArdle glued one by one. To give the appearance of nails in the wooden boards of the ship, McArdle made tiny "tree nails" out of bamboo. He left the deck uncovered so people can see the details inside. McArdle crafted the rescue boats, paddle wheels, steering wheels, skylights, ladders – every last detail, brought down to miniature size. He carved most of the boat’s pieces from boxwood, which is a hard and durable wood from England. McArdle also took pictures of each step and wrote instructions to go with his book.

He works on his projects solo, though his sons have also gained an interest in building model ships. McArdle doesn’t make much money off his work, he just does it for fun and finds it relaxing. He donated the USS Susquehanna to the Naval Academy.

When McArdle took the ship to Annapolis in November, he learned the Naval Academy is also in possession of an 8-foot-long wooden table that the Japanese government gave to Commodore Perry as a gift of appreciation. The table is made from […]

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