by Roger Walk
The last heavy timber beams were fitted this week into the roof structure to complete the framing of the recreated 1611 Church and Meeting Hall at Henricus Historical Park. The impressive building will soon complement the facilities of the open-air museum.
The church structure was the focus of civic activity within a settlement. The church served as a place of worship, but was also a court of law and meeting space in 17th-century English culture. It was where information was disseminated, orders issued, grievances aired, and discipline enforced. After its completion scheduled for November 2014, the Church and Meeting Hall will be incorporated into future educational programming at Henricus Historical Park and be available for rental for weddings, lectures and other special events.
The recreated church and meeting hall was designed by Thomas K. McLaughlin, Jr., honorary town architect at Henricus Historical Park. Mr. McLaughlin had also designed other buildings at the park such as Mt. Malady, Rocke Hall, and the Ordinary. McLaughlin used documentation of the original church at the Citie of Henricus and other early 17th century churches in England for the design of his last completed project before he passed away in 2012.
Both 21st- and 17th-century construction techniques are employed side by side. The surface of the timber beams, hoisted into place by a modern crane, show the marks of the traditional chisels that were used to shape them after pit sawing. The beams are joined together with wooden pegs instead of steel bolts.The pegs are driven into their joining holes using traditional mallets. These traditional construction techniques, used in the 17th century by the English settlers, are today skillfully combined with modern transportation and lifting technology by the specialized construction firm that is building the church at the park. As Rick Collins, the owner of Trillium Construction Services explains, “we are bringing in know-how from Europe to build the church in the way the settlers would have.”
Charles L. Grant, executive director of the Henricus Historical Park, and John D. Pagano, historical interpretation supervisor of the museum park, witnessed the fitting of the last beams into the frame on June 5.
Commemorating 400 years, Henricus Historical Park re-creates everyday 17th-century life in the second successful English settlement in North America that resides on the original site of the Citie of Henricus. Due to its prime location as a military outpost on a bluff overlooking the James River, the site also boasts rich Civil War history which visitors may experience through special events and programs during the Civil War Sesquicentennial. Surrounded by the Dutch Gap Conservation Area, the living history museum offers exceptional Pre-K-12 and adult education programs, including indoor and outdoor meeting and special event space available for rental.