Volunteers needed to help preserve historical 18th century remnant

Volunteers needed to help preserve historical 18th century remnant

West-facing view of the surviving wall of the mid-1700s Jesuit manor house at Priest’s Point onboard Webster Outlying Field. Originally an interior wall, the centuries old brick is degrading and is scheduled to be repointed using historically-made mortar. The rest of the structure pictured is a 19th century add-on, which has been stabilized by the Navy over the years.

Volunteers are being sought to help preserve an 18th century artifact — a section of wall still standing from the mid-1700s Manor House once occupied by Jesuits at a site known as Priest’s Point, onboard what is now Webster Outlying Field.

“This is a section of the surviving wall from the mid-18th century,” said Craig Lukezic, NAS Patuxent River cultural resources manager. “Very little is still standing from the time of the [Jesuit] mission or plantation. This is the oldest standing section from that period.”

Lukezic noted the historical building was constructed from handmade bricks, likely made on site.

“During that period, builders would make a kiln out of a stack of unfired bricks called a brick clamp, and then fire the clamp,” he explained. “The bricks close to the fire were highly fired and sometimes had a green glaze to them, as the silica had vitrified. The others — called ‘sammon bricks’ — were poorly fired and are little better than adobe.”

Since the surviving wall was originally an interior wall of the manor house’s kitchen, it was constructed using the low-fired sammon bricks.

“As the manor house is gone and the kitchen wing survives, this interior wall is now on the exterior and the plaster is falling off,” Lukezic noted. “The soft brick [underneath the plaster] is deteriorating due to its exposure to the weather.”

Historically appropriate materials

Repairs to the wall, which measures about 30 feet wide by 10 feet high, will include the removal of old plaster and mortar, mixing new mortar, and repointing the joints — but to do the job correctly, it’s important to use the right type of mortar.

“Old houses are softer than modern brick and if you repoint old brick with modern mortar, it’s too strong for the brick,” said Lukezic, the previous owner of a 200-year-old home. “In the freeze/thaw cycles during winter, the old brick will lose [its battle with the mortar] and the front parts of the brick will spall, or pop out. Modern mortar is killing old bricks.”

Instead, Lukezic will be using a special mortar, imported from Ireland, made of lime and sand that has been fired and slaked in a historical manner.

“It’s softer than modern mortar and it takes about a month to cure, but it’s flexible and will work with the brick,” he noted. “It’s also self-healing, so if it develops a crack, it will heal itself over time.”

Volunteers needed

Lukezic is hoping to start the wall project in September, before the possibility of freezing temperatures, and he’s seeking volunteers to help.

“I can use as many as want to participate,” he said. “There’s no special skill or knowledge required, but I will need a few with good strong backs.”

Anyone interested can be added to the list by emailing craig.lukezic@navy.mil. More information will be sent once a date is scheduled.

The Jesuits and the Navy

The Webster Field site is a historic cultural resource, as the Jesuit plantation — known as St. Inigoes Manor — represents one of the oldest English footholds in Maryland.

Historians say the Jesuits were among the first settlers in the Maryland Colony at St. Mary’s City, having arrived on the Ark and the Dove in 1634, along with significant financial backers of the new colony. By 1638, the plantation was a self-sufficient thriving acreage that included a manor house for priests, a chapel, servant’s plantation and tenant farms. Tobacco and corn were harvested to finance the Jesuit mission to convert and educate Indians and colonists.

The Jesuits owned the land for more than 300 years before the Navy acquired it in 1942, spurred by the events of World War II. With its over-the-water approaches from two sides, the property was quickly identified as an ideal spot to construct an outlying field to send aircraft during busy test days at Patuxent River. It was designated as Webster Field in June 1943 after deceased naval aviator Capt. Walter W. Webster, and by October that same year, the airfield was operational.

The Navy is required by federal law to inventory and evaluate historic sites and buildings on its properties and it takes that stewardship seriously. To date, more than 200 archaeological sites have been recorded on the properties of the NAS Patuxent River Complex.

The manor house, designated as Building 8001 at Webster Field, is the only standing ruin of the Jesuit’s presence at St. Inigoes.