Climbers Inspect the Washington Monument for Earthquake Damage

Posted on: September 28th, 2011 by National Trust for Historic Preservation


Written by Sarah Campbell

An inspector rappels down the pyramid atop the Washington Monument. (Photo: Sarah Campbell)

An inspector rappels down the pyramid atop the Washington Monument. (Photo: Sarah Campbell)

Under a cloud-riddled sky, more than five hundred feet above tourists, Park Rangers, and news crews, an engineer secures ropes and cables to the apex of the Washington Monument. It’s not a sight seen every day, but is one, weather-permitting, we’ll be seeing over the next week.

The engineering firm of Wiss, Janney, Estner Associates, Inc . will send four members of its Difficult Access Team to rappel down each side of the monument and inspect its exterior stones, which suffered damage in the August 23rd earthquake. The structure was built between 1848 and 1884.

“WJE has hired the best. The rated climbers are also architects and engineers; they know what they’re looking at,” said Carol Bradley Johnson, communications officer for the National Mall & Memorial Parks.

The Washington Monument has been closed to the public since the 5.8 magnitude earthquake. The timetable for reopening hinges upon assessments made by the firm, hired by the National Park Service to access structural damage left by the natural disaster. Though the monument already has been determined to be fundamentally sound, cracks in its marble exterior, loss of joint mortar, and other concerns must be examined before the tourist favorite can reopen.

Yesterday, representatives of the National Park Service - the federal agency responsible for the monument - along with National Trust for Historic Preservation President Stephanie Meeks, were interviewed by PBS NewsHour about the inspection process and the importance of maintaining our national icons. Meeks said:

I would hope that what comes out of this is just sort of a re-awareness on behalf of all Americans about these significant structures that we all sort of take for granted -- they're in our backyards here in Washington, D.C. -- the really important national monuments across the country, and remember that they are vulnerable to natural occurrences like this and that they need our very best care and support.

WJE anticipates releasing a report outlining costs and next steps in mid-October.

View additional photos of the inspection process on Flickr, and video on You Tube.

Sarah Campbell is an intern at Preservation magazine.

The National Trust for Historic Preservation works to save America's historic places. Join us today to help protect the places that matter to you.

National Trust for Historic Preservation

National Trust for Historic Preservation

The National Trust for Historic Preservation, a privately funded non-profit organization, works to save America's historic places.

Soon, it'll All be Nice on Ice at Gadsby's Tavern Museum

Posted on: October 20th, 2010 by Guest Writer


Written by Liz Williams

Inside the ice well where ice was stored, using straw as insulation.

Inside the ice well where ice was stored, using straw as insulation.

At home, the ice maker in the fridge provides cold drinks in an instant. At a birthday party, what is birthday cake without the ice cream? To the modern traveler, the rattle of the hotel ice machine can mean welcome refreshment or the interruption of a good night’s sleep (depending on one’s perspective).

The common thread in all of these stories is ice. Today, ice is so easily accessible that it is usually taken for granted. But in Alexandria, Virginia, Gadsby’s Tavern Museum’s 18th century ice well--a contributing feature to this National Historic Landmark--is taking center stage during a restoration and education campaign.

For our nation’s founding fathers, ice was a luxury. Forget the local convenience store! You had to wait for the river to freeze, cut sections of ice into blocks with an enormous saw, haul the blocks by cart to an ice well or ice house, drop the blocks down a hatch, melt the ice together to create one big ice blob, and pack the ice mound with straw for insulation.

The result wasn’t something you would want to actually put into your drink. In fact, ice was used to chill your beverage from outside the glass. And in the 18th century, ice cream was all the rage; popular flavors were vanilla and oyster.

Sharing the story of the ice well.

Sharing the story of the ice well.

In 1792, Alexandria entrepreneur John Wise built an ice well adjacent to his newly constructed City Tavern to cement the establishment’s position as simply the best place in town. Eleven feet deep with the capacity to hold 68 tons of ice, the ice mound was accessed by slaves via a small tunnel from the tavern basement. When John Gadsby took over the tavern’s management, having a ready supply of ice allowed him to host some pretty fabulous parties, the most famous was George Washington’s Birthnight (or birthday) Ball. One can envision the smile on George’s face as he sat back to enjoy his bowl of ice cream with his cake.

The massive scale of the Gadsby’s Tavern ice well is hard to imagine, which is why part of the brick was cut away and windows were installed during a renovation in the 1970s. Unfortunately, 35 years of time and grime have taken their toll. Plant growth is abundant and cracks are appearing throughout the well, threatening to undermine its structural integrity.

Artist’s rendering of the ice well viewing area.

Artist’s rendering of the ice well viewing area.

Working with a team of preservation professionals, a plan has been created to fully restore the ice well and improve the visitor experience. New viewing windows will even be designed to open so that guests can feel the blast of cool air from the ice well’s interior. The open-plan seating will provide an inviting atmosphere to those walking by day or night. New signage and special engraved stones will explain the importance of the ice well not only for the tavern, but for thousands of travelers along the Eastern Seaboard.

So often the big, “pretty” preservation projects get all the attention and fundraising dollars. But, it is the utilitarian structures that really tell the forgotten stories of the past: a time without electricity and refrigeration. Without the ice well, Alexandria’s thriving center of hospitality wouldn’t have been so thriving, or hospitable.

And just think...without the ice well, George Washington would have missed out on that vanilla –or oyster-flavored!--ice cream with his birthday cake.

Liz Williams is the assistant director at Gadsby's Tavern Museum, owned and operated by the City of Alexandria. She previously worked in the National Trust's Preservation Services department as well as Woodlawn/Pope-Leighey. Contact her by email at liz.williams[at]alexandriava[dot]gov (replace the bracketed text with the customary symbols).

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How We Spent Our Summer Vacations

Posted on: September 2nd, 2010 by Julia Rocchi 1 Comment


For National Trust staffers, summer means playtime -- a chance to visit all the historic places we love studying and sharing. What follows is a sample of our colleagues' adventures. But it's not all about us -- please share your travels in the comments!

Citizenship Ceremony at Mt. Vernon

Charlotte's husband poses with George and Martha Washington at his swearing-in ceremony at Mt. Vernon.

Charlotte Bonini, Senior Education Planner

July 4th, 2010 – it was a glorious day! My husband Driss became an American citizen on July 4th at Mt. Vernon. Yes, that’s right, Mt. Vernon!

Driss has been in the US for 12 years. Becoming a citizen was always something that he talked about doing and that day was finally here. Even with temperatures soaring toward 100, I still had goose bumps.

One hundred and one new citizens were to be sworn in; Driss was #100. Families, friends, and regular visitors to Mt. Vernon were there to witness our little piece of history. George Washington spoke, and we were led in the Pledge of Allegiance by a Marine who’d served in Iraq and was also being sworn in as a new citizen. Finally they all took their oath -- 101 of our newest citizens from the four corners of the Earth.

It was official. Driss had realized his dream of becoming a citizen. I can't say it enough -- it was truly a glorious day, exciting, thrilling, and downright moving. We have always enjoyed and celebrated the 4th of July; now we will do it as a proud American family.

David Brown, Executive Vice President

On this year's vacation/college tour with my kids, I paid my first visit to the Vassar campus. I must admit I’m a sucker for great libraries and the Thompson Memorial Library there didn’t disappoint.  The outside is fine early 20th century Gothic, but the inside is terrific.  I could study here all day!  As a friend of mine said, these really are cathedrals for learning.

Erica Stewart, Outreach Coordinator, Community Revitalization

Diamond Cove

The author visited the abandoned fort in the early '80s -- a preservationist in the making!

This summer I had the opportunity to return to a place I hadn’t been in almost 30 years but, as a favorite childhood destination, I had re-visited many times in my mind and in pictures.

When I was a young girl living in Maine, my grandparents would take me sailing along the coast and islands. If the winds and seas were favorable, they would give in to my pleadings to visit Great Diamond, a largely uninhabited Casco Bay island near Portland. We would quietly slip into a deserted cove, beach our rowboat on the shore, and then wander among the ruins of Fort McKinley.

Built at the turn of the century, the fort guarded Portland Harbor during the Spanish-American War and through World War II. During that time as many as 1,000 soldiers lived among its brick barracks and Queen Anne-style officers’ quarters which framed a grassy parade ground. Before that, the island was an artist retreat and vacation colony, attracting the likes of Harriet Beecher Stowe and Henry Wadsworth Longfellow.

The fort was abandoned in 1945 and was totally deserted when we visited in the early 80s—the grounds overgrown and its artillery eerily silent.  My seven year-old imagination found the remains peaceful, mysterious, and a little bit scary.

Diamond Cove (restored)

The author returned to the island to see the graceful restoration of Diamond Cove, nearly 30 years later.

After forty years of vacancy, a private developer stepped in and restored the barracks and officers’ quarters into Diamond Cove, a community of condos and townhouses marked by original slate roofs, wooden porches, grand staircases, and fireplaces. The former Quartermaster's storehouse is now a high-end restaurant, the wagon shed is an art gallery, and the PX houses are a restored duckpin bowling alley, exercise room, and gymnasium.

Greater Portland Landmarks gave me the opportunity to visit the island on a daylong home and garden tour, where I could see firsthand the tasteful revival of this private community. The island is just as serene as I remembered, but any scariness I once felt as has been replaced by another feeling: envy.

James Schwartz, Editor-in-Chief, Preservation

We were visiting friends in New Hampshire earlier this year, and drove a few miles north of Concord to see Canterbury Shaker Village -- a remarkable historic site that can turn anyone into an instant admirer of Shaker architecture. Hundreds of Shakers (members of the religious group formally known as the United Society of Believers) lived here in the 19th century, and the buildings and gardens they left behind exemplify elegance and simplicity.

Walking around the 1792 meeting house, with its gambrel roof and 12-over-12 windows, reminded me that beautiful architecture has the capacity to inspire—even centuries after it was conceived. Next on my list? Two other U.S. Shaker villages:  Sabbathday Lake in Maine and Pleasant Hill in Kentucky.  I can’t wait.

Sarah Heffern, Content Manager

Having blown through a large portion of my travel budget for 2010 before the end of January, the theme of my summer was staycation. I vowed to myself that I’d find a way to be touristy even if I wasn’t traveling, and as part of that goal I decided to finally visit Mount Vernon.

Yes… I’m a life-long history geek who has lived in Washington, D.C. a dozen years and worked at the National Trust for more than a decade, but I had never gotten around to visiting the George Washington’s home, which is also mothership of the American historic preservation movement. It was a gaping – and embarrassing – hole in my preservationist street cred.

Ann Pamela Cunningham exhibit at Mt. Vernon

This Mt. Vernon exhibit features Ann Pamela Cunningham, the mother of the preservation movement in the U.S.

Though I don’t what on earth took me so long, I have to say that visiting toward the end of August turned out to be a great choice, as it wasn’t crowded and I could wander around at a leisurely pace taking pictures without being in anyone’s way.

And though I know the site is the home of the father of our country, I kept my eyes peeled the whole time looking for signs of the mother of our movement, Ann Pamela Cunningham, who was responsible for saving the site more than a century ago.

At last I found her – and the preservation story of Mount Vernon – on the way out of the museum, just before I left. Had there been a statue of her, I would have posed with it.


If we've inspired you to travel over Labor Day for one last summer hurrah, check out Gozaic for last-minute ideas on Labor Day festivities and events:

Summer's Last Gasp: Labor Day Events at Gozaic (Part 1)

More Ideas for Labor Day Events and Activities! (Part 2)

Have stories from your own summer travels? Please share them with us!

The National Trust for Historic Preservation works to save America's historic places. Join us today to help protect the places that matter to you.

Julia Rocchi

Julia Rocchi

Julia Rocchi is the associate director for digital content at the National Trust. By day she wrangles content; by night (and weekends), she shops local, travels to story-rich places, and walks around looking up at buildings.

Villa Finale Hardhat Tours Teaching Neighborhood Preservation

Posted on: February 18th, 2010 by National Trust for Historic Preservation 1 Comment


Written by Sandra Smith

Earlier this month, Villa Finale held the first in a series of hard hat tours.

For those who don’t know, Villa Finale is the newest National Trust Historic Site, located in San Antonio, Texas. Villa Finale was the home of Walter Mathis, a leading preservationist widely recognized as the catalyst for the revitalization of the King William neighborhood, now a National Register Historic District. In addition to his work in King William, Mr. Mathis was an advocate for city and statewide historic preservation, as well as a civic and cultural leader.

Mr. Mathis’s legend took root when he restored 14 houses in King William after 1967 and before his death in 2005. It’s this legacy that forms the basis of Villa Finale’s mission in neighborhood preservation.

Since 2006, the Villa Finale staff has been working hard to plan and prepare for a restoration of Villa Finale. Much of Mr. Mathis’s excellent 1967 restoration of the home must be renewed, and the ideal time for such an undertaking is before we are fully open for business.

As part of our mission to teach neighborhood preservation, the Villa Finale staff is inviting the public into the house to see the restoration work in progress. The project includes:

  • Windows and doors. All exterior windows and doors will be repaired and weatherstripped in order to be more efficient and to maintain a better interior environment for the collection.
  • Exterior woodwork. The wood of the porches will be examined and replaced as needed.
  • Interior restoration. The interior of the entire second floor will be repainted or re-wallpapered, interior moulding repaired or replaced, and a water-damaged ceiling repaired.
  • Accessibility. The addition of a lift will make the first floor of Villa Finale accessible. The Carriage House will be made accessible as well, particularly with the addition of an accessible restroom for visitor comfort. Paths throughout Villa Finale’s grounds will be leveled to eliminate tripping hazards.
  • Creation of collections storage and curatorial workshop. The garage portion of the carriage house will be adapted to be a collections storage area, including a dedicated HVAC system, and workstations will be added for the care of the collections as well as public workshops.
  • Masonry evaluation. An evaluation of the entire masonry structure to develop a plan for its long-term care.
  • Landscape. An efficient irrigation system will be installed, the formal garden restored, and volunteer trees removed.

Each hard hat tour will be different, depending on the progress of the restoration project. Accompanied by the Buildings and Grounds Manager and the Curator, visitors will have the opportunity to learn all the details of this complicated project – made all the more complicated by the fact that Mr. Mathis’s extraordinary 12,000-piece decorative arts collection will remain in the house!

We look forward to sharing our work with you – please join us! Dates and details of the tours are available on our website, including information on our Spanish-language tour next month.

Sandra Smith is the director of Villa Finale.

The National Trust for Historic Preservation works to save America's historic places. Join us today to help protect the places that matter to you.

National Trust for Historic Preservation

National Trust for Historic Preservation

The National Trust for Historic Preservation, a privately funded non-profit organization, works to save America's historic places.

Do You Know How to Visit Archaeological Sites With Respect?

Posted on: July 28th, 2009 by National Trust for Historic Preservation 2 Comments


Written by Dr. Rebecca Schwendler

Do your travel plans include exploring archaeological ruins in the West? If so, please watch this informative video.

Produced by the San Juan Mountains Association and the Bureau of Land Management Anasazi Heritage Center with a grant from the Colorado Historical Society, the video features five Native Americans of different generations and affiliations (the pueblos of Santa Clara and Acoma in New Mexico and the Hopi Tribe in Arizona) talking about their connections to prehistoric ruins and ways that we can visit them appropriately.

As a professional archaeologist and the public lands advocate for the National Trust for Historic Preservation, I want to spread the word that we all have a part in preserving our country’s amazing archaeological, historical, and cultural places – whether they were created by our ancestors or someone else’s. While I find that most visitors are thoughtful and responsible, even well-meaning people can cause damage if they don’t know how to visit with respect.

So, how does one visit with respect? Here are some tips:

1 – Notice where artifacts and rock art are located in relation to one another and the surrounding landscape. Look for spatial patterns in materials, object types, and colors, but leave the artifacts in place and the rock art untouched. Artifacts and art are like pieces of a puzzle; if you move, remove, or damage them, you create a false and incomplete picture of the past and disrespect the people who made them.

2 – Observe structures from different angles and appreciate their materials and forms, but never climb on walls or into structures or pits unless a sign invites you to do so. Even if you don’t appear to be harming the structures, the cumulative effect of many people doing the same thing will. You don’t want to be that person who helps destroy things so that others can’t enjoy them, do you?

3 – Stick to designated trails to get the best views without damaging natural and cultural resources. Pretend you’re visiting your grandmother’s house - steer clear of those flower beds and don’t throw rocks in her pool!

At the end of the day, visiting archaeological sites (and any historic place for that matter) with respect means imagining the people who created the place, going slow, being observant, appreciating the location, and leaving things exactly as you find them. Always treat these special places as you would want others to treat your belongings and favorite hang outs.

We all need to run wild sometimes, just not in our precious and often fragile archaeological sites.

Rebecca Schwendler, Ph.D., is the National Trust for Historic Preservation’s public lands advocate. She is stationed in the Mountains/Plains Regional Office.

The National Trust for Historic Preservation works to save America's historic places. Join us today to help protect the places that matter to you.

National Trust for Historic Preservation

National Trust for Historic Preservation

The National Trust for Historic Preservation, a privately funded non-profit organization, works to save America's historic places.