Until 2260, you can visit the Starship Enterprise only in one place. No, it’s not Ceti Alpha V–or Hollywood. It’s Ticonderoga, New York, in a former supermarket. There, at 112 Montcalm St., a valiant would-be commander named James Cawley has constructed a precise replica of the original starship set used for Star Trek: The Original Series.
“As a character, the Enterprise is every bit as important as Kirk and Spock,” Cawley says. So when his friend, original series costume designer William Ware Theiss, left Cawley the blueprints in his will, he moved at warp factor 9 to recreate it.
The 50-year-old Elvis impersonator–“Elvis and Captain Kirk are both charismatic ladies’ men,” Cawley says–started construction in 1996, crafting set pieces in his grandfather’s barn-turned-workshop. Over the past 20 years, he has spent an “astronomical” (he said it, not us) sum painstakingly rebuilding the Enterprise. Some items, like Scotty’s wrenches and a Klingon costume, are originals from the show. Others, like Captain Kirk’s chair, Cawley built from scratch.
In 2003, Cawley and his friends launched their own version of the Original Series, releasing full-length episodes online. Cawley starred as Kirk early on; later, professional actors got involved, including George Takei and Walter Koenig. They made 11 episodes before CBS, the rights holder, instituted new guidelines prohibiting that kind of fan-film. But the company granted Cawley permission to open his set to the public.
Cawley leased the 13,000-square-foot former grocery and dollar store three years ago, and has been boldly welcoming visitors since August. “I thought, why does it have to be an exclusive boys’ club? Why can’t we share it with every Star Trek fan?” Cawley says. His hour-long Star Trek Original Series Set Tour feels less like actually being on the Enterprise and more like getting a backstage pass to Desilu Studios, where the original was shot. (Do you love Lucy? You should; Lucille Ball–the “lu” in Desilu–was an early Trek champion.) Visitors can sit in Captain Kirk’s chair and punch buttons just like William Shatner did 60 years ago, or perhaps gaze into Spock’s scanner and search for signs of life. Everyone has to make that decision at some point.
The attraction is open every weekend until Christmas, and Cawley estimates over 4,000 people have walked the corridors of his Enterprise so far.
Cawley is glad to provide a space for other Trekkies to reminisce, but he also hopes his Enterprise will provide space (OK, that one was us) for young fans to discover the magic that is Star Trek. Growing up during the Cold War and the Vietnam War, Cawley learned from Trek that our differences are what makes us stronger. “I got older and I realized this is teaching me not to hate people because they’re strange,” he says. “It says, ‘we’re gonna get through all this nonsense, it’s gonna be a better tomorrow.'” That’s a lesson he and his childhood friends still pay tribute to. “As kids, we used to run around the neighborhood with phasers,” says Cawley. “We still play Star Trek, but our toys are better.” And now his memories and the memorial he built don’t have to be a final frontier.