HPTC Stabilizing the Well Tower at Salt River Bay National Historic Park & Ecological Preserve

A scaffold assembly, safety rails, bridge planking and decking.
Completed scaffold assembly (five independent towers) to full tower height of forty-five feet. Installed all safety rails, bridge planking and decking.

NPS/HPTC

Landscape maintenance is always a challenge in the National Parks. Due to budget cuts and limited resources, it’s resulted into a backlog of maintenance work. Harsh weather conditions has been a big factor in hurting the park’s natural and cultural resources. The Historic Preservation Training Center (HPTC)'s primary duty and mission is safe preservation and maintenance of the national parks. Our goal is to assist in helping the parks with the maintenance backlog. In early 2018, we were asked to assist in re-stabilizing an 18th century Danish Well located on the west side of Sugar Bay on the property of Salt River Bay National Historic Park & Ecological Preserve. Due to multiple storms over the past decade Hurricane Maria (2017), Hurricane Omar (2008) and overgrown vegetation, the condition of the Historic Danish Well Tower became unstable. It became a project that would take several months with planning and project related tasks. According to the Salt River Bay’s condition report,

"The tower was likely a water pumping mill used to funnel water through a channel for historic agriculture such like sugar cane. This tower is located on lands that were in cultivation as part of Estate Morningstar, 1750. The tower is constructed of stone masonry and coral block. It is approximately 16 feet in diameter and estimated to be over 40 feet high. The base of the tower has two arched entrances and the interior is open to the sky. This structure is one of only a handful of surviving well towers in the Virgin Islands and is a significant resource for St. Croix."

steel band collar at the tower top silo.
Steel band collar at the tower top silo.

NPS/HPTC

This project needed a project leader, masonry team, and a carpenter to get the job done. Our crew who worked on this project includes Scott Jones (Exhibits Specialist and Project Leader) ,Travis Haymaker (Mason), Dean Harper (Carpenter), Andrew Cybularz (Environmental Steward), and Matthew Price (Environmental Steward). Before every project, our crew is briefed on safety and precautions that must be taken seriously. Every site is unique and with this site in particular, heat and hydration is something the staff has to be conscious of. Exotic life like reptiles and snakes were also something to be mindful of.

With most projects, we first look for vegetation and accessibility to the structure. Before working on the actual structure, we must clear the vegetation for work. This requires cutting and removal of numerous downed trees that has fallen. All trees that blocked the working area were bucked and stockpiled for machine removal to the roadway. We contracted Moses Equipment for machine work (backhoe) as well as some crew assistance for storm debris removal.

Gravel pad next to the masonry tower
Geo-web and gravel pad install at tower.

NPS/HPTC

After vegetation was cleared, the scaffolds are then put together. The structure itself stands needed safety rails, bridge planking and decking. A lot of materials were needed for this project including approximately 50 cubic feet of dimensional limestone from a dump pile north of the fort and it needed to be transferred to the well tower site by a park dump truck. During continued inspections and evaluations of the needed stone repairs, we noticed the arched doorways needed some wooden braces to keep the original arches from further shifting.

One of the biggest challenges of this project was that there is a limited amount of gabion stone on island.Some of the other challenges were adding the ferrous steel band collar at the tower top silo, removing and raising the bent and mangled windmill mast assembly that was collapsed by Hurricane Hugo (1989). The galvanized steel frame is estimated to weigh approximately 300 pounds! We eventually received the gabion stone and created a Geo-web. A Geo-web is an accordion style product with cells or baffles that are infilled with gravel material.The independent web sections are joined and fastened together with a proprietary key locking system. This application provides a sturdy and fixed placement of material for grade surfaces.

In conclusion, we take the time to ensure safety and take care of the cultural and natural resources our parks desperately need. Now that the masonry tower has been preserved and restored, visitors are now allowed to see structure on the park property. Since the structure was damaged by storms like hurricanes, the probability of it getting damaged again is very likely. This applies to any structure or landscape in a park. As matter of fact, Hurricane Michael has already affected the Gulf Islands this year and any damages will assessed by NPS. Weather is unpredictable but we can help restore and preserve the buildings and landscapes that have a cultural significance.

Last updated: November 6, 2018