When the bridges over the Colonial Parkway carrying the widened Interstate 64 are completed, the appearance driving down the scenic byway should not be dramatically different from pre-construction years.
That is the goal and hope of the Virginia Department of Transportation, which is overseeing the construction effort: to maintain the appearance created by the 1930s bridges built when the Parkway from Yorktown to Williamsburg first opened.
The facades of the original bridges were made of “James Towne Collony” bricks created and manufactured by Paul M. Griesenauer of James City County from clay taken near Jamestown. In the mid-1960s when I-64 was expanded to connect Williamsburg with Newport News, an effort was made to create the same size, color, shape and aesthetics of the Griesenauer bricks of the 1930s.
Likewise with this new expansion, special consideration is being given and efforts are underway not only to closely match the existing 1960s bridges, but also the 85-year-old original bridges, said VDOT archaeologist Ken Stuck, who has been working actively on the I-64 expansion program.
He explained that today’s technology, “Which is wonderful in many ways, has created a standardization. It is easier today to match bricks of the 1930s then to match bricks of the 1960s.
“There is also an historic perspective here,” Stuck explained. The Parkway is extremely important for the National Park Service “and we don’t want to do anything that would detract from the appearance.”
Stuck and Janet Hedrick, VDOT design project manager, said the interior facades of the two bridges scheduled for widening will be taken down “and those bricks that can be saved will be used by the masonry in construction of the new facades,” Stuck said.
“We’ve had a lot of discussions with the contractors on how to maintain the current aesthetics so the feeling of the parkway will be the same,” Hedrick emphasized. “With the widened bridges, the gap between the bridges will be reduced, but not enough to require lighting in the tunnels.”
There will be an added cost to widening the two bridges, “but that was put into the contract. I’m not sure what the cost increase will be,” she said.
Hedrick stressed that “a lot of time has been spent on the bricks,” making sure the color of the bricks, size and color of the mortar matches the existing bridges.
Calvert Masonry Inc., of Manassas, “made five different trips to check colorization of the proposed bricks and have indicated that they produced 60,000 bricks in the first firing,” Stuck said.
Griesenauer was a remarkable potter in the 1920s and 1930s. Local historian Parke Rouse Jr. described him as a man of “infinite creative spirit” and “restless creative energy.” Arriving here in 1919, Griesenauer had a successful career in farming and lumbering. During the 1920s, he became manager of a number of old plantations along the James between Jamestown and the Chickahominy River that were consolidated into lumbering operations.
After he discovered an abundance of good clay around some excavations at Green Spring, Griesenauer became interested in making pottery.
Colonial-type bricks were needed around Williamsburg in the early 1930s, and as he experimented with the clay, he found he could control the color of bricks through the amount and duration of heat and how they were fired with various types of wood and additives, such as salt.
Griesenauer failed to duplicate the glazed headers needed for brick in the restoration of the Sir Christopher Wren Building at the College of William and Mary, but he did receive orders in town for bricks for other buildings that are still part of Williamsburg’s fabric today.
His bricks were used in building the Masonic Lodge on Francis Street in the Historic Area, in the old St. Bede Catholic Church (now the National Shrine of Our Lady of Walsingham) on Richmond Road and the old Watts Motor Company showroom (now part of the Patrick Henry Square) on York Street.
The bricks used inside the current narthex of the Williamsburg Presbyterian Church sanctuary were salvaged from the exterior walls of the original sanctuary built in 1931 of Griesenauer bricks.
Kale, a longtime Williamsburg area resident, is a former journalist and historian who has written several books on local history.