$63,000 price tag put on removal of Civil War graffiti from church walls

April 23, 2012|By MATTHEW UMSTEAD |

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. — The full exposure and conservation of “remarkable” graffiti that Civil War soldiers left on the walls of a venerable southern Berkeley County church would cost about $63,000, according to an expert’s estimate.

A lot of the writing and drawing uncovered in Morgan’s Chapel in Bunker Hill, W.Va., appears to have been done with pencil, but some crayon also was used, Christopher Mills said Monday.

Mills, an architectural conservator, provided the estimate for the preservation work at no charge to the Berkeley County Historic Landmarks Commission, which has partnered with the Episcopal Diocese of West Virginia to try to conserve the graffiti.

Landmarks Commission Chairman Todd Funkhouser said Monday that he intends to meet with state historic preservation officials to determine what funding might be available to begin preservation efforts.

Mills said in an interview Monday that the north wall of the chapel, which was built in the early 1850s, is the most likely to collapse and said “emergency” stabilization work needs to be done immediately.

The building’s original plaster walls have been left very much intact as they were at the time of the Civil War and Mills said it is probably one of the most pristine sites he has seen.

“There’s a story in that building that’s extremely unique and it is remarkably untouched,” Mills said.

The graffiti was uncovered by workers hired in November 2008 by the bishop of the Episcopal Diocese to clean the interior of the building.

The cleaning was halted shortly after it started, but the Rev. W. Michie Klusmeyer, who visited the church in February, said he intended to restore the church and preserve the graffiti.

Mills said the notes and drawings left behind by soldiers were only covered by five layers of paint, which is a low number considering the building’s age.

Beneath the layers of paint are notations like one uncovered by a Union solder that reads; “Look out Johnny Reb for we are a coming. And by the help of God we are bound to lick you Traitors ...”

That quotation was uncovered on a wall in the “slave gallery” of the chapel.

Funkhouser told Landmarks Commission members meeting Monday that other structures along U.S. 11 could have Civil War graffiti and Mills said they might hold even more significant findings.

Mills said interest among researchers in Civil War graffiti has sort of “exploded” in the past decade, at least in part because it places people in a particular place at a particular time.

Funkhouser has noted the graffiti could serve as Berkeley County’s link to major Civil War battles that happened nearby such as Antietam, Gettysburg and Manassas.

Aside from the graffiti, several patched holes in the brick walls of the church also were uncovered by the cleaning.

The holes, which are nearly uniform in size and height, apparently were “rifle slots” when the church was used as a makeshift fort, according to Klusmeyer and Funkhouser.

Mills said the graffiti, and with the chapel’s other “battle scars,” are remarkable.

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