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Case Study: (Re) removal and (Re) relocation of gravestones: First (Scots) Presbyterian Church,Charleston, South Carolina

In the late 1950s the First (Scots) Presbyterian Church, located prominently on the corner of Meeting and Tradd Streets in Charleston, South Carolina, decided to build a fellowship hall, office and Sunday school building. The decision was made to build the new structure over existing graves in the churchyard, moving the stones themselves to other areas of the church property. Most of the ledgers were placed vertically on existing brick walls to the south and west of the church building. No written records attest to the relocation of the stones, and only a few church members can recall it happening. 50 years later the church needs to expand again, so two of its three existing buildings will be demolished and new, larger structure built.

Preparation for removal, bracing ledgers from the front and attached to the house in the rear

Preparation for removal, bracing ledgers from the front and attached to the house in the rear

This plan requires that a wall in the center of the property, which had been used as one of the places to relocate the gravestones in the 1950s, be removed before construction begins, so eight of the 19th century ledger stones and one tablet and base must again be moved. The project raised real questions for the church staff and the conservator hired to move and conserve the stones. How exactly had the stones originally been attached to the walls and with what type of material? Would they break when removed from the wall? How best to pack them for the move? Where would they be stored and how? How much repair would be necessary? And ultimately where in the area of the new building could these stone be moved for the third (and hopefully) last time?

Preparation for removal, bracing ledgers from the front and attached to the house in the rear

Preparation for removal, bracing ledgers from the front and attached to the house in the rear

The removal of the stones and demolition of the wall took four and one half days, six men, one woman, a bobcat and a truck. The brick wall was older than the church was aware of and very well constructed. The stones had been set against it in the 1950s with cavities behind them, attached at the corners with varying mixtures of Portland cement and aggregate. The biggest surprise being was that the stones had been buried an average of 18 inches below grade, sandwiched between a granite curb and Portland cement. The stones were removed, packed and taken off‐site for conservation. This procedure will be discussed in the paper, as will the final manner of reinstalling the ledgers on another existing wall on the church property.

Frances Ford has an undergraduate degree in Historic Preservation and Community Planning from the College of Charleston (2003) and a Master’s in Historic Preservation (concentrating in building conservation) from the University of Pennsylvania (2006). She currently works as an independent conservator, operating Ford Restored, a company that specializes in cemetery conservation issues as well as heading conservation initiatives for Richard Marks Restorations, a nationally known restoration contracting company based in Charleston. She is much in demand for her skills in cemetery restoration and stone conservation, and has been entrusted with the repair of some of the oldest graves in Charleston. She also teaches conservation for the joint Clemson/College of Charleston master’s program in Historic Preservation, located in Charleston.

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National Center for Preservation Technology and Training
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