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October 5, 2007

"Save America's Treasures" and IMLS fund renovation of storage space for CW's architectural, archaeological collections

Generous gifts totaling $350,000 from “Save America’s Treasures” and the Institute of Library and Museum Services (IMLS) have allowed The Colonial Williamsburg Foundation to renovate storage for and rehouse its architectural and archaeological collections under the Conservation Support Program. The program is designed to “help museums develop comprehensive strategies for the care of their collections, safeguarding pieces of our nation’s story, now and for future generations,” said Anne-Imelda M. Radice, director of IMLS.

Colonial Williamsburg’s archaeological and architectural collections are an official project of Save America’s Treasures, a public-private partnership between the National Trust for Historic Preservation and the National Park Service dedicated to preserving our nation’s irreplaceable historic and cultural treasures for future generations.

The project includes the renovation of two sections of Packet’s Court, a facility in McLaw’s Circle owned by Colonial Williamsburg. The relocation of archaeological collections stored at the Commissary warehouse to Packet’s Court represents approximately 75 percent of Colonial Williamsburg’s archaeological materials. The project also includes rehousing of both the archaeological and architectural objects in the newly renovated warehouse. Construction is expected to be completed by the end of 2007.

“This is a highly significant development that represents a great step forward in how we care for and manage our archaeological and architectural collections,” said Jim Horn, vice president of research and the Abby and George O’Neill Director of the John D. Rockefeller Jr. Library.

Nearly 45 million individual artifacts out of 60 million artifacts in the archaeological collection at Commissary warehouse will join approximately 15,000 architectural fragments and models are stored at Packet’s Court. Fragments range from a piece as small as a paint sample the size of a pinhead to a full-sized cut-away of a building complete with windows, doors and a portion of the roof.

“These materials, from sites excavated by the foundation as early as 1929, make up the largest and most important archaeological collection of 17th- through early 19th-century artifacts anywhere in the world, and their national significance was one of the chief reasons that the National Park Service and IMLS have provided such generous support for their rehousing in an improved storage environment,” said Marley Brown, Colonial Williamsburg’s director of archaeological research.

Improving the architectural and archaeological storage areas involved upgrading the space with a new HVAC system, climate control, security, fire and smoke detection system and additional shelving. The HVAC will provide generalized control that will be sufficient for less sensitive materials such as glass, ceramic and well preserved wood and metal. Both the archaeological and architectural collections will have enclosed spaces within their respective areas to provide a climate control for more sensitive materials.

In the archaeological bay, a structure similar to a large walk-in freezer will be used to store archaeological metals and organic material such as wood and leather at a constant relative humidity of 45 percent. Within this enclosure, smaller microenvironments can be used to provide even more control.

While grant monies will provide much improved environmental conditions, access to artifacts also was improved. “Making the collections more accessible for research is a major goal of this multifaceted project,” said Tom Taylor, Colonial Williamsburg’s director of architectural collections. “Plans for the layout of Packet’s Court include areas set aside for study and research. Essentially, the warehouse will become “a library of artifacts and fragments rather than books,” he said.

The Conservation Project Support awards help museums identify conservation needs and priorities and perform activities to ensure the safekeeping of their collections. The grants are awarded through competitive peer review and require, at least, a 100 percent match by the applicant. These grants help museums develop a logical, institution-wide approach to caring for their collections. The program is an essential component of the institute’s goal of sustaining cultural heritage as a means of creating and sustaining a nation of learners. Applicants apply for the project that meets the institution’s highest conservation needs.

The Colonial Williamsburg Foundation submitted one of 172 applications received by IMLS for funding. Sixty-five grants, including 10 with public education funding component, were made. The total amount awarded was $4,907,079 with a grant match of $8,866,676.

The Institute of Museum and Library Services is the primary source of federal support for the nation’s 122,000 libraries and 17,500 museums. The institute's mission is to create strong libraries and museums that connect people to information and ideas. The institute works at the national level and in coordination with state and local organizations to sustain heritage, culture, and knowledge; enhance learning and innovation; and support professional development. To learn more about the Institute, please visit

“Save America’s Treasures” is a public-private partnership that includes the White House, the National Park Service and the National Trust for Historic Preservation. This is a national effort to “protect America’s threatened cultural treasures, including historic structures, collections, works of art, maps and journals that document and illuminate the history and cultures of the United States.”

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 tradespeople 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. 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:
Penna Rogers
(757) 220-7121