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HomeNewsArchivesFort Frederik Repairs Include Breathable Plaster

Fort Frederik Repairs Include Breathable Plaster

June 8, 2007 — Fort Frederik is getting a facelift: The State Historic Preservation Office began a partial renovation of the national historic landmark in the middle of May and will continue until the fall.
Crews at the fort have begun patching the walls, renovating the restrooms, redoing floors and fixing windows.
“It’s not a full renovation or restoration,” said Yulette George, administrative specialist at the fort. “It’s like a spa treatment for the fort. It will look a lot better and help the community feel more pride in the national historic landmark.”
Upstairs, work is being done to the Commandant’s Quarters, where the military commander of the fort would have stayed. Workers are fixing water damage and replacing rotted flooring that left the rooms unusable for years. When that work is complete, the curator and associate-curator offices will move upstairs, opening up more gallery space.
Rusted-out shutter hinges are being replaced with stainless-steel replicas. On a more mundane and modern level, parts of the fort are being rewired and getting new lights and electrical outlets. The bathrooms are being completely renovated, with new tile and fixtures.
The historic fort, completed in 1758, still has some of the original 250-year-old wood-and-iron doors, which bear pockmarks and damage that may be from the 1878 Fireburn labor uprising. An original insignia of King Frederik V of Denmark, underscored with the date 1760, hangs on display on the wall of the fort.
The last time Fort Frederik got a major facelift was in the 1970s, George said.
“From ’74 to ’76 they did a restoration,” George said. “Unfortunately they applied Portland cement when they re-plastered the walls. The Portland cement does not breathe like the original lime mortar, holding in moisture instead. That has caused some problems, and is why you can see spots popping up from moisture underneath.”
The ultimate goal is a full restoration of the fort to bring it as close as possible to its original condition, removing all the Portland cement and replacing it with lime mortar, George said. But that long-term goal is for another day. Right now, spots where the plaster has flaked and bubbled are being scraped smooth and patched with lime mortar.
When it is all patched, the new, whitish plaster will be painted over with a special silicate-based wash similar to the original paint. The wash, like the lime mortar, allows moisture to slowly bleed through, unlike the modern acrylic latex paint that adorns portions of the fort’s walls.
Workers have already painted portions of the fort wall that did not need repair with the new, more authentic wash back in February. Inside the fort, the wall around the insignia reveal darker, shiner paint in some areas and a lighter, smooth matte-red surface everywhere else.
The lighter paint is a pigmented wash the Danes and their apprentices applied in February. Local students joined Danish specialists to clean the surface and apply the specialized wash as part of the V.I. Danish Apprenticeship Program. VIDA was initiated by Denmark as an exchange program for students interested in architectural studies to learn historically accurate and sound building techniques.
Denmark approached the territorial government about re-instilling the skills with an aim toward conserving historic treasures. V.I. students attended workshops and seminars on the old techniques, and some went to Denmark for further instruction.
“The goal is to restore these skills in the Virgin Islands,” George said. “And we would like to use the fort as a model for these skills, restoring it so it will stand another 200 years.”
Fort Frederik was completed in 1758. Right now it is restored to represent its 1780 configuration. While there have been several renovations over the years, the fort largely appears as it did when constructed. Some of the fort's iron-and-wood doors date to the original construction and bear scars from the 1878 Fireburn labor uprising.
The fort remains open to the public, but some sections will be closed off while undergoing repairs.
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