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June 25, 2014

Colonial Williamsburg, Preservation Virginia Honored for Jamestown Church Tower Project

WILLIAMSBURG, Va. -- The James City County Historical Commission Tuesday honored the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation and Preservation Virginia with its 2014 Historical Preservation Award for their swift fundraising and conservation work to stabilize the iconic Jamestown Church Tower.

The 46-foot building is among the oldest colonial structures in the country and the only 17th-Century work still standing at the site of the first permanent English settlement in the Americas.

Centuries of exposure to the elements, however, have taken their toll, as did well-intentioned but crude work in the 189os to patch the tower with common Portland cement. Late in 2012 site researchers discovered severe deterioration of the masonry that secured bricks near the peak, compounded by severe invasive plant growth that further weakened the structure.

Financial assistance came promptly, with key supporters including Lewis N. Miller Jr. and Elizabeth P. Miller, Doug N. Morton and Marilyn Brown, the Jamestowne Society, the Kirkpatrick Foundation and the Commonwealth of Virginia through the dedicated efforts of state Sen. John C. Miller.

Colonial Williamsburg, which oversees research and conservation at the site in partnership with owner Preservation Virginia, began the delicate work early last year to remove vegetation and repoint crumbling masonry. Thousands of new bricks faithful to the originals were fired at Colonial Williamsburg’s Historic Area brickyard and donated to the project.

With the tower’s upper masonry stabilized, the structure’s conservation status was downgraded late last year from “critical condition.”

“The Jamestown Church Tower is an iconic reminder of the people and principles that founded this great nation,” said Mary Jones, chairwoman of the James City County Board of Supervisors. “The partnership offered by the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation and Preservation Virginia to preserve the tower is a gift to future generations. We are proud to honor their efforts to restore this important historic symbol.”

The award recognizes work by James Horn, Colonial Williamsburg’s vice president of research and historical interpretation and Abby and George O’Neill director of the John D. Rockefeller Jr. Library; William Kelso, Historic Jamestowne director of research and interpretation; Matthew Webster, director of Colonial Williamsburg’s Grainger Department of Historic Architectural Resources; and Andrew Zellers-Frederick, director of Colonial Williamsburg’s Historic Jamestowne Fund.

“We are most grateful to James City County for their support of our programs at Historic Jamestowne and their recognition of this important project to preserve the Church Tower at Jamestown; a landmark building and one of the earliest standing structures in Virginia,” Horn said.

The Commission’s resolution states that “thanks to the partnership and expeditious work of the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation and Preservation Virginia, the Jamestown Church Tower will be able to stand for another several centuries to benefit visitors to this region and the residents of James City County.”

The tower, believed built in the late 17th century to stand 10 feet taller than it does today, is located just inside the 1607 boundaries of James Fort and in front of the Memorial Church.

The Memorial Church was dedicated in 1907 to mark the 300th anniversary of Jamestown’s establishment and is the third church to occupy that space. The original was the site of the first legislative assembly in colonial America in 1619; its foundations are visible through glass panels installed in the current building’s floor.

The project’s second phase is underway to strengthen the tower’s base and may wrap up by late summer. Its third phase – as yet unfunded – calls for construction of an internal roof that provides drainage and allows transmission of natural light to the ground floor below.

Those interested in supporting research and conservation at Historic Jamestowne should call 757-220-7466 or email

Media Contact:
Joe Straw