Unexpected access: 18th-century Wren Building drain uncovered

Staff writer

Unexpected access: 18th-century Wren Building drain uncovered

Work to expand one of William and Mary’s iconic brick pathways came to a sudden stop recently when a previously unknown access point to an early 18th-century drain was uncovered.

The existence of a vaulted brick drain leading from the Wren Building to the Sunken Garden has been known for years, but the access point was a surprise, according to Historic Campus Executive Director Susan Kern.

“It looks like part of the vaulted drain tunnel had collapsed at some point — probably in the late 19th or early 20th century — and they had put in this box to open that up, to stabilize it and basically repair it,” she said. “We knew the open drain was here, but all of a sudden, we’ve learned all kinds of things about it.”

Archaeologists and architects began work last week to continue that learning while exploring ways to both preserve the drain as an artifact and stabilize it.

“There are two issues: protecting the structure and protecting the people walking on top of it,” said Kern.

The discovery of the drain was made June 12 as work began on a project to widen the pathway in the Wren Building’s courtyard from 8 feet to 10.

Christopher D. Lee to lead HR

Christopher D. Lee, associate vice chancellor for human resource services for the Virginia Community College System and a leading authority on search committee processes, will be William and Mary’s next chief human resources officer.

Including his work with VCCS, Lee has led human resources for four institutions of higher education and written extensively about human resources for scholarly journals and other publications. Lee, who is also a Marine Corps veteran, will begin work at the college Aug. 1.

Lee succeeds John Poma ’86 who left the university in December 2018. Robert “Bob” Green, a former Virginia Military Institute administrator, has served as interim chief human resources officer for the university since January.

“Chris is at the top of his field, and we are thrilled to welcome him to campus,” said Sam Jones, senior vice president for finance and administration. “We appreciate all that John did at the helm of human resources and are grateful to Bob for coming out of retirement to support William and Mary as we searched for the best person for the job.”

The James River eagles have landed

The Center for Conservation Biology has compiled 2019 survey results for bald eagles nesting along the James River.

CCB Director Bryan D. Watts reports that the breeding population has increased to 302 pairs, making the James the most significant tributary for eagles in the Commonwealth.

“This new milestone is particularly gratifying since the James is the only major tributary of the Chesapeake Bay where the species completely disappeared as a breeder during the 1970s,” Watts said.

During the 2019 breeding season, the population produced 344 young. Strongholds along the river include Charles City County (62 pairs), James City County (50 pairs), Surry County (39 pairs) and Prince George County (36 pairs).

Watts added that the 300-pair mark represents a symbolic milestone: In 1990, the United States Fish and Wildlife Service Bald Eagle Recovery Team established 300 pairs as the recovery goal for the entire Chesapeake Bay.

“For the James River alone to have surpassed this goal is a remarkable achievement,” Watts said. “The James now supports one of the densest breeding populations found anywhere throughout the species range.”

Completing the puzzle of a 19th-century anomaly

Authors don’t set out to write half of a biography on their chosen subjects, thus it was with a sense of resignation that William and Mary History Professor Christopher Grasso welcomed “Bloody Engagements: John R. Kelso’s Civil War” into the world a few years ago.

He had come upon Kelso’s story, at least a tantalizing portion of it, while researching a book titled “Skepticism in American Faith,” which detailed the country’s spiritual crisis between the Revolutionary and Civil wars. Kelso, who began life as a Methodist minister, was one of the examples of a faith crisis, and Grasso felt lucky to study an 800-page treasure trove of his manuscripts, poems and lectures, with an autobiography tacked on at the end.

“He wrote these very rich and evocative tales about his Civil War experience, but they break off in 1863,” Grasso said. “You come to the last page, and it just stops. I thought the rest of the story — he lived until 1891 — was lost.

Grasso was sitting in his office one day in 2016 when the phone rang, and a transformational conversation ensued. A man identified himself as Kelso’s great-great-great grandson and said he possessed “some manuscripts” the Kelso family had passed down generation to generation.

“I literally leapt out of my seat and started pacing around my office because I'm thinking 'What if, what if, this is the lost second half?'” Grasso recalled, the excitement in his voice still evident three years later.

“A month later I'm sitting down with what in fact turned out to be the lost second half. Another 80,000 words. And historians had never seen this stuff before.”

Items used are from William and Mary news releases.

Martin can be reached at (757)-243-3685, by email at sararose.martin@vagazette.com or on Twitter at @SaraRoseMartin.

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