Sian Wilkerson The Virginia Gazette
WILLIAMSBURG — At Colonial Williamsburg, the work is never done.
From routine maintenance of the more than 600 structures overseen by the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation to large-scale, long-term projects like the Bray Schoolhouse, Powder Magazine and First Baptist Church, the team of conservationists and advocates he environment of Colonial Williamsburg has a lot going for it.
During the month of May, the Colonial Williamsburg Architectural Preservation Team has worked to highlight the range of projects they are working on as part of National Preservation Month.
“Colonial Williamsburg is truly unique,” said Matt Webster, executive director of architectural preservation and research at Colonial Williamsburg. “We can do things that other sites just can’t, thanks to the expertise and resources that are here.”
The commitment to precision at Colonial Williamsburg is enormous, from using the same type of wood species for the wood to making their own nails. It takes a huge team, analysts, restorers, architects, engineers and more.
People also read…
“[We’re] trying to get back to the same materials and techniques they would have used in the 18th century,” Webster said. “It creates a broader understanding of the 18th century world. When you see a house start from a tree coming into the carpentry yard and see how that framing, the process and the effort that goes into it, it helps us better understand those structures.”
When curators aren’t taking the antiquated approach to their work, they’re using modern technologies like their analytical labs to help get the job done.
With so many plates up in the air at once, the timeline for each project can vary.
One of the major initiatives underway is the Bray School, which Colonial Williamsburg, in partnership with the College of William & Mary, has been working on for the past year. The plan is for the building to be on its new site next year, which is a “really, really quick turnaround,” Webster said.
“It all depends on how the building delivers its secrets,” he added. “It’s remarkable how much information it presents, how quickly it is and how clearly it responds, where we had a lot of 18th century pieces that were removed for renovations but then reused throughout the building. We know what type of wood, their thickness, molding profiles, paint colors used.”
It’s not always so simple, but that’s part of what makes the job fun and what makes it so important.
“These are non-renewable resources,” Webster said. “Once we lose these, these buildings or these documents or things, you can’t replace them. … I go up and look at a building, and a lot of people say, ‘Oh, it’s a brick building. “. but if you look closely, you see the tool marks of the workers who built this building and [in] the bricks, most of the time, you will find fingerprints from the brick maker. The way I see it is that it’s the individual’s mark on history. This is how their story survives today.
“It is extremely important that all of these stories are protected because without the actions they have taken in the past, we would not be where we are today.”