New exhibits commemorating some landmark events in United States history are gradually taking shape at Jamestown, mostly on-time to open April 15.
Part of that preparation means the 1907 Memorial Church is getting a makeover.
The archaeologists and historians with Jamestown Rediscovery are diligently working on the Memorial Church, fixing the brick and mortar on the church’s exterior, replacing some leaky and broken window panes and finalizing some exhibits.
Crews are also working to pull together interpretive spaces inside the church to show what the scene of the first representative government looked like in Jamestown in 1619, as well as show timber frame walls of a different, prior church built essentially on the same grounds.
“This is a lot of investment of time and research and archaeology,” said Michael Lavin, director of collections and conservation for Jamestown Rediscovery.
Lavin said a majority of the projects are on track for April 15, the nonprofit’s opening day for 1619 Commemoration exhibits.
But if some projects are still in the works by April 15, Lavin isn’t concerned — the nonprofit is tasked with teaching visitors about both history and preservation and conservation, so sometimes seeing those projects in the works is part of visitor education.
“It was time,” Lavin said of the work being done to preserve the church.
Inside the church
Lavin said the inside of the church is on time. The flooring will soon be put down, all of the pews have been crafted and put into storage, and the vertical walls delineating another Jamestown church on the same site will be erected by the deadline.
On Thursday, a crew of nine men including Lavin hauled a metal frame weighing nearly 1,000 pounds into the church, slowly lifting it into a space over a dug out part in the church floor.
The open area shows two different church foundations, and will be covered with a strong, inch-thick piece of glass for the 1619 Commemoration.
The glass takes at least 11 weeks to be made, Lavin said, and will not be ready by April 15. Instead, the team will put down a temporary piece of Plexiglas until the glass is delivered.
Next week, archaeologists plan to bring the Knight’s Tomb back into the Memorial Church, where it rested for more than 100 years before archaeologists began to conserve it.
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“These discoveries are reshaping our understanding of the past,” Lavin said.
Dan Gamble, senior conservator has been working on the stone in the public eye in the National Parks Service Visitor Center. The broken stone’s pieces have been mended back together by Atlas Preservation, and a previous coat of laquer has been removed.
That process should be finishing up in the next week.
Protecting the inside by fixing the outside
Some scaffolding may still envelope the church’s exterior come April 15, but it will not be up more than a week or so past the deadline.
“Some areas may still be construction zones,” Lavin said.
The exterior improvements are funded by a grant from the National Society of the Colonial Dames of America, the same group that built the Memorial Church in 1907. Lavin declined to say how much that grant was for.
Lavin said teams are working on “moisture issues” with the church’s stepped parapets on both ends of the roof. Inside the church, dark and white spots on the walls show where moisture has crept into the church.
To rectify the issue, master masons are drilling out old mortar and replacing it to seal the church.
Another contractor is also rebuilding the church’s hopper windows and media blasting the metal frames to clean them.
Exhibits at the Archaearium
Across a span of grass on the island, at the Archaearium, exhibits are also taking shape this week.
Faux sections of a timber frame building in the museum as well as cases for exhibits will be installed this week. The graphics and plinths will also be delivered and installed.
The new exhibits include foodways from various points in history at Jamestown, archaeological evidence on the transition from an English colony to an English town site, and full-size realistic models of Jamestown’s buildings showing how building methods changed over time.
Here’s the lineup of events by Jamestown Rediscovery starting this month, announced Tuesday by Jamestown Rediscovery in a news release:
- A Century of Women in Archaeology at Jamestown: Learn about the “crucial” role woman have played in the excavations since 1897. Additional ticket required.
- Angela’s Story: Hear the story of Angela, one of the first Africans who lived on Jamestown Island. Free with paid admission.
- Forensic Fridays: Join Director of Archaeology David Givens as he discusses forensic cases that the archaeology team is investing. Additional ticket required.
- Tales of the Silver Shovel: Get an exclusive visit to the James Fort site with Jamestown Rediscovery’s Emeritus Director of Archaeology and Research, William “Bill” Kelso. Additional Ticket required.
- The Curator’s Artifact Tour: Get a behind-the-scenes tour of the archaeological laboratory and collection facility. Additional ticket required.