As this year’s Preservation Month draws to a close, we wanted to take a moment to reflect inward on our own organization, and the amazing people we have who make our physical preservation of historic sites possible. Cape Henry Lighthouse site coordinator Rachel Balderson took the time to interview Eric to find out what it takes to become someone with the desire and know-how to do this kind of work:
What got you into preservation?
I spent some summers in high school doing renovations in Old Town Alexandria. The differences between the 18th and 19th century building materials I was working with compared to modern material was something that stuck with me.
What is your favorite project that you’ve worked on?
We have been working on window and trim repair projects at the John Marshall House in Richmond over the last two years that have been fascinating. So much of what we are uncovering in our work is teaching us about how the building changed over time and how the building was used by different people.
What is the hardest part of preservation?
Balancing historical accuracy with good building practice. Do you replace a feature damaged by poor design the same way for the sake of authenticity? The answer depends on a lot of factors including how the building is used, how significant the feature is, and how much it impacts other parts of the building.
What is your favorite part of preservation?
I am delighted when we find physical evidence that aligns with documentary sources. At Cape Henry for instance, the original building contract indicates that iron shafts were inserted into the top of the stone tower to support the original lantern. Sure enough, if you know where to look you can still see the channels cut into the stone for the iron.
What was your college major? How did it help in your current career?
I majored in Historic Preservation! It absolutely helped with my career.
What advice would you give people looking to get into your field?
Learn a traditional trade and how to work with historical building materials. There is an extremely high demand for people with the experience to repair older buildings.
What preservation efforts are you working on at Cape Henry?
Currently we are in the development and research phase for a full exterior preservation campaign at the lighthouse. This would include mortar replacement, much needed stone repairs and better ventilation in the lantern room.
What are some of the other preservation efforts that have been done at the lighthouse so far?
In 2020 we completed a great project refinishing the metal stairs inside the tower. Microscopic paint analysis allowed us to return the stairs to their original red color. Before that Preservation Virginia completed a massive dune stabilization project to protect the foundations of the lighthouse and improve the visitor experience.
What is your favorite part of Cape Henry History?
The Cape Henry Lighthouse was intended to be constructed from a single type of sandstone but ended up using two distinct varieties of stone. The saga of how this happened is a fascinating story that is documented fairly well in surviving letters between the builder and US government officials.
Why is it important to preserve history?
Simply put, history answers the questions of who we were and serves as the reference point for how we decide to move forward.