Tuesday, October 4, 2022

Jamestown Unearthed: Memorial Church gets makeover as exhibits pull together for April 15 opening

Michael Lavin speaks to a contractor after a crew of nine men lifted a steel frame into an exhibit space showing old church foundations (bottom left). On the far church wall, evidence of moisture damage is apparent in a dark, diagonal streak down the church wall.(WYDaily/Sarah Fearing)
Michael Lavin speaks to a contractor after a crew of nine men lifted a steel frame into an exhibit space showing old church foundations (bottom left). On the far church wall, evidence of moisture damage is apparent in a dark, diagonal streak down the church wall.(WYDaily/Sarah Fearing)

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.

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. here, a "test" section of timber frame stands under a tent outside the Memorial Church. (WYDaily/Sarah Fearing)
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. here, a “test” section of timber frame stands under a tent outside the Memorial Church. (WYDaily/Sarah Fearing)

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.

RELATED STORY: Jamestown Unearthed: Archaeologists restore knight’s tombstone

“These discoveries are reshaping our understanding of the past,” Lavin said.

Senior Conservator Dan Gamble has been working on the Knight's Tomb in the public eye in the National Parks Service Visitor Center. (WYDaily/Sarah Fearing)
Senior Conservator Dan Gamble has been working on the Knight’s Tomb in the public eye in the National Parks Service Visitor Center. (WYDaily/Sarah Fearing)

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.

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. (WYDaily/Sarah Fearing)
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. (WYDaily/Sarah Fearing)

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.

RELATED STORY: Jamestown archaeologists fill in church site, plan exhibits for 2019 commemoration

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.
Sarah Fearing
Sarah Fearing is the Assistant Editor at WYDaily. Sarah was born in the state of Maine, grew up along the coast, and attended college at the University of Maine at Orono. Sarah left Maine in October 2015 when she was offered a job at a newspaper in West Point, Va. Courts, crime, public safety and civil rights are among Sarah’s favorite topics to cover. She currently covers those topics in Williamsburg, James City County and York County. Sarah has been recognized by other news organizations, state agencies and civic groups for her coverage of a failing fire-rescue system, an aging agriculture industry and lack of oversight in horse rescue groups. In her free time, Sarah enjoys lazing around with her two cats, Salazar and Ruth, drinking copious amounts of coffee and driving places in her white truck.

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