Colonial Williamsburg is an irreplaceable part of our nation’s heritage. Even though it has been more than 240 years since Thomas Jefferson and Patrick Henry made history in Williamsburg, they still would recognize the town, which has been carefully preserved and reconstructed where necessary according to the original 18th-century city plan.
Of the 603 buildings that comprise the Historic Area, 88 are original to the town; several hundred others incorporate original materials. Our 20th-century reconstructions are approaching antique status in their own right. Essential upkeep like window cleaning, plaster repairs and basic carpentry is carried out year-round in the Historic Area. Every two to three years, most exhibition buildings close briefly as painters, carpenters, electricians and plumbers collaborate with curators, conservators and art handlers to perform essential preventive maintenance.
Architectural conservators and historic tradespeople conduct research to identify the most sustainable methods to maintain our historic buildings and landscapes—and have found that the old ways are often the best. The more we invest in historic preservation, the more we learn about and implement historically accurate and long-lasting repairs—reducing the overall cost of our preservation program and improving the efficacy of our efforts in the long term. In recent years, we adjusted our approach to preserving and restoring brickwork and masonry. We make our own mortar, using lime created by burning oyster shells, to lay handmade bricks as we repair 18th-century architectural remains and reconstruct those that have been lost. Because we are using these period materials, it is likely that the brickwork we complete today will last for a century or more.
Another one of our most important avenues for research in historic preservation—as well as one of our most critical areas of need—is paint. Not only does the paint on our buildings and fences help us establish a picturesque town, but it also serves as a historic building’s first line of defense against weather and time. Wood with an old or peeling coat of paint deteriorates rapidly, threatening the stability of structures throughout the city. We must paint 70 buildings on average every year simply to maintain the more than 600 structures onsite.
These remarkable architectural resources that we work tirelessly to preserve—from taverns and homes to government buildings and stables—were the backdrop for some of the most momentous decisions in American history. For that, they are worthy of preservation in their own right.
As of June 1, 2019, 12 of the 19 sites scheduled for preventive maintenance work and 30 of the 77 buildings scheduled for painting this year are complete.
Thanks to a generous challenge grant from the Mary Morton Parsons Foundation and matching funds from many individual donors, work has begun on the restoration of the Governor’s Palace Complex.
The stable has undergone a major infrastructure upgrade. Repairs to the steam lines are critical to the environmental control in the Palace, and ventilation, water and electrical work will support the interpretation of the stable area.
Electrical work is underway in the carriage house, which will support interpretation there.
Electrical upgrades were made in the East Advance building and the HVAC system was replaced.
The Palace stage was repaired and electrical upgrades are complete.
Masonry work on the walls of the complex has begun and is scheduled to be completed in 2020.
The interior stair hall of the Palace was painted to match the entrance hall.
Thanks to a generous challenge grant from an anonymous donor and matching funds from many others, additional infrastructure projects throughout the Historic Area are in the planning phase, including electrical upgrades to the Roscow Cole House. Maintenance staff will begin work soon.
Preservation staff currently are working with a local engineer to create a stabilization plan for the Custis kitchen, located in Custis Square near the Art Museums of Colonial Williamsburg. Work is scheduled for the last half of the year.
Repairs to the chimneys of the Benjamin Powell House are complete, and new caps were installed.
Roof work on the Anderson and Lightfoot houses will be completed this year.