In 1898, an infamous explosion in Havana Harbor blew up the Navy's battleship Maine, killing 260 crew members and sparking the Spanish-American War.

On Monday, a 16-ton gun from the Maine's midships rode up Interstate 95 on a transport trailer, leaving passing motorists gawking.

Except for the sighting-gear shafts bent by the force of the blast, the historic cannon looked as good as new.

Conservators at the Warren Lasch lab in North Charleston who restored the gun stood by with pride as it was loaded for its ride north after some two years of work.

Before the crane moved in, conservator Claire Achtyl ran her thumb along the rim of the gun turret base to remove a few flecks of sand that had blown on it.

Yes, they will miss it, Stephanie Crette, director of the Warren Lasch Conservation Center of Clemson University, said with a nod. She was part of a team that traveled to Havana, Cuba, after the work started in 2016 and came back with a deeper regard for the lives and stories behind the artifact.

The 6-inch secondary gun built by the Navy was removed when the ship was refloated in 1912, partly to collect the remains of sailors lost in the blast.

Pieces from the ship went to collections across the country. The capstan stood for years in White Point Garden in Charleston and is currently in storage until the gardens are renovated. A capstan is a rotating cylinder used to coil rope or line.

The gun, which weighs 33,000 pounds, sat outdoors at the Navy Yard in Washington, D.C., for more than a century.

When the center was subcontracted to do the restoration, the cannon barrel and turning carriage were weather-beaten and badly rusted.

The rust was the least of it. The carriage came along with a steel under-girding unrealized until it was dug up. The Navy had filled it with cement to help hold the gun in place on display. Termites had eaten at the deck beams where the carriage had been bolted to the ship.

The Maine had been painted over several times at the yard to fight off the elements, and the paint had traces of toxic lead and chromium that had to be contained while stripped away. That, and the high-pressure, high-temperature desalinization spray, had to be drained into a collection bag.

Because there was no place in the lab to put the tall, 16-foot-long gun, all the work had to be done outdoors while slapping off mosquitoes in the summer. A tropical storm and a hurricane interrupted the work. It took three coats of painting to restore the gun, the last one with fine brushes because of the intricacy of the equipment.

When the team finished, you could run your fingers on the breech and feel the manufacture inscription.

This is why conservator Christopher McKenzie got into the work, he said.

"You think to yourself: I'm the first person to see this inscription in 50, 60 years," he said. "Sometimes you find graffiti. It's just very rewarding."

The Maine gun hasn't been alone in being restored at the North Charleston center, which got its start as the home for the Confederate submarine after it was raised off Charleston in 2000.

The team also is conserving three cannons pulled in 2015 from a Confederate gunboat shipwreck site on the Pee Dee River near Mars Bluff, and three more guns from Historic Camden.

The team has restored five historic guns for the city of Charleston, and 24 so far under contract to the National Park Service.

The jobs continue along with the ongoing work on the Hunley.

Unlike the others, though, the restored Maine gun will be put in storage.

"It has been decided to not display outside due to the wear and tear by exposure to the environmental elements," said spokeswoman Mary Sanford of the Navy's History and Heritage Command Center.

"There is currently no display plan for the gun, nor has anyone requested it, as such it will go into our Collection Management Facility in Richmond, Va.," she added.

That's a little disheartening for the Lasch crew.

The good thing is that in storage, it won't get back into the shape it was, McKenzie said.

"It would be nice if it went to a museum or somewhere," he said.

Reach Bo Petersen Reporter at Facebook, @bopete on Twitter or 1-843-937-5744.

Science and environment reporter. Author of Washing Our Hands in the Clouds.