Engineers inspect Washington Monument in preparation for restoration

Engineers make assessments of Washington Monument in preparation for restoration.
Engineers make assessments of Washington Monument in preparation for restoration.(Colby Ware, Baltimore Sun)

Tracy Marcotte scanned a hand-held metal detector across various spots on the base of the Washington Monument as if she were searching for gold.

But it was iron she was after. Specifically, she was searching for iron cramps that hold together stones that make up the monument.

Marcotte was part of a team from Pennsylvania-based CVM engineers at the monument Saturday assessing the historic structure in preparation for a restoration to begin next spring.

The $3 million restoration is the first project in a plan by the Mount Vernon Place Conservancy to make improvements to Mount Vernon Square, which is made up of the monument and four public squares surrounding it.

The conservancy was formed to raise money to improve and manage the site. It is the first public-private partnership in Baltimore history designed to manage a public park.

The goal is to get the Washington Monument, which has been closed to the public because of structural issues, in shape for the bicentennial celebration of Baltimore's role in the War of 1812. The cornerstone of the monument was laid in 1815 on land donated by John Eager Howard, a Revolutionary War hero and former senator and governor of Maryland.

A team of four engineers scanned the monument Saturday for imperfections large and small. Marcotte, who was looking to see in what direction the iron cramps face, said an assessment of damage within the stone is as important as the exterior.

"We need to know what is going on with the steel inside," she said.

Two more engineers who were lifted by a crane snapped pictures of the exterior of the monument and took notes when they saw structural problems. Dressed in hard hats and safety vests, the engineers communicated with a crane operator by walkie talkie.

Lance Humphries, a Mount Vernon resident and conservancy board member, said most of the structural problems of the monument have been caused by water damage over the years. The closing of the monument came after it was discovered that mortar was missing and metal support brackets were rusting, damage likely caused by water.

Humphries pointed to places on the cast-iron fence surrounding the monument where paint has chipped away, exposing metal that eventually rusted. In parts, the rust was eaten away, causing breaks in the fence. In spots, water damage has caused stones to chip away and fall to the ground.

Humphries said the engineers are doing a stone-by-stone analysis. Some stones will need repair. Others won't. There are more than 3,800 stones on the exterior of the structure.

The restoration is expected to take six to nine months. After it is complete, Humphries said, the hope is to make the monument a major attraction.

"We want to see people here," he said. "We want to reopen the monument and make it a destination again like it was meant to be."


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