If preservationists cannot act soon, the Jamestown Church Tower could be in danger of progressively falling apart.
The tower, built around 1639, is the only remaining structure standing above ground from the original Jamestown colony. But after centuries of exposure to wind and rain, the structure is in danger and it will take at least $150,000 to stabilize the tower for future generations to see.
Sen. John Miller (D-1st) introduced a budget amendment, co-sponsored by Sen. Tommy Norment (R-3rd), last week for the General Assembly to approve $100,000 to “stabilize, preserve and restore” the structure. The money would be appropriated to the Department of Historic Resources, which would oversee the restoration work.
“Virginia is in real danger of losing the only remaining above-ground structure from our 17th-century colonial capitol, the Jamestown Church Tower,” Miller said in a news release. “We cannot continue to allow this historic structure to decay. I am committed to ensure the General Assembly appropriates the necessary funds to save this treasure.”
Fundraising is already under way. The Historic Jamestowne Fund has raised $11,000 so far, including a donation of $10,000 from the descendants of the colonists belonging to the Richmond-based Jamestowne Society, said Andrew Zellers-Frederick, director of the fundraising effort. He’s also writing grant proposals and soliciting donations from corporations and individuals.
The tower’s showing its age, and its decay has been hastened by heavy storms in recent years. The building was inspected by Matt Webster, director of historic architectural resources for Colonial Williamsburg. The bricks are shifting where water has deteriorated the 350-year-old mortar. Without a roof, the building doesn’t have enough weight coming from above to keep the bricks in place. In addition, the bricks of the era were not fired at a high enough heat in the kiln to match the hardness of modern bricks.
The damage is not advanced enough to be noticed by tourists, but Webster spotted some tell-tale signs the building is in danger: discoloration that indicates the walls are completely saturated (especially the wall facing the river) and mortar that has dissolved into powder and started receding into the wall. Some brick fragments are beginning to fall, Webster said.
Once the funding is available, Webster said two of the country’s best historic masons will work with local staff to secure the loose bricks, replace the deteriorated mortar and brush the top of the walls with a mortar wash to prevent further water damage. He hopes to begin work this summer.
Zellers-Frederick said if the fundraising is not successful, the building will slowly decay from the elements. The tower was the second built on the site, and likely the third church built at the colony, according to Historic Jamestowne.
“The tower is an icon,” he said. “It’s been painted, it’s been illustrated and photographed for hundreds of years. It was utilized in the Revolution and in the Civil War. I think it’s very important.”
Anyone interested in donating to the effort, can call 757-220-7466 or call toll-free at 866-400-1607; email firstname.lastname@example.org; donate online here; or mail checks payable to Jamestowne Rediscovery Project, P.O. Box 3610, Williamsburg, VA 23187. Donations for the project must be designated for the tower’s stabilization.