Fourth Ward reconstruction hits snag
October 30, 2002
VIRGINIA CITY — The discovery of artifacts dating back to the 1860s and 1870s will put a $10,000 crimp in plans to reconstruct the north tower of the Fourth Ward School Museum.
A brick and mortar arch and broken dinnerware, dating back to a time when the Old Globe Hotel stood on the site, were found during excavation. Reconstruction will be delayed a few weeks and the price tag, previously set at $567,000, just went up.
“That always hurts,” said Ron James, state historic preservation officer. “These things do not come cheap. We really need someone to step forward.”
Engineering firm Ferrari, Shields and Associates is handling the project. The firm’s president, Paul Ferrari, said things like this happen in Virginia City. He described a pit of softer earth, about eight feet in diameter and 20 feet deep filled with broken shards of dinnerware, glass, leather, chamber pots and other items.
“The hill would slide down if we tried to excavate it all out and then, we’d have a problem with stability,” he said. “This is pretty common, when dealing with older sites and we often run into surprises like this. Not everything is mapped.”
He said Atlas helical piers will be inserted through the soft earth into firm-bearing ground. The project will require some diagonal piers and lean concrete fill before the foundation is set. The project will probably be delayed a few weeks.
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The Old Globe Hotel burned down in 1876. Barbara Mackey, executive director of the Fourth Ward, said the area has been disturbed a number of times. The area was excavated for the school right after the hotel burned and again in 1966, when the old north tower was razed.
“We can’t do a formal excavation because of the instability of the hillside,” she said. “But it’s exciting, to find this ghost from the past.”
Mackey said she will curate the artifacts. The brick-and-mortar archway found during this latest excavation broke as it was being removed, but Mackey discovered more brick archways under the school.
Archaeological investigations will retrieve more artifacts after the new tower is completed and the temporary restrooms are demolished.
The original tower, constructed as part of the school in 1876, contained state-of-the-art, self-flushing “water closets.” The new construction replicates the original design and will again house restrooms, plus a catering kitchen.
Money for the project was cobbled together from a number of sources, including grants from Commission for Cultural Affairs and the National Park Service. Private contributors are helping with the effort.
Officials hope to have the shell completed when the school reopens in May of 2003. The school closes for the season Oct. 31.
Built in 1876, the four-story, 16-room school was designed to honor the nation’s centennial and was given to the state in celebration of the nation’s 100th birthday.
Hard economic times plagued the Comstock for years before the school’s closure in 1936 and it sat vacant for 60 years.
This project is expected to expand the ability of the Fourth Ward to serve the region. The school welcomes 50,000 visitors, including thousands of children, every year.