Donations to preserve cannons

  • Wednesday, December 18, 2013

This cannon was recently repainted and restored using a process that is expected to last 20 years.


Preservationists have begun restoration and conservation work on a second cannon at Fort Moultrie.

But this time the work is being done on-site.

The Fort Sumter Trust has set up a matching gift challenge, matching dollar for dollar up to $5,000, to fund the continued effort.

If successful, they will have raised the $15,000 needed to do all the preservation work on the cannon at Fort Moultrie (unless a donor is more interested in adopting a cannon at Fort Sumter). Another campaign for the cannons at Fort Sumter is scheduled for next year with efforts to raise $24,000 for the work to be done there.

The Fort Moultrie National Monument, and the National Park Service, has partnered with the Warren Lasch Conservation staff and the Fort Sumter/Fort Moultrie Historical Trust to complete the work at both forts.

As conservators worked Friday, they demonstrated the new technology to conserve the cannons.

They began work on one of the two twin cannons from 1830, the oldest at the fort on Thursday. After a contaiment set up and an environmentally-safe peroxide-based paint stripper was applied, the cannon was wrapped in plastic overnight so that the real work could begin Friday morning.

These rare war-time relics have weathered many storms - from the bumps and bruises of war to Hurricane Hugo and the elements.

Rick Dorrance, chief of resource management, is spearheading the conservation effort.

The park has the most important collection of American seacoast artillery in existence, including rare examples made by the Confederacy.

These cannons are located in a marine environment which is especially hard on historic iron.

Dorrance coordinated a highly beneficial partnership with the Warren Lasch Conservation Center (the Hunley laboratory) several years ago. Using state of the art science and technology that the organization has gained over the 13 years of their research on how best to preserve the Hunley submarine, the partnership has conserved eight cannons on Fort Moultrie’s Cannon Row and two Endicott period guns inside the fort. All eight have been equipped with monitors that measure moisture, temperature and humidity to protect the cannons from the inside out and the outside in.

At Fort Moultrie a cannon dating to 1830 and a Columbiad cannon made by the Confederacy are in the process of being conserved during the fall of 2013.

At Fort Sumter, four “witness guns” (present during the Civil War) will be conserved in late 2013.

The Fort Sumter Trust, made up of citizens from across the Lowcountry, began the Adopt-A-Cannon initiative. Jim Thompson, a member of the trust, has already pledged enough money to preserve one cannon. The trust supports Charleston’s national park sites at Liberty Square, Fort Sumter, Fort Moultrie and the Charles Pinckney site. The overview of the trust is to support the park service like a three legged stool.

State of the art conservation of a cannon at Fort Moultrie is about $4,000, while conservation at Fort Sumter is about $6,000.

According to Dorrance, almost all of the cannons are original to the fort. Some were found scattered along the island; many were buried in the sand.

Donors must request that their funds go toward a specific cannon as well. Personal tours are available, both before and after restorations so that interested individuals can see why the restoration is so crucial.

If you have questions about the project, please contact Superintendent Tim Stone at 843-883-3123 ext. l4, or timothy_stone@nps.gov.

For more information on the trust visit www.fortsumtertrust.org or email Trust President Doug McIntire at dougmac@mindspring.com. Donations can be mailed to 40 East Bay Street, Charleston SC 29401.

For information about the local National Park sites, please call the National Park Service at 843-883-3123.

The process

Liisa Nasanen, chief conservator and project manager with the Warren Lasch Conservation Center said the protocol used in this cannon conservation is new to the United States and given to the WLCC from a company in the United Kingdom.

Sandblasting is what is traditionally used but that method takes away a lot of the historic sub-layer, she said.

In addition, abrasive media can make its way into the artifact.

The system being used at Fort Moultrie is a heated water pressure system.

The water is 350 Fahrenheit and sprayed onto the artifact with 3,000 PSL (pressure). “It is all very precise,” she said.

All of those parameters are controllable and can be adjusted. The water carefully shaves off the old paint and corrosion and because the evaporation level is high, no water is left behind.

The debris is not airborne and settles in the immediate surrounding area which is contained in a tent.

It makes for easy cleanup she explained.

The artifact is also desalinated because the marine environment forces salt into the object.

The process is clean and free of additives so the end result is a clean dry surface in which an industrial, protective applique of epoxy and polyurethane is administered.

The conservation process on the first cannon took a week and a half to complete, despite bad weather.

Nasanen said the prototype has an estimated lifespan of 20 years.

The WLCC is in the process of testing 18 other prototypes and processes on the dock at Fort Sumter and putting those against each other and the one being used on the cannons.

It is a way to get real life data on steel panels with great environmental exposure.

Other test are being done with WCLL’s epoxy on cannon row and the sally port doors at Fort Moultrie.

Like the completed guns on Cannon Row, these 1830 cannons will be sealed with an expansion plug and a desiccant is inserted to keep the interior of the cannon dry.

Data loggers are also placed inside the cannon barrel and can be accessed with a USB plug, straight to researcher’s computers so that they can read and check humidity levels.

So far, Cannon Row readings have measured only a one percent humidity level.

“So far, so good,” said Nasanen.

Dorrance said that Nasanen was trained in Great Britain where conservation practices are more advanced. Some of the technology and processes are new to the states and in the lab at WCLL, where scientists come from all over the world, there is quite a dynamic, intellectual environment.

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