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This blog follows the reconstruction of the Revolutionary War Public Armoury on the James Anderson site

Reconstruction of the Blacksmith's & Public Armoury

February 3, 2012

A Scan of Progress at the Armoury.

While the roving webcam has been deployed to the tin shop, the Historic Trades Carpenters have made great strides inside the Armoury.  This week’s photo gallery provides a glimpse of recent activity. 

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  1. I will love you forever if you change the Armoury webcam so those not blessed enough to live in VA can see something other than the two side doors on the building…Pretty please. I truly love it there and miss it terribly, it would be nice to see a fresh perspective of the awesome construction you all did on the Armoury.
    Just a suggestion mixed with a little begging o.o and a great big Thank you from a HUGE fan to those that supported, and then the builders that made this even possible. Im sure I am one of many that is grateful for all your efforts, both physical and financial.

    Sincerely, Miss Reed- Tucson, Arizona

  2. Thanks for the update.

    I’d like to know more about the bellows. The one shown looks to be new. Are the old ones being re used? I assume they were made at CW.

    Any info would be appreciated.

    • Dave- The bellows from the old shop were 25 years old, and had seen heavy use. We could have used them for another ten years or so, but with a brand new shop, I decided to have brand new bellows- as James Anderson’s Armoury probably would have had. The new bellows were made in the joiners shop, primarily by Corky. He salvaged and reused the nose section of the old bellows and made new boards for top, bottom, and center sections. We also salvaged and reused the nails to apply leather. So bits of the old bellows live on.

    • The old bellows were pretty worn out from over two decades of use. We took them apart, salvaged the nozzles and hardware, and built four new bellows for the four new forges.

  3. Greetings to one and all fine friends,
    Been quite some time since “blogging”. Silent, yet not absent. The pictures are wonderful. Planning another trip down VA. way end of March and so very much looking forward to first hand view of the progress. The latest photos are exquisit. I second the q’s about the bellow. It is beautiful – will they all be replaced? Will there be an outside forge, perhaps? And finally….I give up, why brick knogging inside the stairs only? A fire-rated stair tower? ;o) – kidding!

    • Archaeology has uncovered a brick feature just south of the Armoury that we think was an outdoor furnace, and we plan to rebuild it this spring. There is some speculation that it may have been for casting lead ball, as there are numerous accounts for lead “pigs” being delivered to the Armoury, and bullets being shipped out of the site.

    • Rick- Corky made four new bellows for the four forges in our new Armoury. We did save one or two of the old ones for use in our bloomery- a small iron making furnace which we use occasionally.

      There will indeed be an outdoor forge, one discovered by archaeologists to the south of the Armoury. By its construction, it appears to have been used for light casting- probably for casting lead bullets. Since lead has such a low melting temperature it does not need a bellows.

      As for the nogging- originally the entire building would have been nogged for security. Our Architectural Conservator felt that the nogging would cause moisture condensation in the walls in springtime- a conservator’s nightmare. Since none of the nogging would be visible, we opted to put nogging in the walls only where it would be seen.

      • Looks as though Garland and I are in a race to answer these questions. We are tied one to one at present. Send some more questions so that one of us can take the lead….

  4. Oh bless you for the armoury pictures, such a large change since the “roving” camera moved. I saw one of the bellows cut out and leaning on a wall in the carpenty shop last April, nice to see it complete hope to make one for my own new shop.

    Can’t wait to see the shop complete and working soon.

    • We have plans to begin setting up the tooling in mid-March, and hope to be operational by the beginning of April.

      I guess that I am ahead of Garland now!

  5. You folks have been very busy this winter. The pictures are great.

    Will Forrest Mars come to any kind of a “Grand Opening” of the Armory?

    Please keep up the great information. It is greatly appreciated by those of us far away.

    Chris

  6. I have silently enjoyed the pictures and read the blogs daily. Like Rick, if there is a Grand Opening planned I would consider coming down to attend as well. Great job everyone we really enjoy watching and reading daily.

    • In answer to all of the inquiries about opening ceremonies- We plan to have a “soft opening” on March 31 which officially brings blacksmithing back to the Armoury site, and unveils the new kitchen with some new programming. We still have a year of construction to go, so the official “Grand Opening” will be in late 2013, or early 2014, when all construction is complete.

      Join us if you can on March 31, to see the current status, and then watch for continued progress and a grand opening in the near future.

  7. I agree with Miss Reed. Could you move the webcam so we can see inside. We love CW and don’t get to visit as much as we want. We watched as we visited when the original construction of the forge was going on years ago before this interpretaion was started and before the webcams. We visited it often. Love the tin shop excavation can we get an update on any recent finds?

    • Jim~
      If you’ll check the last blog post (“A Fresh Perspective”) you’ll find an update at the bottom of the post. It looks as if we will finish this excavation quite soon, as we are running out of layers to dig, and evidence to collect! We are glad that you’ve found webcam coverage of the project interesting. It has been an enhancement for us, as well.

  8. Miss Reed and Mr. Waddell, thank you for your interest in the Armoury webcams and we are grateful to know that we have such loyal viewers! While the current view from the Anderson House of the Armoury site might not show much outdoor activity at the moment, we are limited in where that camera can be positioned as it is networked via a wired connection (the roving camera is transmitting wirelessly). However there will soon be much to see again when work begins on reconstructing the Tin Shop next door and the Armoury site opens in the early spring. In the meantime, we are already scouting for our next location for the roving webcam so stay tuned to see where that moves next.

  9. Loyal wouldn’t cut it if you were trying to describe me. That said I do understand now about the armoury cam. I knew the roving cam was wireless, as I have been up close and personal with that cam a couple times… To say I love CW is a huge understatement. I visit as often as the Gods will allow me too. I love Virginia, and one of the main reasons is the entire states contribution to the founding of our nation, but when I am in CW I can feel it… Thank you for keeping that part of history alive, and thank you for the update about the cameras. I look forward to seeing all the new activity in the spring.

  10. Thanks for the update. You cannot imagine what it means to those of us who love and care for CW to be able to watch what goes on in the town on a daily basis. I look at the cams several times a day. Without it and those who work there the story of this nation, its struggles and triumphs might not be told as it should be!!! Thank you so much it is truly a labor of love.

  11. It is so nice to see additional details of the progress inside the Armory blacksmith shop. I can’t wait to see it up and running myself.

  12. Just curious… Is the roving webcam actually now sitting outdoors? I don’t recall there being a building at that location which it might be looking out of. Do you plan to move it inside the armory, where presumably you are still doing construction work? Thanks!

    • Russell,
      The roving webcam is, indeed, outdoors. You are looking at the Armoury (left), the kitchen (red building), and the Anderson house in the background. We will try to get the camera repositioned later today, as there seems to be some indoor work going on. Yesterday when the shift was made from the tin shop, the Armoury was locked up, making indoor placement impossible.

  13. Meredith, I see you spoke at the St. George Tucker House. I am very impressed. To see who else spoke like Washington and Jefferson. I may have to keep watch and visit that site soon.
    Someone sent me the article from the Newport news I believe.
    There was some tin articles like those the Armoury made turned out. I was just wondering where you got those examples and have you found any pieces close to those at the dig site.?
    Last,Has PBS or anyone filmed the project as it is coming out of the ground. Our school kids as well as adults would greatly benefit from this most historical event for decades.

    • Hi Kerry~
      Yes, it’s a bit daunting to be on the speaking circuit after the Founding Fathers. They’re a tough act to follow. And my costume is never as good!

      You’re right, the Daily Press (which includes coverage of Newport News)recently did a piece on reconstruction of the Armoury. The tinned iron reproductions that appeared in that article were made by Bill McMillan, a tin expert and an invaluable resource on this project. We have not found any complete, or nearly complete, vessels at the site…though that isn’t a great surprise. Since this was a production site, completed pieces would have been shipped out. It’s the tin scrap, along with the solder, that we expected/hoped to find.

      Remember, too, that tinned iron is not very durable when it gets into the ground. That said, there was one nearly complete 18th century vessel (Ken will have to remind me of the form) found in Williamsburg a few decades ago.

      While we have not had any PBS coverage of this project, our own production team has done a superb job of capturing all aspects of the reconstruction. I don’t know what the final product will be, but I know that you can expect great things from them!

  14. Great to see that the Roving Web Cam is Roving at least for the weekend. Thanks for the move.

    • Ken,
      As we view the inside of the armory building and imagine it in full production, I wonder what the stats were regarding production of items, including firearms and where and for how long were finished product stored until shipped to the Virginia militia or Continental Army? Are there records that identify the recipient of the goods made there and how distribution was handled to the front lines?

      • Mike- I do indeed have records of deliveries of goods, and signatures of the recipients. The records that we have are credit accounts for work done. Cash transactions often were not recorded, as there was no need- no sales tax, no income tax, no payroll tax- so once payment had been made for goods or services there was no need to record the transaction. Credit transactions had to be recorded in order to keep track of debtors to the business. The wartime daybook for the shop is preserved in the collection of the DAR in Washington, DC. The daybook records transactions in chronological order, listing the work, and records the signature of the recipient. I can compile stats from the daybook, and there are entries for significant amounts of work. For example, on February 27, 1779, the entry states:

        Continent by order of Collo Finnie
        1000 Stand of Arms
        40 boxes to pack them in
        200 Camp kettles
        40 boxes to pack them in

        What this tells me is that Colonel William Finnie, the Deputy Quartermaster for the Southern forces, accepted delivery of 1000 stand of arms- musket, bayonet, cartridge box,-and that they were packed in 40 boxes- 25 to a box- and also 200 tin camp kettles, packed in 40 boxes.

        Using this entry and experiments with packing 25 muskets in a box, Ted and Dave in the joiners shop are currently making musket crates as furnishings for the shop. We examined an early 19th century musket crate owned by the Virginia Historical Society in Richmond, along with an early 19th century text which specifies modifications being made for improvement of musket crates. We developed a design that we believe is a good representation of the eighteenth century form.

        Once we settle into the new shop, Garland and I plan to summarize our research for distribution, and a thorough study of the business records will certainly be a part of that effort.

  15. Ken, how great to see the progress in the new smithy. Looks like it’s getting close to actual forging metal. The anvil stumps look short. Are they just going to sit on the floor? The bellows are beautiful. The shop is beautiful, too! Fellow smiths in PA and MD wish you our best and look forward to seeing the shop in action soon.

    • Randy- So good to hear from you. The shop is coming along nicely! We will be setting the anvil stumps shortly. They are 40 inches tall- the camera angle made them look shorter. We will bury about half of the stump in the ground to set the anvils at the correct height. Glad to hear from fellow smiths who are following the project.

      Now for full disclosure- Randy gave me my start in blacksmithing in 1977, sparking an interest in historic ironwork that has driven me for 35 years. I owe you one old friend!

  16. I meant to do this 3 days ago,I’m sorry for slacking. Thank you for moving the camera to the inside of the Armoury,not that I didn’t love you already, but now my love is forever.

    Seriously though,Thank you. Being in Arizona currently I am willing to take any view of Virginia I can get. You all did an amazing job,and the armoury looks great. I am really looking forward to the opening next month :)

    • We appreciate your interest, and we are glad to have you following the project. The blog and webcams have certainly become lifelines for our friends in far away places who want to follow our progress. We demonstrate daily that history is not a stagnant subject!

      I hope that you can visit when we open next month.

  17. It took me awhile to read through all of these posts! I too am wondering about the anvil posts. 40″ with half of the height buried doesn’t leave much-how tall are the anvils? My dad did not smith in the historical way, but his base was between knee and waist high. Also, what is the purpose of the hatchway (top right picture)?

    • Mimi- the common rule is this: when you stand next to the anvil with your arms at your side, the top of the anvil should be about the same height as your knuckles- just a little below waist high. Top of the stump then is that height, minus the height of the anvil. With 6 members of the shop each of a different height, we have to compromise. The anvil is a little low for the tall members of the shop, and a little high for the not-so-tall. Our anvil height is about 30 inches above the floor.

    • Oh, yes, the hatchway… We have a lot of space in the Armoury’s attic, but accessing that space is difficult. There is not enough room to pull a wagon into the site from Duke of Gloucester Street, and we have a storage building adjacent to the Armoury’s south gable end. Our access to the attic then, is through a hatchway just inside the double doors. Wagons can be backed into the shop, the hatchway opened, and good can be lifted into the attic. This is a common architectural feature of multi-story buildings used for storage.

  18. Kenneth, what date in March are you shooting for for the opening? We will be there for the Good Spirits seminar and the Goodwin Meeting. Any chance it will be before of during that period?

    • Jim~
      There is an opening scheduled for March 31st. Although this will not be the official “grand opening” (which will be in 2013 when all is complete) our intent is to have a range of trades, military, and foodways programs on site.

      Unfortunately, the 31st falls beyond the dates of the Good Spirits Conference. We hope you will consider staying on, however, or returning for the event.

      • Thanks for the info Meredith! Unfortuneately we will not be able to make it the 31st. But maybe for the “grand opening” in 2013. Cheers!!!

      • Jim~
        We’ll save you a seat for the 2013 event! Hope you enjoy Good Spirits.
        Meredith

  19. What is happening with the plastic sheets? It looks like you will be painting (or staining/sealing) the interior woodwork? Thanks!

    • Hi Russell,
      I just came in from having a look at those plastic-draped forges, so I know the answer to this one! Whitewashing of the Armoury’s interior begins on Tuesday. The plastic is meant to protect the brick while the whitewash is being applied.

  20. Is there plans to have the Leather shop moved into the Armoury Complex at some point? Last year I saw it in back of the Magazine and it seemed to be awfully small. One would think that outfitting an Army would include belts, scabbards, slings, bullet pouches, back packs, 100’s of items.

    Is the 31st the “Date”? I was also told Easter weekend a while ago. ??

    • Dale- We do plan on doing some leather work at the Armoury. Currently, leather work is done at the magazine, in a small workshop at the back of the building. One structure at the Armoury has been labelled as a “workshop” for these types of miscellaneous activities- gunstocking, gun cleaning, leather work, canvas work, vehicle painting- all sorts of common military jobs.

      As for the date of opening- our hope is to have the armoury building furnished and operational by March 26th. We plan on having a ‘soft opening’ ceremony on the 31st, the weekend before Easter. Easter weekend is already quite busy for us, so we are doing the soft opening when we don’t have quite so many other activites and we can focus our attention on the opening. The Grand Opening will be planned for late 2013 or early 2014 when all of the construction is complete.

  21. Why is the forges covered with plastic?

  22. We are covering interior elements of the shop in preparation for whitewashing the interior on Tuesday. Whitewashign can be notoriously messy, and so we are protecting benches, shelves and brickwork- any horizontal surface that may catch drips.

  23. Hi Ken and crew,
    Do you know if Anderson whitewashed? Why whitewash the inside of the armory? My first thought would be that white walls would reflect light from the windows. But what happens after the forges are up and running for some time? The walls will become covered with soot and the reflective advantage will go away. Would Anderson re-whitewash over the soot or wash the walls down before re-whitewashing? Also, did other trades do this?
    While looking on the Webcams it looked like you had a good crowd for Presidents Day weekend. It appeared people were allowed to enter the armory and a costumed employee was available to give information. The rain yesterday didn’t help, but the calendar seemed to have many in door programs.
    We will get there again, one of these days.
    Have a good week,
    Chris

    • Hi Chris- Good to hear from you. Whitewashing is indeed a way to brighten the interior of a building which relies solely on the sun for working light. It is more reflective and can extend the work day significantly.

      In terms of darkening with age- I know that will happen, but it would also happen without whitewash, making for a dark and gloomy interior. Whitewash is not a very durable finish and has to be applied every year or two. you may recall an earlier blog entry about a plaster fragment found by Meredith and Lucy at the kitchen site- a fragment with about a dozen coats of whitewash

    • I forgot the second part of your question. We were open during President’s Day for participants of the Colonial Williamsburg Antiques Forum. We did have a good crowd of guests in town, but the ever-popular Antiques Forum brought a big turn-out to the Armoury.

      Last year when the Antiques forum was meeting, participatns toured the new kitchen, and were among the last to see the partially dismantled old Anderson Blacksmith Shop just prior to demolition. How far we have come in a year!

  24. I see that the roving webcam has moved this morning. What are we looking at now? The work seems to involve bricks being placed on a horizontal platform. Thanks!

    • Good morning, Russell~
      The Roving Webcam is currently focused on the brickmasons who are beginning construction of the Armoury’ wellhead.

      • Good Morning, Meredith!
        Thanks for the quick response, I was really scratching my head over what they are constructing. Could you please describe a little further what you mean? When you say “wellhead” I think of a dug well, but I don’t see any evidence of that in the picture. Thanks!

      • Meredith has been temporarily distracted due to the fact that she is indoors on a day in February when we are to see temperatures approaching 70 degrees. Unfortunately for her, she can only look out the window today and imagine the spring-like day that we outdoor workers are enjoying. The wellhead was already completed, and the bricklayers have moved on to the bread oven for the site. The bread oven is adjacent to the well head, in the north east corner of the yard a few steps from the kitchen.

        We have had a great debate about whether or not a bread oven was on the site, as there is no archaeological evidence for one. On the other hand, the armroury received military rations for feeding workmen, and that included large quantities of flour. We have no payments to a baker for making bread, so our assumption is that flour must have been processed into bread on site. There are examples of military style temporary bread ovens built on temporary platforms that would leave little or no archaeological footprint, so that is our compromise.

        The wood platform is on 4 posts set just slightly into the ground. Brick pavers have been placed on the platform to insulate wood from fire, and to hold heat. An arched “beehive” style brick oven is being constructed on the brick platform.

        I have to say it quietly, but I feel a wood fired pizza party in our future, and lots of fresh warm bread for blacksmiths to consume during the year.

      • Thanks so much for your comments on this! An oven does fit better with what I’m seeing :-). I hope Meredith gets to enjoy at least a little of the nice day, and that you enjoy the pizza (I mean, bread…)

  25. Hi Meredith,

    I am trying to get a sense of where the wellhead is. Is it towards the back and to the left of the Anderson house? I assume that the wellhead is one that was studied some time back. Were there any significant finds in the well?
    Please tell Joe Jim says hello.

  26. This is an oven, I believe.

    • You are correct, Jane. See my more extensive response above.

      • Ken~
        Thanks for catching my mistake. And Russell, apologies for any confusion! As Ken corrects states, I am in the office today, making me a poor guide for what’s happening outdoors. A more important point that Ken raises is that archaeologists have found no clear “footprint” of a bread oven. Perhaps I’m simply refusing to see its reconstruction!

  27. Hi Ken,
    Thanks for the response. Chicago has had almost a Williamsburg winter. Very little snow and for us warm temperatures. The coldest I remember it getting was in the 20’s with some days hitting highs in the 50’s. This has really been a strange winter for us. At leat the weather made me feel like I was in Willimsburg.
    Have a great Spring. Please keep that webcam running.
    Chris

  28. Why were the kitchen, armoury, and tin shop built so close together? It would seem to make construction & maintenance (both then and now) of the adjoining exteriors very difficult. If they needed to be close, why weren’t they just directly connected? Thanks!

    • Hi Russell,
      This time I’m going to get the answer right!

      As you have noted, the Armoury, kitchen, and tin shop are all very close together. The way we think about it is that the Armoury is a 22′ wide building in a 24′ wide space (give of take a few inches).

      The building sequence (as far as we can tell) is this: The kitchen was constructed sometime between 1750-1760, and the tin shop, just after 1760. The Armoury followed in 1778. Interestingly, there seems to have been space on the east side of the property….so why would the Armoury be slotted in between two standing buildings? We think that it may have offered a measure of security. Together, the three buildings create a pretty formidable facade. There were some pretty stout fences around the rest of the perimeter.

      As for connecting the Armoury and tin shop (it would have been hard to create an opening though the kitchen chimney)we’re wondering if they might have done so. It would explain why the northernmost forge in the Armoury faces a different direction from the others.

      • Hi Meredith!

        Thanks, most interesting, including the speculation as to why the northernmost forge is set up differently. I’m still amazed that one can build (and paint, etc) a buiiding with 1 foot clearance on either side (if I understand the dimensions right…).

  29. had to work today, how did the building get to be yellow so quickly?
    and why yellow???

    • Margaret, Pete, and Hiram.
      Thanks for asking about the Armoury’s new yellow finish. We had all grown accustomed to its off-white primer coat, and the yellow came as a bit of a surprise.

      The short answer, supplied by our colleague, Jeff Klee, is that “white lead is an expensive, luxury pigment in the best of times and, during the war years, difficult to find for any money. At all times, yellow ochre is an earth pigment, easy and relatively cheap to find and use, and therefore a better choice for a building of this period.”

      We are working on a more complete explanation which will be posted on the blog next week. Please stay tuned!

  30. Greetings,
    Thank you for the two CAMs on the Armoury Project. (And all the CAMs for Colonial Williamsburg. Good to see the Capital CAM working again.) It has been great watching from the start of the foundation to the present. We get to visit only once or twice a year, so it’s been great almost like being there, to watch the activities.
    As Margaret mentioned, what is the significance of the yellow (and quickly done) than the red of the kitchen?
    Thank you again

  31. We watched the roving webcam Wednesday as the bake oven was being built…was away from the computer yesterday and find this morning we’re watching the painters…how did the bake oven turn out, is there somewhere else we can go to see it?

    • Jo Ann,
      We’ll see if we can get you a still photo of the bake oven. As of 10 minutes ago, it was still under construction, but coming along nicely. It will be a great addition to the reconstructed property.

  32. What is the historical source for the heavily battened shutters? Also the inspiration for the apparent top coat of yellow or cream color on the armory? Thank you for your coverage of this reconstruction.

  33. Hi all,

    I like the new view from the Magazine cam. Thanks for giving a fresh persepective. Meredeth brought up the well head at the armoury site a few blogs back and I still have some questions about it. Was it ever excavated if so when and were there any significant finds in it? I have the CW Archaeologial Series book “The Wells of Williamsbug” by Ivor Noel Hume. It mentions a number of wells in town but not this one. Also can you take a still of the oven and post if so we can see how it turned out? Thanks!!

    • Jim~
      The well that you speak of at the Armoury site was discovered in 1939. At the time, about 10’…the top part of the fill….was excavated, but then a kitchen was reconstructed it on top of it. As it turns out, it was the property’s 19th c. kitchen that was reconstructed, but that’s neither here nor there.

      What IS important is that because there was a building on top of the well, Noel Hume did not have the opportunity to excavate it in the 1970s. Hence it has become a bit of a time capsule.

      It is both extremely difficult and extraordinarily dangerous to excavate 18th century wells. They reach depths of just over 40′, and were generally abandoned because their casings went bad….not a safe place to be. In my 26 year tenure here, we have excavated 1 well…the well behind Shields Tavern. I’m afraid that kind of excitement will have to carry me over to the end of my career!

  34. Hi Meredith,
    Thanks to the whole crew for the sharing of knowledge. It is appreciated.
    How wide were the wells of the 18th and early 19th century?
    Obviously, in most cases, a slave would have been put in the dangerous digging situation. How did they dig so deep? Didn’t they hit water many feet before they got down 40 feet? Are there any records about cave ins while a well was being dug? I’m surprised that in this day and age, someone has ot invented a tool to do that kind of a dig. I realize it would be difficult, but I would think some artifacts would make it out.
    Hope the weekend is/was great,
    Chris

  35. Hi again Meredith,
    PS. Please elaborate on the excitment of the one well dig?
    What did they find? ETC.????

    Thanks,
    Chris

    • Christine~
      I have been meaning to respond to your question about the well behind Shields Tavern. Apologies for the delay.
      You are right, water was encountered far above the 43′ depth of the well. In fact, if I remember correctly, we hit water at about 15′. Additional depth would have meant good, clean water and a source that wouldn’t dry up during a dry summer.

      This well was likely dug between the late 1730s and the early 1750s, but was filled much later in the 18th century…after 1780. Since the property was occupied by blacksmith John Draper at the time, the upper part of the well fill was iron, coal, and clinker (familiar artifacts for those of us working at the Armoury!). Below the industrial debris, there was close to 20′ of clay…evidence of the collapse that rendered the well useless…. and then a deposit of things accumulating at the bottom during the well’s use-life: ceramics, pieces of a leather boot, peach pits, an intact wooden bucket and bucket staves, a wine bottle bearing the seal of “B. Powell” with the date 1774 (Benjamin Powell was involved in construction of the barracks during the Revolution). If you’d like to know more (LOTS more!), you can paste the following address into your web browser to view or download a PDF of the Shields report: http://research.history.org/Archaeological_Research/Technical_Reports/DownloadPDF.cfm?ReportID=Archaeo1008

      I will tell you that what makes well-excavation exciting is the potential for unusual discoveries. Organic materials: leather, paper, and cloth, to name a few, can survive underwater in a way that they don’t in soil layers. The close quarters also add to the excitement. Diameter of the Shields well was 5′, allowing space for just one excavator at a time. At 43′, the dot of sunlight at the top makes the bottom of a well a lonely place! With water constantly running in, and an intact brick lining making its appearance only in the last 10′, the Shields well provided enough adrenalin to last a few decades!

      I mentioned the expense of digging a well. The cost is tied, in part, to the need for a steel casing to fit inside the well-shaft (to safeguard against a new collapse). But it is also tied to the need for archaeological conservation (think of it as triage for artifacts). All of those organic items that have survived hundreds of years under water need immediate and fairly dramatic treatment to continue their survival. It makes for an extremely costly project.

  36. Meredith,
    I love the new color of the armoury. I find it interesting that John Brush’s house was painted close to the same. I think it was called Brush Everard gold.( maybe done by Everard later)I see Brush was a gunsmith very early 1700’s.
    I also see that in the above comments about the pigments had a lot to do with early colors. I have been visiting CW for over thirty five years and have seen many color changes.Does CW make these changes because records come forth or by digging.? Thank you. PS hope to see you all this spring

    • Kerry~
      Yours is a good question. We have done a great deal of paint research in recent years, and the product of that research, as you say, can be seen in changing paint colors. When there is an opportunity to look at surviving surfaces, original weatherboards for instance, or when an element of the original building is found tucked away in a basement (as it was at the Coffeehouse), or even when an original interior paint color has become trapped under later trim work, it is possible for a paint analyst to see the 18th century pigments through a microscope.

      While we have always done careful paint analysis, technological advances over the last 20 years have allowed us to look extremely closely at very small quantities of paint. Cross-section microscopy can take a thin section of a flake of paint and draw from it evidence of the original painted surface, subsequent color changes, and the build-up of grime that informs us about the frequency of painting.

      Where original building material does not exist we are left to consult documentary sources and make inferences. Pigments almost never survive archaeologically, and when they do, it is usually in bottles or other containers where they were stored. Separated from the surfaces they covered, archaeological paint specimens are not terribly useful.

      So in short, physical evidence (in the form of actual paint on original surfaces) is our strongest evidence; documents tell us about general trends, but rarely indicate specific house colors; and archaeology (though it pains me to say this) is rarely useful in determining the colors of 18th century buildings.

  37. Hi Meredith,

    Thanks for the information about the well!! Noel Hume’s book did talk about the dangers of excavating the wells and some of the near misses they had. There are pictures of structures he and his team used to protect the person(s) going down in the wells during that period of time. I too would be very interested in your exploration of the well at Shields.

  38. Hi, Meredith,

    I haven’t been able to visit to see the progress since this summer (when the armory walls were raised.) We’re finally going to able to visit the weekend of March 2 – 4; is it possible to see inside the new armory, or is that completely off limits at this time?

    • Patty-

      You can see the inside as long as there are workmen on site. Interior painting is underway at present, as well as setting of anvil stumps. Things are advancing daily.

      Just speak up as you see workmen at the site, and we can show you what is happening.

  39. Armoury is looking great! When’s the first firing in the forges going to take place? Would love to be there for that!

    • Jim & others- First firing will take place as soon as we get bellows positioned and tuyeres set in place. I would anticipate first or second week in March for the first fire. We will try to give notice, but we still have much to accomplish before opening the doors for programming on March 26th. Opening ceremonies are still planned for March 31.

  40. Seeing as the vast majority of us can’t be there for the firings how about moving the roving Cam back in for it! and announce a time to watch!

    • We will set the camera in position to see the first forge firing. We will give as much advance notice as possible, but we are setting up the shop and simultaneously running a public program at the Deane site, so it is difficult to predict much in advance when these landmark events will take place.

  41. Dale has a great idea. Is that possible?

  42. Thanks Ken, you, Meredith and the staff do a great job in answering questions and trying to accomodate the things we ask of you and at the same time working on the Armoury.
    Thanks again!!!!

    • Jim,
      It’s a pleasure. Special thanks to Ken for keeping an eye on your questions while I was out of town!

  43. I see you are putting in fences. There is a new red fence between the Tin shop and the Armoury. The earlier diagram I saw doesn’t have a fence there, which would seem to make sense as the two buildings were both part of the Armoury complex. Why the change? Thanks!

    • Hi Russell,
      The “new” red fence is really an old fence. It was there all along, but a section was removed during recent construction (utility installation). You are correct in thinking that this fence will not be part of the final site plan, but as demolition of the Mary Stith Shop starts to gear up, it is important to have a means to cordon off (and control access to) that portion of the Armoury property.

      You may also have noticed another fence that is being installed between the northeast corner of the Armoury and the Anderson house, running at a slight diagonal. Archaeological evidence for that fenceline (in the form of a line of postholes) was found during 1970s excavation. Presumably the purpose of that fence was to separate domestic space behind the Anderson house from business traffic coming in to the Armoury.

      • Thanks, Meredith, and welcome back! In a previous post you mentioned that the Tin Shop and Armoury might have been directly connected. Has it been decided whether to do that in the reconstruction?

  44. Russell~
    This is one of those instances where we have to bow to the needs of getting visitors in and out. Although 40 Armoury workers sounds like a lot, that’s small potatoes compared to the 2,500 visitors who passed through the blacksmith shop on a busy day. With a single door between the Armoury and the tin shop, we would create a hopeless bottleneck in the smaller building…something none of us wants.

    So we will forego insertion of that door, and may try it out, instead, on our virtual models of the complex.

    • That’s completely understandable. I see the webcam has been moved to look at the Tin Shop work. Will the existing building be renovated or completely replaced? And what is the large gray object in foreground? Sometimes it’s hard to figure out what’s happening from the camera’s perspective. Thanks as always!

      • The tin shop will be entirely replaced, with the exception of much of the foundation (which will be reused). The superstructure will be crafted by our carpenters, working their usual magic. As for the large gray object, that’s a burlap-draped pallet (or 4)of bricks to be used in the upcoming reconstruction. Eleanor, the Armoury cat, is especially fond of the burlap!

  45. Good Morning Meredith,

    Will the Mary Stith shop remain intact? Think this may have been asked before but I cannot remember or find the reply to that question.

    • Jim~
      As I type this, the Mary Stith shop is coming down. When constructed in 1940, it made use of machine-produced elements (and a few unusual features, such as the extended roofline) that we would like to rectify. Much of the foundation will be reused, but beginning in late March, Historic Trades brickmasons will bring the 1940 foundation up to grade (using brick from our brickyard), and ready it for a frame-raising later in the summer.

      • 1940 foundation? Is there archeological evidence for the original foundation? Was some of that incorporated in the one from 1940?

  46. Good point, Ed,
    The 18th century foundation for the tin shop was found in 1932, but it was pretty fragmentary. It apperars that the 1940 reconstruction took its location and dimensions from the original, but that the original fabric was not incorporated into the Mary Stith tin shop.

    We now go to extraordinary lengths to incorporate original brick. Some of you may have seen the chimney base for the Armoury kitchen when archaeologists uncovered it in 2010. The bricks were splayed, mortar missing…it was no thing of beauty! Somehow or another, engineers figured out how to run an I-beam under the whole chimney base, raise it,and settle it on a new concrete footing. Despite being found in poor repair, the mid-1700s brickwork is now a solid part of the kitchen reconstruction.

    Thanks for keeping me honest, Ed.

    • I appreciate that. It’s that balance between historical accuracy and interpretation that makes it so interesting. And the change over the years in where that line is drawn. I lean more towards restoration rather than re-creation, but in an area like Williamsburg, I bet there are still pressures to liberalize the rules of accuracy.

      You guys do a great job, and that accuracy has come a long way from the original days, keep up the good work.

      • Ed~
        We try to make it better with each restoration. It does help to have an appreciative audience. Thanks for weighing in!

  47. Good morning Meredith, Ken and crew,
    I’ve started watching the Mary Stith building demolition. Will you be able save and reuse any of the bricks from the fireplace? Either in the new fireplace or maybe the floor? If not, what will you do with the old bricks? Any word yet on the first firing for the forges? It’s getting a little confusing with several blogs going about the same project. The Armory, the Tin Shop and the workmen. I sometimes don’t know which to really look at.
    Have you started the dig near the Visitors Center yet?
    Looks like Spring is starting to appear in Williamsburg. I’m seeing a little bit of green fuzz on the trees on DoG Street webcam.
    Please give Eleanor a scratch for me.
    Have a great Spring,
    Chris Hansley

    • Christine~
      Our brickmakers have produced such a fine crop of bricks using traditional methods that it would be a shame to reuse the mass-produced 1940s materials! Although we like your idea of recycling the old bricks in the tin shop floor, the new floor (like the 18th century one)will be made of wood …to accomodate the dramatic dip in topography from the east to the west side of the building.

      This week the blacksmiths will begin moving into the new Armoury. Although it will take them a bit of time to settle in, they are hoping to fire up the new forges sometime during the week before the Armoury’s March 31st opening.

      As for the Visitors Center excavation (which Jim asked about as well) it was one of those rare projects on which we found LESS than we expected to find. A substantial number of test holes dug on the first day produced no evidence of human activity, indicating that it was perfectly safe to install lights to guide visitors to and from the Visitors Center. It was a very brief (but thorough) project with no exciting finds.

  48. Since the fireplace is still standing, does that mean it will be used or will it be torn down and the bricks reused? I was fascinated to watch that come down so quickly and I especilly liked the historical bobcat! Who was the fellow who kept looking at the camera?

    • Margaret,
      My authority on the Mary Stith Shop demolition (project manager, Clyde Kestner) submits the following in response to your questions:

      “Since the finished floor of the “new” building will be about 2 feet higher than previously to accommodate ADA access at the north end, the entire chimney will need to be replaced. The chimney will be removed down to two brick courses below grade and then rebuilt on the existing base. We do not plan to reuse any of the bricks removed since it is too laborious to remove the mortar from the bricks. The guy on the “Bob Cat” was Clint Zerbe of Clint Zerbe Construction, the demolition contractor.”

  49. Was the entire blacksmith shop repainted white? Why the change? I liked the yellow and the explanation for the original choice.

    • Ah, Dave~
      Its been a busy few weeks of research at the Armoury! Yes, the shop will be white, and if you’ll check the blog later this afternoon, you’ll have your explanation as to why…..


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