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December 9, 2008

Carpenters and cadets to raise the walls of Charlton's coffeehouse

With archaeology and restoration of the foundation walls complete, reconstruction of Charlton’s Coffeehouse will reach another milestone Dec. 20.

Historic Trades carpenters with the assistance of 15 civil engineering students from the Virginia Military Institute’s corps of cadets and members of the Timber Framers Guild will raise the heavy timber-framed south wall and second floor framing of the coffeehouse without the aid of modern machinery. Applying ancient principles of physics and lifting technology common to the 18th century, the carpenters and cadets will erect the building’s timbers using A-frame cranes and old-fashioned muscle power.

The Charlton’s coffeehouse project is one of the most important reconstructions on the Historic Area’s Duke of Gloucester Street in half a century thanks to a generous $5 million gift from Mr. and Mrs. Forrest E. Mars Jr.

Colonial Williamsburg’s historic brickyard masonry trades staff molded and fired several thousand bricks specifically for the Coffeehouse project, worked on the foundations and helped complete the first stage of chimney reconstruction. In early December, the modern shed roof protecting the coffeehouse site is being removed, allowing the walls to be raised raising and work on the chimney masonry to continue above the first floor.

Throughout the past several months at Great Hopes Plantation, the Historic Trades carpenters have hewn, pit sawn and prepared the wall timbers for final assembly at the coffeehouse site at the east end of Duke of Gloucester Street. When the walls are erect, carpenters will enclose the building with clapboard siding and shingle the roof.

Civil engineering cadets at Virginia Military Institute have worked in association with the Timber Framers Guild to build timber-framed structures in a variety of community service projects, including a building at Ferry Farm, George Washington’s boyhood home.

Richard Charlton, a Williamsburg wigmaker, converted an existing storehouse into a coffeehouse—a single story-and-a-half wood frame building over a brick cellar with a porch running along the entire front facing Duke of Gloucester Street. Charlton’s Coffeehouse was a hotbed of political, business and social activity adjacent to the colonial Capitol during the years leading to the American Revolution.

One of the most dramatic encounters of the period leading up to the American Revolution took place on the porch of Charlton’s Coffeehouse in 1765 when an angry crowd protesting against the Stamp Act confronted the appointed collector for Virginia, George Mercer, and demanded he swear an oath that he would not distribute the official stamped paper. The royal governor, Francis Fauquier, intervened and saved Mercer from the crowd. Mercer later resigned his position and the Stamp Act was repealed by the British Parliament the following year.

The reconstruction is designed to appear as close to the original structure as historical, archaeological and architectural evidence permits. It incorporates the building’s original foundations as well as new laid foundations to replace later brickwork. True to its 18th-century use, the cellar will house beverage preparation and storage space. In addition, the cellar also will accommodate a modern heating, ventilation and air conditioning system.

When completed in late 2009, the reconstruction will provide an exciting new venue for Historic Area programming including using the porch as a principal stage for scenes from The Revolutionary City and other special event performances.

Established in 1926, the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation is the not-for-profit educational institution that preserves and operates the restored 18th-century Revolutionary capital of Virginia as a town-sized living history museum, telling the inspirational stories of our nation’s founding men and women. Within the restored and reconstructed buildings, historic interpreters, attired as colonial men and women from slaves to shopkeepers to soldiers, relate stories of colonial Virginia society and culture – stories of our journey to become Americans – while historic trades people research, demonstrate and preserve the 18th-century world of work and industry. As Colonial Williamsburg interprets life in the time of the American Revolution for its guests, it also invites them to interact with history. “Revolutionary City®” – a dramatic live street theater presentation, is a 2008 Rand McNally Best-of-the-Road™ Editor’s Pick. Williamsburg is located in Virginia’s Tidewater region, 20 minutes from Newport News, within an hour’s drive of Richmond and Norfolk, and 150 miles south of Washington, D.C., off Interstate 64. For more information about Colonial Williamsburg, call 1-800-HISTORY or visit Colonial Williamsburg’s Web site at

Media Contact:
Jim Bradley
(757) 220-7281