Visit Gasby’s as it is being restored
November 27, 1996
by Gretchen Bulova
Large blue tarps, yellow banners, and red scaffolding. What do these things have in common? No - the circus has not come to Alexandria! For the last few months, construction materials have covered all five stories of the exterior facade of Gadsby’s Tavern Museum as a major preservation effort takes place.
In the summer of 1993, the City of Alexandria commissioned the architectural firm of Cole & Denny, Incorporated to conduct a comprehensive survey of all the window assemblies, cornice moldings, and other exterior woodwork of the three buildings which make up the Gadsby’s Tavern complex. The architectural survey team included C. Richard Bierce, AIA, Preservation Architect. The survey had three goals: evaluate the condition of all exterior woodwork; determine the probable construction date of all elements; and identify the elements which are original to the construction of the 1770 Tavern, the 1792 City Hotel and the 1878 American Legion Wing. The results ate exciting - almost all the woodwork is original and can be preserved.
The survey has also produced a database for use in preparing restoration specifications. These documents describe the scope of the restoration work to be undertaken, including stripping off several layers of lead base paint, woodwork repairs, replication, and repainting with original colors. To implement this restoration and exterior painting project. The City has contracted with Harry Braswell Incorporated to strip many layers of lead-base paint, repair, restore and repaint the woodwork with original colors.
The restoration project began in September with the removal of paint from exterior wood surfaces on the Royal Street and Cameron Street facades. The windows had an average of 8 paint layers, which were painstakingly stripped by work crews. Using a non-intrusive paint remover called "Peel Away." Finally, from under all of those paint layers, the original wood emerged. While some wood was perfectly stable, other pieces needed repair or complete replacement. Segments of the dentil molding, for example, were found to be loose once the paint was removed. A team of experts was on hand to look at the molding and determine whether it should be re-nailed or removed and replicated. Each window sill, window sash, and piece of woodwork was evaluated individually.
Of the 98 windows in the Gadsby’s Tavern complex, 32 will be removed and replicated. Ultimately, all of the windows will be stabilized, re-caulked, re-glazed, and painted to match the original historic color original woodwork which had to be removed, will be added to the Museum collection as part of the building’s preservation history.
The restoration work on the buildings has concluded for the season, but it will resume in the Spring. The paint removal and wood repair process is limited by low temperatures and harsh winter weather conditions. The replication of woodwork elements will continue off-site at Smoots Lumber Company. Smoot’s has taken careful field measurements of the windows and cornices and will reproduce exact replicas. All the millwork will be done using 100 year old resawn heart pine, a durable wood used in the original woodwork.
During the restoration, the staff and volunteers of Gadsby’s Tavern Museum have been leading "Hard Hat Tours." Architecture and engineering firms, college classes and history buffs have taken the tours to learn about construction technology in the 18th century. The tour travels throughout the Gadsby’s Tavern complex, from the foundation to the attic (normally closed to the public).
If you have been watching the restoration work take place and thought "It’s been a long time since I’ve been inside...," stop by for a tour. The museum is open form 11:00 a.m. until 4:00 p.m., Tuesday through Saturday, and 1:00 p.m. until 4:00 p.m. on Saturdays. Admission is $3 for adults, $1 for students (ages 6-17). The museum will be decorated for the holidays from December 12 through December 17 for the Historic Alexandria Christmas Candlelight Tour. Offered on Saturday, December 14, 6:30-9:00 p.m. and Sunday, December 15, 4:00-6:30 p.m. Tickets are on sale at the Lyceum 703-838-4994, $12 for adults, $5 for students (ages 6-17), and $10 for groups of 10 or more. To learn more about Gadsby’s Tavern Museum or to receive information on special events, including balls, dance classes, children’s programs, and symposia, please call (703)8384242.
Gretchen Bulova is Acting Director, Gadsby’s Tavern Museum.