Monday, February 26, 2024

Historic artifacts moved off Jamestown Island before Florence brings flooding

Contractors spent the day Wednesday loading boxes of artifacts onto moving trucks before Hurricane Florence makes landfall. (WYDaily/ Andrew Harris)
Contractors spent the day Wednesday loading boxes of artifacts onto moving trucks in anticipation of Hurricane Florence’s effects. (WYDaily/ Andrew Harris)

With Hurricane Florence approaching the East Coast, visitors are prohibited on Jamestown Island — and even the island’s historic relics are being removed to keep them safe from the storm.

Staff members from the National Colonial Historical Park spent Wednesday loading artifacts from the first permanent English settlement in North America onto trucks, Superintendent Kym Hall said. They will then be ferried out of harm’s way before Florence’s effects can be felt.

Called the Jamestown Collection, the more than 3,000 objects chronicle the lives, struggles and triumphs of Jamestown’s early colonists in the 17th century, the Native Americans who inhabited the area long before Europeans arrived, and the work of archaeologists who have since studied the island’s history.

“Every piece tells a part of our shared history,” Hall said. “We can’t afford to lose any of it because we need the total context of the collection to provide the story to the American people.”

The James Fort was built right on the banks of the James River and is one of the lowest points of the Historic Triangle. Gov. Ralph Northam ordered the evacuation of low-lying areas in anticipation of hurricane-related flooding.

“We expect we’re going to see water over the roadway and some trees come down,” Hall said. “We’re not taking any chances with our collection…We know there’s a fair amount of risk to the entire island.”

The James Fort is precariously perched on the banks of the James River. (WYDaily/ Andrew Harris)
The James Fort is precariously perched on the banks of the James River. (WYDaily/ Andrew Harris)

The collection is being shipped to a storage facility outside Washington, where it will ride out the storm. Hall said Colonial National Historic Park will be closed Thursday, and staff will then decide when to reopen.

Staff began packing the boxes onto the truck around 8 a.m. Wednesday and finished by the early evening. Logistical planning was laid out Monday, and artifacts were packed into boxes Tuesday.

The collection includes household items like pieces of ceramic, glass and metals that offer clues to modern-day researchers about the lives and culture of Jamestown colonists. It also includes centuries-old diaries and architectural fragments, as well as notes and documentation of the archaeological efforts conducted on the island, conservator Melanie Pereira said.

Some artifacts can be seen on display in the visitor center. Most of the collection is usually stored in climate-controlled shelves in a National Park Service facility on Jamestown Island in order to protect them for future generations.

Ten or so employees and a handful of contractors labeled the boxes and used hand trucks to load the boxes onto a moving truck, Hall said.  After driving down a narrow, winding access road, the items of the collection were then transferred to a tractor-trailer for the trip north.

Boxes of historic objects sit in the National Parks Service facility before being loaded onto moving trucks. (WYDaily/Andrew Harris)
Boxes of historic objects sit in the National Park Service facility before being loaded onto moving trucks. (WYDaily/Andrew Harris)

Moving a vast and fragile collection isn’t easy, but Hall said staff took care to pack, wrap, label and transport the artifacts gently.

“They’re obviously sensitive and priceless, and we don’t want people handling them in a way that might damage them or deteriorate the quality of those objects,” Hall said. “We work really hard to keep them in good condition and store them appropriately, so we need to transport hem with the same care.”

“It’s been a huge team effort to make that happen.”

Visitor Information

The Parks Service manages the Colonial National Historical Park, which includes Jamestown Island, the Yorktown Battlefield and the Colonial Parkway.

Just like Jamestown Island, the Yorktown Battlefield will also be closed Thursday.

Hall said the Colonial Parkway will remain open, but because of the threat of toppled trees, drivers are urged to seek other routes.

“We don’t know the saturation level of the root system of the trees, so we’re encouraging people to stay on the more open routes,” Hall said. “It’s so unpredictable. You can’t know which trees would be at risk at this point.”

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