Historic Structures

Great Captain Island Lighthouse, Greenwich Connecticut

In the years just before and after the Civil War, the Lighthouse Board, the agency established in 1852 to oversee the nation's navigational aids, undertook a program to modernize the lighthouse system. Many of the existing lighthouses were in poor structural condition, with inadequate lights and poorly trained keepers. The Board replaced the mirrored lamps found in nearly all its lighthouses with modern Fresnel lenses, issued detailed standards for operating the lights, and began replacing the worst structures with substantial new buildings. The first light at Great Captain Island, which had been built in 1830, was plagued by deteriorating mortar and cracked walls almost from the start, so it was a priority for replacement by the late 1860s. Because several other lights were being rebuilt at the same time, the Board turned to a single standardized design for six lighthouses in the Long Island Sound area. Such standardization itself became one of the central practices of the lighthouse service in the late nineteenth century. By designing nearly identical structures, the Board saved time and money at the design stage and achieved some economies of scale in the use ofmaterials. Equally important, the Board's standardized design made it more likely that the new lights would perform better than the old. This lighthouse design incorporated many significant new features. Like earlier lighthouses, it used substantial masonry construction to provide a bulwark against the ravages ofwind and sea, but in combining the dwelling with the tower, it not only saved material but also made it easier for the keeper to attend the light. This had been a problem with earlier lighthouses, most of which had a separate keeper's house: it was hardest to reach the light in stormy weather, just when the light was needed the most. The new design also made use of iron-plate construction for the tower. In this way it prefigured in a partial way the lights ofthe 1880s, which were entirely prefabricated from iron at a great savings in design, fabrication, and erection. The orb finial on the tower provided ventilation for moisture, combustion products from the lamp, and mercury vapors emitted by some rotation mechanisms. Ventilation was important not only for the keeper's health but also to avoid damage to the optics and structural deterioration caused by fumes and moisture. Finally, the architectural elaboration of the structure ~ the quoins, cornice moldings, and portico ~ while not of any particular architectural style, convey a well-built, carefully designed, substantial appearance intended to present a contrast to the deficient earlier lighthouse structures. Although it no longer has its original optics, Great Captain Island Light retains all ofits historical form, materials, and architectural details and thus stands as a well-preserved example of the standard lighthouse construction of the 1860s. Other lighthouses of this design, all in this area and built in 1867 and 1868, include Norwalk Island and Morgan Point, Connecticut; Old Field Point and Plum Island, New York; and Block Island North, Rhode Island. The lighthouses differ only in minor details, such as the placement ofthe rear ell and the height ofthe basement story.

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B&O Railroad Repair Shops, Martinsburg West Virginia

Since the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad Company felt that the facilities at Sandy Hook, Maryland, were inadequate, in 1849, $35,000 was spent for construction of various structures at Martinsburg to replace Sandy Hook. Besides the central engine station, a brick engine house with a turntable in front and 11 stalls for locomotives, a brick engine shop with a smithy and stationary engine shed attached, and two coal sheds with depositories for wood, were built at this time. In 1852, large expenditures were deemed necessary for the acquisition of additional grounds to construct shops which the company required for its prospective wants. In 1856, $11,555.69 was spent to widen the depot grounds and to construct the foundation for a new engine house. However, the Civil War interrupted plans to improve the facilities at Martinsburg. The city of Martinsburg was in a key location and strategically important to the armies of both the North and South. Since it served as one of the main depots for the B & O, it became the target for severe destruction by the Confederates in an attempt to cut off an important artery of Federal supply and communication. Federal forces occupied Martinsburg to keep Southern forces from the Shenandoah Valley. They also had to deal with citizens who sympathized with the South. In 1861, Confederate troops removed all stationary machinery, tools and materials, and the following year, it was necessary to replace a 50-foot turntable which the troops carried off. The greatest destruction occurred on October 19-20, 1862, and included the polygonal engine house, a half-roundhouse, large machine shops, a warehouse, ticket and telegraph offices, the company hotel and dining house, coal bins, sandhouses, a blacksmith shop, master mechanic house, tool houses, and the pumping engine for a water station.

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Wheeling Suspension Bridge, Wheeling West Virginia

Connecting West Virginia with Ohio, the Wheeling Suspension Bridge stands as a symbol of technological progress in the midst of the industrial revolution. It is the crowning achievement of a brilliant man whose reputation was late in emerging from the shadows of obscurity - Charles Ellet, Jr. The decision to build the bridge occurred in the context of a rivalry between Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and Wheeling, West Virginia, in the days when Wheeling was still making a bid to become one of the transportation and industrial centers of the West. The ensuing arguement over its construction at Wheeling concluded with a landmark decision by the U.S. Supreme Court. On June 21, 1969, the American Society of Civil Engineers designated the bridge a National Engineering Landmark, and on July 4, 1976 the National Park Service designated it a National Historic Landmark. It has been described as the oldest vehicular suspension bridge still in operation. With a span in excess of 1,000, it was the longest suspension bridge in the world at the time of its erection, surpassing the Fribourg, Switzerland, Gran Pont Bridge (completed in 1834) by 114 feet. The Wheeling Suspension Bridge was the first bridge to effect a crossing of the Ohio River, one of the world's Busiest rivers. Its dramatic destruction by wind in 1854 provided engineers with the best object lesson in the aerodynamics of bridges until the collapse of the Tacoma Narrows Bridge in 1940.

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Railroad Machine Shop and Foundry, Grafton West Virginia

The Grafton Machine Shop walls are of rubble masonry construction two feet thick and were built of local sandstone from a nearby quarry. Overall, the structure measures 256 feet by 50 feet six inches (exterior dimensions) and is divided into three main sections. A central pavilion of two stories, (54 feet 9 inches x 59 feet 11 inches, external dimensions) five bays wide, projects slightly from both longitudinal walls. In typical Georgian fashion, its gable-end extends above the eaves to provide relief from the overall linearity of the structure. The upper floor of this section was used recently as office space and it is likely that that was its original function as well. An interior staircase - originally provided access to the offices, but this was later removed and replaced by an outside staircase added to the rear of the building. The organization of the interior space at the ground level was typical of foundry and machine shop practice of the period and was designed to permit convenient movement through the stages of the process itself. The eastern portion of the building now serves as a welding shop and was probably the location of the original foundry. Nothing remains of the original machinery, and a concrete floor covers all traces of the original organization. Two small blacksmith's forges, a boom crane, a large pair of shears and the base of an old steam hammer are the only remnants of a later stage of development. Since the foundry originally produced castings, it probably contained at least one reverberatory furnace or a cupola furnace (perhaps both). The furnace was probably housed in the small wing (16 feet x 21 feet 4 inches in diameter) projecting from the rear of the foundry. The interior of this space is open to the roof joists and there is no indication of its having been subdivided in height. It was here in the foundry that all repairs and new heavy-metal construction began. Since Grafton was later a major repair center, this work would have included boiler work, wheel and axle forging, and the manufacture of other large parts. Once components were cast or forged, they would have been taken to the machine shop for finishing. The machine shop occupied the remaining ground floor space of the building and is separated from the foundry by a heavy masonry wall. The machine shop contained the lathes, shapers, screw-cutters, planers and grinders necessary for finishing work. The heavy-timber frame which supported a system of line-belts and shafts for power transmission still remains, supported by metal columns 6 inches in diameter. The columns are probably later in date and the frame itself is independent of the roof trusses. Nothing remains to indicate the location of the original power source for this system, but an old photo shows that by 1876 a steam engine was located in a shed adjacent to the rear of the main building.

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Missouri Pacific Railway Depot, Wisner Louisiana

Economic development and a link to the outside world were the two main notions rural people associated with the railway at the end of the nineteenth century. Poor roads and the lack of navigable waterways had kept many small farmers, particularly in the ante-helium south, from reaching their full economic potential. This was especially the case in Louisiana where vast tracts of timber remained uncut and crops were primarily produced for local use. After the Civil War, however, the railroad made its way through the Louisiana countryside. Between about 1880 and 1910, some five thousand miles of mainline track were laid, opening sparsely populated areas to settlement. Small communities now had hope that if the railway came to their town, they would have economic prosperity and not just merely survival. This was likely the case for the present town of Wisner, Franklin Parish, Louisiana. The area embracing the railway at Wisner was first settled in about 1830 by a man named William Blunt. He purchased roughly 3,900 acres which became known as the Hope Estate Plantation. The land in time passed to heirs residing in Maryland who controlled the property via a local business manager. Unfortunately for Blunts' descendants, mismanagement resulted in the property's acquisition in 1876 by a New Orleans creditor. The Hope Estate Plantation eventually became known as Bryan City after it was sold at sheriffs sale in 1877 to a Mr. Bryan.

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