Opening Anderson's Armoury

Blacksmith Ken Schwarz

Anderson’s Armoury opens after years of research and reconstruction. Two of the project’s leads talk about the culmination of a project that changes the shape of the Revolutionary City and the narrative of a country at war.


Harmony Hunter: Hey, welcome to the podcast. I’m Harmony Hunter. Well, for years we’ve been anticipating the opening of Anderson’s Armoury Complex. We followed its progress from archeology to architecture with many stops in between.

Today it’s a real pleasure to announce the final unveiling of the Armoury Complex in the Revolutionary City. With me today are two of the project leaders, Ken Schwarz and Garland Wood. Thank you guys for being here today.

Garland Wood/Ken Schwarz. Thanks for having us. Good to be here. Always a pleasure.

Harmony: Tell us who you are. Let's start with you, Garland, and who you are and what your part was in the reconstruction?

Wood: I’m the master carpenter in our historic trades department and so I led the construction of the carpentry element of the building: the timber framing, the raising and the finish work as well as the joinery in the building. And I say building, but really it's 6 buildings, big and small.

Harmony: And Ken?

Schwarz: I’m the master blacksmith. Our part in the construction of the building was to provide hardware and some of the iron accessories. So we made probably 30,000 nails for the building, all the hinges for the doors and shutters, slide bolts to latch the shutters, locks and keys, any of the iron elements that hold the building together and allow it to operate.

Harmony: And this is also going to be the building that you operate in? This is going to be your home base.

Schwarz: That’s right.

Harmony: So how long have we been working on this project? Looking back it seems to me it’s been several years since we started looking at the archeology of it, the concept. How long ago did this begin?

Schwarz: The earliest archeology on the site actually was in the 1930s where the foundations were discovered. There was, following the bicentennial, an effort to reconstruct the building as a Revolutionary War workshop so we did more archaeology in the 1970s. After we reconstructed the building the first time, there was additional archaeology in the 1990s and then of course archaeology was part of the effort in this reconstruction in 2010 and '11.

Harmony: And Garland, when did you come on board with the project and start working with the carpentry in earnest; raising the frames for these different buildings?

Wood: Honestly, we had already enjoyed a pretty good collaboration in the reconstruction of the Charlton Coffee House, and fresh off of that project the focus began to be the Anderson Shop. A question as to the extent of the repairs of the building that had been constructed in the '80s and it became very apparent that this was a great opportunity to take down that earlier building and kind of throw that same team that had put together the coffeehouse at this new project.

The Armoury in its full state -- which turns out to have been a whole complex of buildings across multiple lots in the city -- so it grew and blossomed and enormous undertaking which has really changed the way that the Historic Area looks. It changed it very dramatically because, of course, the city of Williamsburg changed when the American Revolution started and this project reflects that very well.

Harmony: And we've said before, but it bears repeating, that the previous blacksmith’s shop was just a one man show, Anderson’s Blacksmith Shop, and what we’re doing now is an interpretation from a different time period, as you said Garland, during the Revolution when it was a full scale Armoury, the contract that supplied the weapons for the Revolution.

Schwarz: That’s correct. The earlier reconstruction research had assumed James Anderson paid for the construction and operation of that building out of his own pocket. The research that Garland and I conducted showed that a substantial amount of funding was provided by the Commonwealth of Virginia and that this was considered a public project, not a private workshop of James Anderson’s, but a workshop for the state operation. As a state operation, the building was built to a higher level of finish than James Anderson might have built it on his own.

Harmony: And what is the date that the actual public opening, ribbon cutting is?

Schwarz: We’re opening the complex on November 16, which is a Saturday, so in a sense we’ve had a couple of small openings already. We opened the kitchen, we opened the armoury, we opened the blacksmith’s shop, we opened the tin shop, but now we’re completing the entire project and we’re scheduling the grand opening for the 16th.

Harmony: Garland, when you think back to when this project started and you look at it now, and it's complete, is it what you imagined?

Garland: It's everything that I had imagined and a whole lot more. Its one thing to see a building on a plan, it’s another thing to see it raised up and finished, and then it’s entirely another thing to see it furnished and operating and that’s where it is now. These buildings by themselves are pretty cool structures, but they're infinitely more interesting when they’re active shops and all of these structures are going to be active shops so, in other words, when you put the people in the buildings the buildings become more than the sum of their parts, and that’s what you’re seeing at the Armoury now.

Harmony: And the Armoury is a building. It’s a complex of buildings. It’s a site. It’s very different from what else we’ve been doing previously in the Revolutionary City. It tells a different type of story. It’s a different type of reconstruction. Ken, how is the interpretation at the armoury in that it’s a concert of trades, it’s a partnership of trades? How is that different from the other types of interpretation; it’s a new story that we’re telling?

Schwarz: Well there was a story that we wanted to tell and it was a story of industry and Williamsburg never was an industrial city. Geographically it’s poorly located for the development of industry. The city sits on a high spot and that means we have no falling water that would power large industrial work sites and so most of the workshops that have always been shown in Colonial Williamsburg are small kind of modest family run businesses.

What’s unique about the Armoury is that it grew with government demand during a wartime economy and the demand was great enough that some unique things happened on the site. We have a large concentration of workmen, and that led to different approaches to manufacturers, some division of labor and specialization of labor.

It meant that there were new supervisory and management structures that were brought in. Once you have 40 workmen on a site, it’s hard for a single individual to choreograph the efforts of all those workmen and so there were layers of management imposed on the site. So we really felt that this was our opportunity to tell a story about industrial development in a city that otherwise didn’t have much industrial development.

Colonial Williamsburg had always told the story of the politics, of the consumerism, of the gentry-level existence of architecture. In my mind, one big element that was missing was the story of industry. So while we play one part in the overall development of industry in the state during the Revolutionary War, this gives us the opportunity to address that huge government investment in industrial manufacturing and operations.

Harmony: So to tell this story of 18th century industry it took a major effort of 21st century industry. Garland, tell me about the collaboration that happened here at Colonial Williamsburg, because this reconstruction of Anderson’s Armoury Complex was much more than just you with a hammer and nails. It took the cooperation of a lot of departments to find out how to do it right, how to get it done.

Wood: Well, absolutely. We had a very interesting archaeological site. The archaeology was confused because of the building and rebuilding and destruction that occurred on that site. It was not entirely clear what was going on until we were able to look at the history of the site, start to look at the chronology that show up in the account books of people like James Anderson and Humphrey Harwood. We started to understand the sequence of what it was that we were seeing in the ground.

We had, you know, again just a nice example, uncovered a pit out behind the building with a buckle in it that the archaeologists had not seen, but anybody who was familiar with the military could point to that and say immediately, “Oh, that’s an officer's buckle for his neck stock.” When you get a lot of people together who are very interested in different aspects, again I think that is more than the sum of its parts, so archaeology had a huge part to play.

Architectural Research had a huge part to play; the men that understand every detail about construction in early Virginia. The smiths had a huge part to play. We know how many windows there are in the building, but how high should a window be above a workbench? Well I think Ken felt very strongly, had very strong opinions about how high a window ought to be on a workbench, because if it’s too high it casts shadows on the bench and you can’t see what you’re doing so there’s a very practical element to the tradespeople that adds to the discussion.

So it’s been an incredibly fun collaboration between all kinds of people and I think that has really affected the way the building looks.

Harmony: Ken, you’ve done a lot of research into the men who were working there; the immigrant populations, the tradesmen, and you said the management and the middle management that were there. I wonder if we can think of these men who were working for an Armoury during the Revolution and producing the materials that were needed for the work of war. Can we consider that a patriotic endeavor? What can we infer about their motives?

Schwarz: That’s a good question. We did learn a lot about the workmen in the shop. We have a lot of names and rates of pay. We know when workmen started in the shop and when they left. A lot of that information comes from a significant find which was in the collection of the DAR in Washington, D.C. It’s a day book from the shop that covers the years 1778 to 1780 which was a critical time in the development of the Armoury.

A day book gives us a chronological listing of the transactions, including the pay to the workmen. So whether or not this was a patriotic endeavor, the documents don’t make that clear. I’m sure for some it was very much a patriotic endeavor. For some it was an economic opportunity. Many businesses profit in a time of war and whatever their political leanings may be, sometimes the money speaks louder than politics.

As we look at the workmen in the shop there’s a great diversity and I think that may address some of the patriotism. For example, some of the workmen in the shop are Scotts Highland prisoners of war. What do we know about their patriotism? Well Garland ran across a document that describes this Scottish regiment that was taken prisoner and they basically say that some of these prisoners were strongly supportive of the British effort. Some were mildly supportive of the American effort, but the large majority in the middle, they said, cursed both Congress and Parliament in the same breath.

So there were a small number, perhaps a dozen or so of these Scottish prisoners that leaned towards the American cause and I think perhaps saw an opportunity to make a new life here in North America. We also have skilled slaves that are working in the shop. We don’t know much about their politics, but you can only imagine that they were being told what to do and they were applying their skills and making the best of a bad situation for themselves.

There were also 10 French entrepreneurs, gunsmiths, who were here under a secret contract with Congress to help the United States build armories, so their politics was probably less than being pro-American. They were anti-British and were trying to help the American cause by providing this technical expertise in setting up a large Armoury. And then, by and large, the other workmen were young boys, older men, soldiers. So I think the politics there was mixed and the workmen were concentrating more on the work.

Harmony: It’s a wonderful opportunity to be able to show the nuance of feeling. You see Williamsburg and we present Williamsburg as a patriotic town in the middle of the Revolution, but it’s wonderful to be able to look at these individuals and think about how then -- just as now -- there are a lot of factors that determine how you feel about a current political situation; how it affects you, your family and your business. I think it’s a great way to show the complexity of that story.

Schwarz: Certainly, and you can imagine the conversations that might have taken place in that workshop. There were conversations that only part of the workmen understood, conversations in French for example or Gaelic, and there may have been great debates about politics and the meaning of the war just as workmen in the present day debate about politics and the meaning of actions taken by our government.

Harmony: I’ve been thinking about this building. It’s rare that we add a building to the Historic Area. Williamsburg’s a town, you know, since we’re interpreting it in the 18th century there’s not a whole lot of growth that can happen without a whole lot of work being done to justify the building being there.

But you’ve both been able to really make a mark on the Historic Area and create a building or take part in the creation of a building that’s going to stand long after you're retired. Your hands were on the nails, the wood; you are in the fabric of the building. Garland, what part of you do think are going to look at once you’ve retired and be able to point to and say, “Well, that was Garland, that was Garland Wood?”

Wood: You know I lead a group of talented individuals who have started in many cases from trees and logs and have worked up the materials for the building we made. Ken had talked about 30,000 nails. I think we made close to 30,000 shingles; cut ourselves a few times. I think maybe literally our DNA is in the building a little bit. I did bleed on it a little bit. I’m very proud to be part of such an effort to reshape the look of the Historic Area. That’s the thing that really strikes me, you know. We are really dramatically changing the view of the town as we have at the Peyton Randolph site, as we have with the Coffeehouse. I’m very pleased to be part of that whole effort.

I also like to brag; I don’t think that really there’s another place on the globe that can throw the kinds of resources at these projects that we can. We have our onsite archeologists, we have our own archaeology lab, we have one of the finest research libraries anywhere around. The talent pool here is pretty deep, and when we all get organized and work together on a project it’s a pretty amazing thing to see. So we’re going to continue to re-sculpt the Historic Area using the latest evidence and the freshest research and I think we will be leaving a legacy for our kids and grandkids down the road.

Harmony: Ken, let me put the same question to you. We did hear that you had some input into the height of the windows. What other mark have you left on the building?

Schwarz: Well there’s the obvious mark left by myself and my colleagues in the Blacksmith’s Shop in the hardware, the hinges, the locks, the nails. In a bigger sense I guess what makes me proud in this building…Garland and I started here 31 years ago at about the same time and at that point the big project was the first reconstruction of the Anderson Blacksmith’s Shop. As that building was in need of some major repair, Garland and I kind of got together and decided that, you know, this was going to be our chance to have a mark on the Historic Area by conducting research and making an argument for a much better reconstruction.

We delved into documentary evidence and just found a treasure trove of information about the building. And what that allowed us to do was we ended up dismantling the first reconstruction and then developing this whole complex of buildings that will tell this story of American industrial development and the importance of industry to the winning of the Revolution.

So we’ve changed the physical appearance, we’ve changed the storyline that we’re telling there and then I think the other legacy that we’re advancing with this project is it’s a legacy for the entire trades department. We think of the tradesmen in the trades department as skilled workers, men and women, who ply these manual occupations, but we have some very, very sharp talented researchers in the department as well.

I think that our research really drove the discussion on this project, and I’m very proud of that and I’m proud of the fact that Historic Trades in general, I think, comes out very well in this project as leaders in technology, historical research and getting the work done.

Harmony: It’s a tremendous accomplishment and big congratulations to you both. I imagine the pride and the relief you must feel to be at the end of the project. The official opening is November 16, 2013, but it’s open now. Visitors can come by, walk through and see all these trades at work, talk to all the tradesmen and see the operation of Anderson’s Armoury Complex. Thank you both for being here today.

Garland Wood/Ken Schwarz: Thanks for having us. Our pleasure.