New Programming at the Armoury.

The longer we work at the Public Armoury, the broader the pool of experts from which we can draw! In this blog post we introduce a new author, Tim Sutphin, Director of Music, Military, and Evening Programs.  After the digging is done, and once the hammers are quiet, it is Tim who is responsible for introducing additional elements of interpretive programming to the Historic Trades activities already established on the site.  Interpretive programming uses the combined resources of historical research, archaeological research, trades research, and program and presentation skills.  Tim joins the discussion and shares his insights as program developer as we move into program planning and implementation phase.  

Preparing bread dough at the Armoury.

Preparing bread dough at the Armoury.

As we enter the last phase of construction at the Armoury site, our thoughts turn to programming, and how it will expand and evolve on this dynamic site.  There is already a great deal of activity at the Armoury: the blacksmiths have been working in the new shop for nearly a year now, and have given it an appropriate “lived in” look.  Foodways staff is bringing the kitchen to life by preparing simple working class-fare several days a week.  The hearty stews, and bread from the bread oven offer a great contrast to elaborate meals prepared in the Palace kitchen.  But there is more activity in store. With completion of the tinsmith shop anticipated for mid-April, we are interviewing applicants with hope of having an active tinsmith shop by mid-summer.  This will add a new trade to the Colonial Williamsburg Historic Trades program.

Making musket balls on the Armoury's Opening Day.

Making musket balls on the Armoury’s Opening Day.

Moving into spring and summer, guests will see increasing military activity with members of the Military Programming staff carrying out their work at the Armoury.  The Magazine’s armourer will be cleaning and repairing muskets on the site several days a week, and will be joined by other military interpreters casting lead bullets, doing maintenance work on artillery and, with the help of guests, transferring muskets between the Armoury and Magazine.

Throughout the summer and into the fall, carpenters will be constructing a workshop and a storage building on the south end of the lot.  The workshop will be a multi-purpose building, used seasonally, and for special projects.  One such project is the production of gun carriages, which involves the wheelwrights preparing the carriage’s wood components while, next door, the blacksmiths make iron hardware to assemble and mount the guns.  A gin will be built in the yard, enabling workmen to lift heavy artillery pieces on and off of the carriages.

We will include other military activity that we know was carried out at the Armoury, including leather work, some canvas work, and even the making of bone button blanks for uniforms.

Activity on the site will be increasing as we move into the spring season, with additional activity in the summer and fall.  Our anticipated grand opening will be in mid-November.  Stay tuned as programming evolves.

– Contributed by Tim Sutphin, Director, Music, Military and Evening Programs,  and Kenneth Schwarz, Blacksmith, Master of the Shop.


  1. Fred Blystone says

    As someone who stops by the Armory several times a week, it looks like I have a number of nee interesting to look forward to this spring and summer.

  2. Kenneth Schwarz says

    Kerry- Flooring nails are often a specific type of nail, used to allow the heads to be set below the floor surface. Most common in use are “T” heads, “L” heads, and brads. All are made specifically to have small rectangular heads that are set into the flooring with heads parallel to the grain of the floor boards. One eighteenth century description says that this allows the floor to be planed smooth on the top after it has been nailed down. In our case, laying the floor in a modest dwelling house, we are using common nails, so the large heads will be plainly visible- just as they are on the siding.

    Cut nail technology is developed just after our time period, with early patents in the 1780’s. Thomas Jefferson had a nail cutting machine at Monticello in the 1790’s, but in our time, all the nails are forged.

    There will be no finish applied to the wood floors, as was the custom in the eighteenth century. They will be swept frequently, and mopped periodically, but this is the floor of a modest residential building converted into a workshop.

    Eleanor is doing just fine, and has been enjoying life. I was not able to get a photograph, but on one of the first cold evenings this winter, as I left work just after sunset, I spotted her sitting comfortably in the door of the (still warm) bread oven. On cold nights she often stays in the Armoury with the warm floor, but usually she prefers to be outdoors running free. She has many “owners” watching out for her.

    The fireplace hearth has been framed in, and as soon as the bricklayers have the opportunity to lay the hearth, we have andirons to set the fireplace and we should have a fire- just in time for the spring warm-up.

  3. Russell says

    I was wondering exactly what is the roving webcam looking at now? It looks to be behind the armory, with a building under construction & an archaeological dig? Thanks as always for the webcams & articles!

    • Kenneth Schwarz says

      Russell-You are indeed looking at our wind-chilled archaeologists re-opening the site of the “sawpit” feature that they discovered last year. The foundation that you see to the right is the newly completed foundation for our “work shop” building which will be built next. You can see the south face of the “storage building”, and just to the left of that you can see the south face of the tin shop in the distance. With the exterior of the tin shop nearly complete, and the archaeologists rejoining the site, we thought that we would change the view.

  4. Kerry says

    Were the flooring nails in the 18th century usually the cut type or did they use ones with small flat head? Also did they use some sort of sealer like tongue or boiled linseed oil to protect traffic? Please give us a report on Eleanor we worry about her with all the changes?
    P.S. the tin shop shop fireplace should be cured out about now hope to see some smoke on the webcam.
    thank you all!

  5. Christine Hansley says

    Good morning Armoury crew,
    My questions is about the Tinshop siding. On the Armoury, kitchen and storage building, the siding appears to be cut mostly to length. On the Tinshop, it appears to be short pieces nailed in straight vertical lines, instead of staggered or cut to length. Why? What color will the exterior be painted? Whitewash like the storage building or paint – brown-red or white?
    I’d rather be there in the rain, than here in Chicago after shoveling 10 inches of wet snow.
    Stay warm and dry as best you can,

    • Garland Wood says

      Christine – Clapboards are split short, less than five feet in length, and usually nailed up in banks without any attempt to stagger the joints. If you look closer at the kitchen, you will see the same pattern on the clapboards there
      . Sawn weatherboards, on the other hand, are carefully staggered to minimize the appearance of seams. Some of the weatherboards on the Armoury are twenty feet long, and go from corner to corner on the gable ends. Clapboards were cheap, and sawn weatherboards more costly, and I suppose builders at the time didn’t worry about staggering the cheaper siding. (Staggering clapboard joints wouldn’t fool anyone, it would still look cheap.)

  6. Kerry Lancaster says

    Are you going to use a floored attic for supplies in the tin shop and ventilation on both ends? I assume there will be no insulation between
    floor and ceiling. I am pretty sure 18th century houses have no eave ventilation. Is this correct and do you have any idea how long the average wood roof lasted? I really enjoy watching the crew work.I only wished we could have sound and hear them talk……… maybe not uh.

    • Mike Lynch says

      Ditto. I should have asked this question two buildings ago. Why no eave vents in buildings producing so much heat all year long?

    • Kenneth Schwarz says

      Kerry and Mike- As we conducted our research on this building as a tinsmith shop, several things became obvious. First, the building is not on James Anderson’s property, but on the adjoining lot. Second, it appears that construction of this building pre-dated the Armoury by 10 or 15 years, and third, it was not built as a workshop, but rather as a modest, unpretentious domestic site.

      As we planned for reconstruction, our goal was to reproduce a humble urban domestic structure of about 1760, typical of Chesapeake housing for middling-sort residents. Common among this class of building are story-and-a-half frame buildings with split clapboard siding, no interior sheathing or insulation, small glazed or shuttered window openings, and a fireplace for heating and/or cooking. Our belief is that James Anderson was given use of this building around 1778, and that the domestic site was converted into work space. Conversion involved enlarging windows on the west side, and adding two casement windows on the south side in order to increase light for the workmen, and installing benches.

      There was no insulation between floors, just exposed joists and the underside of the upstairs flooring as a ceiling. In fact, there is no insulation in the building at all. This is not terribly unusual in the Chesapeake, where we spend more of our year trying to stay cool than we do trying to stay warm. The upstairs was possibly used for storage, and could very well have been used as living space for tinsmith Nathaniel Nuthall- a common occurrence in this type of employment situation.

      As for ventilation- this is an interesting question. We do have an opening in the north gable to help vent heat in the summertime and provide some light and air to the upstairs. The chimney is on the south side and blocks part of that gable so there are no openings planned on the south gable. At the eaves of the building, the joists and false plates are exposed and there is no soffit. We will jam clapboards into the opening between the joists to close them off. In my experience, ventilation in a clapboard building is not a problem. If you stand in the middle of a clapboard building with all of the doors and windows closed, you can feel the breeze blowing through the building, and even determine the direction from which it blows. This is good in July, uncomfortable in January. The warm climate here has a distinct impact on construction style. This is how a large portion of the Virginia population lived in the 18th century.

      In terms of heat produced in our work, the tinsmith shop has no forge. The only heat necessary is to heat soldering irons for soldering the joints. We will use a form of brazier, a small charcoal-fired grill, to heat the soldering irons. We will need ventilation for fumes but not for excessive heat. In the blacksmith shop where heat can be an issue in the summer, we have many windows that open, openings in both gable ends, and a hatchway which we leave open for airflow in hot weather. With all of this, vents in the eaves would make little difference. Good airflow does not make our workplace nice in hot weather, just less miserable. When 98 degree air blowing on you is a relief, there is little comfort. In this profession, you have to really love what you do in order to maintain a positive outlook in July and August.

  7. Jim H. says

    Thank you the update. I have been coming to Colonial Williamsburg since 1973 and I never tire of the visits. With the continued research and changing of the interpretations as our knowledge increases, it remains a great place to visit. As I learn more and more, my curiosity and thirst for more knowledge continues to grow as well. Thank you Ken, Tim, and the rest for making the opportunities for us to see and learn.

    • Rick Brouse says

      I too apprciate ALL the efforts of CW to endeavor to bring new and fresh perspectives and information. I first visited CW in 2000. I fell in love with the atmosphere immediately. [My Son, who was 1 year old at the time, and more interested in throwing stones at the squirrles, is now too enthralled with CW (thank goodness!)]. So, I too thank you for ALL the updating that “ya’ll” do and keep it fresh for us all to return to “something new”!

      • Kenneth Schwarz says

        Rick- Many folks feel that history is “stagnant” with nothing new to learn. As you have noticed here since your first visit, the study of history is a vibrant and wide-open field with new information coming to light every day. Often, one new bit of information changes past assumptions and brings to light a whole new story. We have also learned with this project that the same information viewed with different eyes can produce new insights. We do our best with our present understanding of the world in hopes that new generations will build on what we do. Perhaps your son will be among those who begin chasing squirrels in our youth, and grow up to chase the insights that understanding our past has to offer.

    • Kenneth Schwarz says

      Jim- We appreciate the positive feedback and your continuing interest in what we do. It is always gratifying to know that others share our passion for recreating this historical environment, and learning from the spectacular and the everyday events that occurred here. We will look forward to your next visit.

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