Preserving Historic Projectiles: The Long Road to Recovery

When the 2004 hurricane season was over, Gulf Islands National Seashore’s resources and facilities in Florida were decimated. Roads, buildings, and structures were completely wiped away by Hurricane Ivan. Those facilities left standing were heavily impacted by long-standing flood waters.

Aerial photo showing flood waters within the Fort Pickens historic district
The Fort Pickens historic district flooded by Hurricane Ivan's storm surge.

NPS Photo

In the Fort Pickens historic district, the seawall built to keep flood waters out of the area, became a retaining wall, holding flood waters in place. Stored in this area were thousands of objects accessioned into the park’s museum collection. Thanks to a massive response from National Park Service cultural resource and museum services professionals, many of these objects were saved from permanent damage.

Cultural Resource professionals from the National Park Service work to complete emergency preservation work.
National Park Service cultural resource professional work to save historic artifacts.

NPS Photo

Cannonballs on a pallet covered in tape and plastic.
Historic cannonballs in their post storm crating.

NPS Photo

For the past 15 years, the park’s 286 cannonballs have sat in the emergency crating created to move them to their new safe location while a permanent storage facility was prepared. The crating kept the cannonballs safe, but prevented curators from properly managing and tracking the historic objects.Now, thanks to the hard work of the park’s cultural resources staff, the cannonballs are finally being moved to proper storage.

Crates of cannonballs and other historic materials fill a brick walled room.
Crates of historic materials in temporary storage.

NPS Photos

However, the workload and urgency to get these historic objects out of harm's way meant that many of the objects could just be stabilized and moved to higher ground. Thankfully they were because the 2005 hurricane season was even more devastating to the park and surrounding communities. The one-two punch of major hurricanes Katrina and Dennis caused additional damage and hampered recovery efforts.

The reinforced, high weight capacity shelving allows curators to access each cannonball and ensure each is properly preserved and maintained. Each cannonball sits on plywood mounts (sealed to prevent off gassing) and archival foam. The road to recovery is long for all parks and communities that experience natural disasters, but Gulf Islands National Seashore continues to recover and prevent future impacts through sustainable planning, design, and projects.

Cannonballs organized by size and type on archival materials.
Organized cannonballs in their new permanent storage location.

NPS Photo

Last updated: September 8, 2019