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Ongoing Preservation Projects

Architectural preservation and research staff at Colonial Williamsburg are responsible for the care and scholarly interpretation of buildings in the Historic Area. This work includes preservation and stewardship of historic structures, design of new reconstructions, historic interiors, curation of the architectural collections, and ongoing research on the city's built and cultural environment. Below you will find some of the research projects currently underway at Colonial Williamsburg.

Windmill Project

Current Site: Off Francis Street at Ewing Field

Not currently open to the public

Harnessing wind power is not a new concept; windmills were used in the 18th century to industrialize labor intensive tasks like grinding grain into meal. There is documentation of Williamsburg residents owning windmills. For example, in 1723, William Robertson sold his land, house, and windmill to John Holloway. While it is unclear where that windmill was located, this is evidence that a Williamsburg resident owned one near the town. The original location continues to elude us, but it quite possibly was located where the Colonial Parkway is today. There is also a windmill recorded just south of the Public Hospital on the 1782 Frenchman’s map.

The windmill was originally reconstructed in 1956 and operated at the north end of the Peyton Randolph site. The design, called a post mill, is based on the 1636 Bourn Mill in Cambridgeshire, England. In 2010, the decision was made to move it to Great Hopes Plantation. Due to the condition of the moving elements, the building was in need of a major restoration. The move provided an excellent opportunity to work on the building and replace essential framing. We are excited to share that this iconic building will be returned to the historic area to be part of a farming program. On August 8, 2022, this iconic structure was returned to the Historic Area to be a part of the Historic Farming program at Ewing Field.

Moving the windmill back to the Historic Area is part of the programming plan for Historic Farming, which will launch officially in Spring 2023. The internal mechanisms of this windmill are fragile, so while it will not grind grain, the structure will serve as an example of an element of 18th-century life that speaks to how the power of wind and sustainability are ideas that has been with us for hundreds of years. Signage will explain more about milling during the period and how it served the daily lives of Williamsburg residents.

Meanwhile, the work of farming will begin in fall of 2022, with tilling and preparing the soil for winter crops.

Windmill by the Numbers

  • Main or post height: 18 feet
  • Mill house height: 25 feet
  • Assembled house height: 36 feet
  • House weight: 28,000 lbs.
  • Sail span: 55 feet
  • Millstones' diameter: 3 feet
  • Combined millstone weight: 2,500 lbs.

Bray School Project

Future Site: Corner of Francis and Nassau St.

Not currently open to the public

The first school to educate free and enslaved black children in Williamsburg opened in 1760 and is the oldest surviving Bray School in the Americas. It was established by the Bray Associates, a religious organization affiliated with the Anglican Church. They appointed Ann Wager to teach a curriculum based on the Anglican faith. Several enslavers sent students, including Sarah and James from Hugh Orr’s household. The children who attended ranged from ages three to ten and were among the first black children to have access to a formal education in Colonial America. Part of this education was learning to read, which allowed them access to literature and news. In fact, Robert Carter Nicholas corresponds with the Bray Associates about his concerns over what the students were reading outside the classroom.

The school closed in 1774 following the passing of Ann Wager. The inability to find a new teacher, lack of funding, and discourse that would lead to the Revolution prevented the continuation of the school.

In 2020, the Bray School, currently located on William & Mary’s campus, was identified using dendrochronology (tree ring dating), which dated the structure to 1759/1760. Before any investigations began, the entire building, including the modern additions, was digitally scanned. Two-dimensional drawings which were made from the scans will be archived. Once the building was documented and recorded in its present condition, the preservation team started the task of meticulously deconstructing the twentieth-century modifications to look at the original elements that survive in the building. This included removing modern plaster, carpeting, and fixtures. The goal is to determine how the building looked when it was first constructed and subsequently used by the Bray School. The benefit of removing the modern plaster is that we can see changes made to the framing and areas where building materials were reused. We are collecting building fragments and objects found in the walls near rodent nests. These items shed light on the original finishes and various inhabitants of the building since 1760.

The building will be stabilized and then moved to its new site at the corner of Francis and Nassau Streets. This is the second move since it was relocated from its original site on Prince George Street in the 1930s. Once it has moved, the preservation department along with CW’s Building Trades and Historic Trades will restore the building to its 1760 appearance. Interpretive programming is also in the works for this site. It is scheduled to be fully restored in 2024.

Magazine Project

Site: Not currently open to the public. Check back for changes to access.

The Powder Magazine is one of the original buildings at Colonial Williamsburg. It served as a military warehouse to store gunpowder, arms, uniforms, and more. The design of the building and the interiors have not been reconsidered since the initial restoration in 1934. With all that has been discovered about eighteenth-century buildings since the 1930s, it was clear that the Colonial Revival interior needed to be addressed. As we started to consider the space, however, it became evident that a more thorough investigation of the remaining original material needed to be conducted. The Magazine has undergone several formal preservation campaigns, the first in 1890 by the Association for the Preservation of Virginia Antiquities (APVA), that complicate our ability to read the surviving evidence.

In 2021, CW Archaeologists started excavations in the yard enclosed by the perimeter wall, an area that had not been previously studied. We were rewarded almost immediately with fragments of roof tile that were found in an early context. While there are many questions about the style of the roof tile, we are now considering reproduction handmade tiles for the project. Inside the Magazine, CW Carpenters removed the 1930s revival style shelving from three of the second-floor walls and CW Masons followed by removing the modern plaster. This provides us the opportunity to look at the original brickwork which had only been visible to us in early black and white photos.

The current restoration is slated to be completed in 2025 to coincide with the anniversary of the 1775 gunpowder incident. Check back for more information on the building reopening to the public.

Everard Parlor Project

Site: Thomas Everard House on Palace Green. Scheduled to reopen 2022.

The Everard House is remarkably intact and continues to offer new findings. There have long been questions about the wall finishes in the parlor. It was odd that the best room had limewashed walls, while there were two lesser first-floor rooms that were papered in the period. The original fragments of the yellow and blue papers from the dining room and bedchamber are currently on view at the Art Museums of Colonial Williamsburg. Upon further investigation of the parlor, evidence of an early rag-based paper was discovered attached to the top of a window architrave. This supports the theory that the room had in fact been papered in the period. The fragment was too small to reveal any clues about the pattern or colorway, so we had to rely on research and analysis conducted at comparable historic sites. A green damask pattern, based on a surviving eighteenth-century paper, has been selected for the space and will be reproduced by Adelphi Paper Hangings. The wallpaper discovery prompted us to revisit the interpretation of the entire space. This led to the decision to repaint the woodwork based on recent scientific paint analysis. A new furnishing plan for the room is also being developed.

This project is a terrific example of how research is never complete. With new technologies and more documentation available online, it is important to revisit the original structures to see what more can be found. This site is slated to reopen to tours in 2022. Visitors will be able to follow along as the space is renovated.

Learn More

Architectural Preservation and Research

Through continued research and ever-expanding analysis, Architectural Preservation and Research staff are continuing to not only provide a scholarly interpretation of the buildings, but a rich visual and personal experience for our guests.

Williamsburg Bray School Initiative

Colonial Williamsburg and William & Mary have identified a small, white building tucked away on the William & Mary campus as the structure that once housed the Williamsburg Bray School, an 18th-century institution dedicated to the education of enslaved and free Black children. Learn more.

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