Thursday, July 1, 2010

Preserving The Past So The Future Will Never Forget

Hello again from the rolling green hills of Washington County, MD here at Antietam National Battlefield, the site of the bloodiest single day battle in American history. It is our duty here to ensure and protect the greatest resources our battlefield has to offer. This week I spent time with our cultural resources division.

The job at hand this week was to help restore the historic Miller Farm, the owner of the infamous bloody cornfield. The cultural resources division here at Antietam is full of preservation specialists who restore historical structures back to all their 1862 splendor. Using only 19th century building techniques and materials, we got to work. We began with checking the wooden beams and joints to make sure they maintained their structural integrity despite the years of wear and tear. We came across a wooden beam that needed to be repaired. Taking out the rotting parts of wood and keeping the wood that is still strong, we started making repairs by filling in the rotted out parts with wood epoxy and then texturing and dying the once damaged wood so one looking at the beam would of never thought it was damaged.

In order to further ensure the structural integrity of the Miller Farm, the preservation specialists must then turn their attention to the joints in between the beams of wood to make sure they are in prime condition. First we must replace all the stone laid to form the base of the joint. Using only a hammer and a craftsman's technique, the division and I started wedging rocks in between the beams

After laying the stone, we must make sure the area is free of debris so the mortar we will spread to keep the joint intact will stick unaffected. I did this by using an air compressor.

Once the area is free of debris, we got to mortar mixing. The mortar used during Civil War Times is nothing more than a water, a binder such as animal hair or grass, and an exact ratio of dirt to ground limestone mixture. In order to make sure we use everything exactly how it would of been back then, the ratio is determined by performing a titration on a sample taken from the Miller Farm House. Titration is a commonly used technique in chemistry in order to figure out specific quantities of what makes up a particular piece of matter. The cultural resources division determined that the mortar mix was made using 6 part mud to 1 part limestone mixture. Now that we know the ingredients, the mortar mixing begins. We only add enough water to make the mix pliable so we can spread it over the joints.

Once made, we spread the mortar thus creating a joint. Here I am spreading mortar under a window sill inside the Miller Farm House.

The mixture then hardens and the joint is complete!

The Miller Farm House is in need of major renovation and preservation but I'm sure with Antietam's preservation specialists, the farm house will be enjoyed for generations to come.

Till Next Time


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