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In the first days of fall, a once-empty field next to the Magazine in Colonial Williamsburg’s Historic Area will begin life anew as a bustling 18th-century marketplace.
To bring that vision to fruition, a bevy of Colonial Williamsburg Foundation employees gathered at the site early Tuesday, formed a tug-of-war style line and hoisted into place ponderous trios of white oak posts.
The bulky beams — joined at the top by another beam, forming an entablature — will act as supports for the hefty roof of the marketplace’s key structure, the Market House. Tuesday’s work was a major milestone in the Market House project, as the structure will act as a nexus for the planned marketplace.
The posts wrap around the Market House’s cement base, which is fronted by a brick-bottomed expanse stretching to nearby Duke of Gloucester Street. When the Market House opens in late September or early October, the covered area and the brick yard will be outfitted with heaps of goods, including snacks, cold water and assorted 18th-century wares.
By adding the building to Colonial Williamsburg’s Market Square, the foundation will be returning the frenetic excitement of open-air commerce to an area where it was once commonplace. A market house stood in the same area as far back as 1757, when the field surrounding the Magazine and the Courthouse of 1770 were commonly used as gathering places for merchants and citizens.
“This was the heart of town in the 18th century,” said Ronald L. Hurst, the foundation’s Carlisle H. Humelsine chief curator and vice president of collections, conservation and museums. “You’re going to see that bustle here.”
He said there will be a bell installed on top of the market house to be rung at the start and close of business each day like on the New York Stock Exchange.
Colonial Williamsburg Foundation President and CEO Mitchell Reiss and his wife, Elisabeth, attended Tuesday’s frame raising, helping to hoist the white oak support beams into place.
“I think people will be pleased,” he said of the Market House. “This is everything we want it to be — it’s authentic, it’s entertaining, it’s educational. I think those themes are very important going forward.”
He said that by re-creating the Market House, the current market area nearby can be replaced by some kind of future programming. That market, which comprises small wooden supports and a canvas roof, was never meant to be permanent. He declined to specify any specific plans he has for that land.
Reiss said he envisions the market area as part of a more vibrant evening Historic Area. The foundation is currently mulling over the Market House's hours, including some time during the evening.
Since replacing Colin Campbell as the foundation’s top executive last year, Reiss has overseen an effort to light eight key Historic Area buildings at night to let people know the area is open after the sun goes down. Those lights are expected to be installed later this year. He also oversaw the rebranding of Chowning’s Tavern as an alehouse by retooling the restaurant with more local beer, pub-style appetizers and later hours.
Before the new Market House can join the Historic Area, the workers assembling the new building must finish construction. They are using 18th-century building practices — except for where they cannot due to safety regulations — so the project is not as quick as if they had the resources of the 21st century.
For example, the raising of the white oak beams was not done with a crane or other modern machine but by hand, using a system of ropes and pulleys. Each beam weighs between 500 and 700 pounds, while the beam linking them along the top weighs 300 to 400 pounds, according to Matt Webster, the foundation’s director of the Grainger Department of Architectural Preservation.
Foundation employees have spent more than a year leading up to Tuesday’s frame raising to create the 15,000 shingles, 30,000 nails and more than 50,000 bricks needed to construct the new marketplace. Like the builders, the craftspeople who made the supplies did so using authentic 18th-century methods.
What could not be made in house was sourced from others outside of the Williamsburg area who use the same means to craft the building goods.
The project was made possible by a $1 million gift from Forrest Mars Jr., who has now given more than $11 million to the foundation since 2007. Mars — the director emeritus of the confectionary company Mars, Incorporated — is a member of the foundation’s board of trustees.