This blog follows the reconstruction of the Revolutionary War Public Armoury on the James Anderson site
Reconstruction of the Blacksmith's & Public Armoury
April 20, 2012
The Armoury is Open: Now what?
On March 31, 2012, we celebrated the return of blacksmithing to the Anderson site, and the addition of foodways programming in the new kitchen. We were gratified by the interest of our guests- those in attendance, and those observing via the web. Attendance at the shop has been strong in the weeks following our opening ceremonies, with afternoon visitation hovering around 500 people per hour on most days. Our opening ceremony has prompted many to ask, now what?
Remember that this opening ceremony was a “soft opening.” We wanted to acknowledge the blacksmiths’ return to the Anderson site, and to begin programming in the new kitchen, but the Armoury project is far from complete. In fact, we are only about halfway finished with construction. This year we will be building three structures- a shed in the yard for vehicle storage, a storage building adjacent to the south end of the Armoury building, and the tinsmith shop adjacent to the northwest side of the Armoury.
With all of this construction still to come, the carpenters have returned to Great Hopes Farm site to prepare materials for new buildings. They are processing framing and roofing material for the shed and storage building as I write, and will begin on siding soon. Plans are to raise the shed frame in a week or two, and the storage building frame sometime in June. Framing of the tinsmith shop should begin by late summer (currently you can watch the brick masons laying the foundations on the webcam) and should be complete and ready to open by March or April of 2013. We will then turn our attention to a workshop and second storage building on the southern half of the Anderson lot, with plans to finish the structures by late summer of 2013.
For the blacksmith crew, this rigorous construction schedule means a couple of things: first of all, nails will be needed in large quantity once again. The shed will require about 1,000 nails, the storage building about 5,000, and the tinshop perhaps 12,000 nails. Anticipating this need, we have been making about 100 nails each day in between our other work (see my earlier posts on nailmaking). In fact, we use nailmaking as a warm-up activity each morning, and an activity to keep us busy at the forge when time doesn’t allow for more complex work ( at the end of the day when it is too late to start something new, for instance). One hundred nails a day will produce over 30,000 nails in a year- enough to keep the carpenters well-supplied. In addition to nails, the storage building and tinsmith shop will also require hinges and locks for doors and shutters. These will be made as the buildings near completion.
Several of our readers wondered if the type of work demonstrated by blacksmiths will change now that we are working in the new venue. I do anticipate new work that reflects activity typical of the armoury. In coordination with members of the Powder Magazine staff we are developing programs to illustrate weapon cleaning and maintenance, and we will be making specialized tooling for manufacture of replacement parts for muskets. In my research on contemporary Virginia armouries, I have accumulated tool inventories for the workshops which provide insight into work activities- manufacture of screws, manufacture of ramrods, and other small components. We plan to replicate tooling and work with Magazine staff to make repairs to muskets used in our programming. Museum demands for ironwork are similar to wartime demands for ironwork, so while we show military repair, we will continue to make common consumer ironwork. Throughout James Anderson’s wartime accounts, that mix of military and consumer work is seen- delivering 1,000 refurbished muskets to the guard at Charlottesville, and then repairing a lock for a dairy door and making a replacement key for a lock. Our shop will reflect that mix of wartime military and civilian work.
In fact, at present we are involved in completing furnishings for the kitchen. As we bring activity into new spaces, we can anticipate most of the furnishing requirements, but often discover unanticipated needs for tools, utensils, or hardware necessary for our specialized programming. We are finishing some ladles and skimmers for the cooking staff, and are working on a peel for the bread oven. In recent days we have made additional trivets and pot hooks for the kitchen fireplace. We have a couple of door locks to finish for the Armoury itself, as the limited workspace in the Deane Shop slowed our ability to produce hardware for the Armoury, putting us slightly behind in the schedule. The additional workspace in the new shop will allow us more production capacity, putting us back on schedule.
On the subject of work space, the new Armoury building has exceeded expectations. In addition to the increased space, lighting is exceptional, and as the first warm days of spring arrived, we appreciated the increased airflow within the shop. I anticipate that July and August will bring their typical heat and humidity. Having plenty of windows to open will at least allow air to move through the building, easing our summertime discomfort.
The building trades and the blacksmithing program (as well as all of the Historic Trades workshops) never experience a dull moment- there is no opportunity to rest on past success. At Colonial Williamsburg, history never stands still; we are always adding new structures and new programming to the Historic Area and adding to our guest’s experience. These additions require products of our Historic Trades programs- the “things” that allow our people to bring history to life. So completion of the Armoury workshop simply means the beginning of the story’s next chapter. I hope that you will continue to follow along.
-Contributed by Kenneth Schwarz, Master Blacksmith
Funded by a generous gift from Forrest E. Mars Jr., of Big Horn, Wyoming.