from the Wheeling Intelligencer, March 19, 1897:
Special Dispatch to the Intelligencer.
SAN FRANCISCO, Cal., March 18. -- Thursday sees two more of Uncle Sam's war craft slip from the ways at the Union Iron Works -- the big ship-building yard at the western end of the continent, which fringe the bay and Pacific shore with the masts of hostile ships.
Several thousand people witnessed the double launching of the "Wheeling" and "Marietta." Elaborate preparations had been made and there was but one hitch. The "Marietta" left the ways ten seconds before the "Wheeling," which stuck for a moment and then with a crashing of timbers got under way again.
The tide carried the two gunboats together and they collided in the basin. The "Marietta" careened to an apparently dangerous position. Those on board rushed to the upper side and some spectators were alarmed.
She shortly righted herself and the two vessels drew apart without danger, save a slight scratching of paint.
The launching took place at 10:54 a.m.
The christenings were simultaneous.
On the "Wheeling" were representatives of the Union Iron Works, a party of Wheeling citizens and Miss Lucie S. Brown, who named the ship.
These new ships will take their places in the line of the white fleet. They are not equal in tonnage to the record-breaking Oregon and they cannot throw metal like the Monterey, but they carry a heavier battery compared with their size than any of the big vessels that have been turned out of the Scotts' yard, and their light draught and peculiar construction makes them of inestimable value to the nation's naval force.
The gunboats Wheeling and Marietta represent a value of $240,000 apiece -- half a million dollars of true and tried fighter. Side by side the two keels were laid last May, and plate by plate the vessels have grown up to a finish until to-day the slept in the chocks for the last time, ready to start away and lulled by the music of hammers, they are as much alike as two peas.
From the keel up to the waterline the hulls are of pine, and for two feet above this point they are built of teach -- that strong iron-wood of the trops. The rest is of five-eighth-inch steel. Over the pine planking of the bottom will be laid copper sheathing. As copper is almost anti-fouling, these gunboats may remain away from a dry dock for several years, making the vessels suitable for long service on a foreign station. They are fitted with oak bilge kills to prevent excessive rolling, the navy department having learned a lesson from the action of the keelless Oregon in a heavy cross-sea. That ship, by the way, was designed after the plan of the British battleship, Resolution, which, in her first trip rolled her superstructure under water and damaged herself to the extent of about $375.000. In some respects, we have the drop on the British builders and designers.
The new gunboats are provided with two 600 horse-power engines and double screws that will drive the vessels twelve knots an hour. The battery will consist of six four-inch rapid-fire rifles, four of them as broadside guns on the lower deck and the other two as stern and bow chasers on the upper deck. On this deck will be placed four six-pounder and two one-pound Hotchkiss guns.
The Wheeling and Marietta will be commanded by a lieutenant-commander and each vessel will be manned by eleven officers, ten marines and a crew of 125 -- a complement of 146 persons. On the two masts will carried a fore and main trysail.
Space has been economized in the construction of the interior, and the berthing of the officers and crew is an improvement over the crowded quarters of other vessels. The little fighters will be commodious homes for the men that are destined to handle them. The Wheeling is supplied with the orginary marine boilers with the Howden system of forced draught, and the Marietta has the Babcock and Wilcox water-tube boilers. This is the only difference in the make-up of the two craft. The vessels are destined for service inthe shallow waters of the China station.
The twin vessels have been in goodly company, for alongside of the Wheeling wasthe long steel keel ofthe battleship Wisconsin, which will be twenty feet longer and 2,000 tons heavier than the Oregon, which wasthe last launched from those ways. Near the Marietta is the beginning of the second-class protected cruiser, which will be built for Japan. She will be 412 feet long -- 100 feet longer than the Charleston -- 49 feet beams and 17.6 feet draught. Her engines are of 15,000 horse-power, and her speed will be twenty-four knots per hour. Next to the Wheeling on the other side will be laid the keel of a thirty-knot torpedo cruiser for the United States. From this distinguished family of fighters, the Wheeling and Marietta were separated to-day. They certainly reflect credit on their sister and brother boats.
As the first double launching on the Pacific coast, it attracted many visitors from San Francisco and vicinity. Invitations were in a very great demand.
MABEL C. CRAFT
Service provided by the staff of the Ohio County Public Library in partnership with and funded in part by the Wheeling National Heritage Area Corporation.