Interpretation Update: Tredegar Exhibits
By David Ruth, Chief of Interpretation and Cultural Resources
The last several months have been very exciting for all of us preparing for the opening of our new Tredegar Iron Works visitor center. One of the early challenges was to find significant artifacts to display, since our own collection lacked key objects that we needed to illustrate the diverse interpretive themes in the museum space. With the help of the designers, we canvassed local history museums and parks to search out what items might be available, how long we could use them, and what were the conservation requirements.
Six institutions came to our rescue, including Richmond's Ethyl Corporation, The Museum of the Confederacy, The Valentine Museum, and the Virginia Historical Society. We also received support from both Gettysburg National Military Park and Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania National Military Park, who loaned us important medical items and the key to Libby Prison, where Union officers were held captive in Richmond. The Museum of the Confederacy loaned us, among other items, Libby's wooden door that was liberally carved with names and regiments of Union soldiers.
Some of our most fascinating items came from the Mariner's Museum of Newport News. During my research trip, I was treated to a tour of the massive tanks where electrolysis was being used to stabilize hull plates that were recovered from one of the most famous American fighting ships, USS Monitor. The Monitor was important to our interpretive story because of the unsuccessful attempt that it and four other warships had made to pass the Confederate defenses at Drewry's Bluff in 1862.The Mariner's Museum offered us the loan of a large piece of the Monitor's deck plate, along with an assortment of bottles and other Monitor related artifacts. Then we hit the mother lode; Mariner's also had a piece of armor plating from the Confederate war ship, CSS Virginia. The plating was bowed and cracked where a solid shot ripped into the Virginia's casemate during its epic battle with the Monitor on March 9, 1862. The armor plate of the Virginia was particularly appropriate for display at Tredegar since it was manufactured by the Iron Works in 1861. Early in the war Tredegar was the only Confederate foundry capable of rolling the 2-inch thick armor plating required by the C.S. Navy for their ironclad fleet.
The exhibit potential was obvious and Mariner's agreed to loan us both the Virginia armor plate and the Monitor deck plate, as soon as conservation was completed in February 2000. The two now rest side by side in front of an eight-foot long model of the CSS Fredericksburg, which was also covered by Tredegar rolled iron.