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THE OHIO CONSERVATION CENTER: The Lewis County Civil War Monument was erected in 1883. By 1980 the seven foot wide hollow base was caving in and the 30 foot tall monument was starting to lean.

By 1998 the problem was “fixed” by filling the monument with concrete. That’s right, it was filled with concrete and a lot of steel reinforcing bars, right up to the base of the topmost soldier.

In 2000, the disastrous consequences of the concrete filling first became apparent. In 2004 the Smithsonian Center for Materials Research and Education became involved. Casting foundries and metals conservators were called in and provided advice and proposals. In 2010 a company provided a formal condition assessment. The Village of Lowville issued in 2011 a Request for Quotation and a contract was awarded to McKay Lodge, Inc. who hired MMG Industrial, concrete cutting specialists as their subcontractor.

The project goals were: remove the concrete, repair cracked zinc, replace missing zinc, and re-erect with an internal stainless steel support to replace the concrete support.

But to remove the solid core of concrete, it was proposed, and accepted, that the zinc monument would have to be sawn into manageable sections, using diamond wire sawing through the zinc and all the way through the reinforced concrete core at strategic locations to minimize any visibility of lost metal. The largest section with its concrete weighed over 14,000 pounds.

Both McKay Lodge Conservation Laboratory, Inc. and MMG Industrial are corporate members of the Concrete Sawing and Drilling Association (CSDA).

This is not the first project where we had to break down a tall concrete-filled zinc monument, remove the concrete, repair the metal and re-erect with a fabricated stainless steel support armature. It was the third such projects for us.

It will likely come as a surprise to most that our various concrete cutting skills and technologies are needed to save a number of these hollow zinc monuments. This is because the soft metal of the larger zinc structures, some over 30 feet tall and having had to stand for over one hundred years, can sag and develop bulges and cracks. The corrective solution devised by some committees or individuals for this problem must have seemed ideal and permanent: “hey, let’s solidify and make strong the hollow structure by filling it with poured concrete and let’s add lots of steel.”

Such optimistic solutions have turned out to be very short-lived and enormously disastrous for the metal. Inevitably, water enters the cracks, gets trapped between the concrete and the inner walls of the zinc, expands on freezing, and the monument then bulges and literally bursts apart.

A lot of money is needed to undo these disasters as well as a collaboration of metals conservators and concrete cutters. One needs the other to undo the combined mess of the preciously historic, soft and brittle cast skins over massive columns of concrete and reinforcing steel.

In 2012, the collaboration of metal preservation specialists at CSDA member McKay Lodge Conservation Laboratory, Inc. and diamond wire concrete cutting specialists at CSDA member MMG Industrial brought back to the Village of Lowville, Lewis County, New York, their 30 foot tall zinc Civil War monument in good condition after having been destroyed by concrete poured within. It took over a year of work to accomplish this and substantial funding from the citizens and organizations of the village and the county, as well as a grant from the New York State Office of Parks, Recreation & Historic Preservation.

The art and historic preservationists working at the McKay Lodge company are not concrete cutters. But, as company president Robert Lodge states “my company is a CSDA member and I regularly read the trade publication Concrete Openings because concrete is often a mighty tough obstacle blocking the path of our work and I need to keep up with what the profession offers.” Robert Lodge found MMG Industrial by using the CSDA Membership Directory.

The worst cases of zinc metal damage are the ones easiest to separate the concrete from the monument because the broken up metal can be worked off of the hard cement core. In contrast, the Lewis County Civil War zinc monument presented an especially difficult challenge because the metal was not significantly broken but was still well bonded to a steel reinforced, full pour of concrete, from the base line all the way up to the foot of the soldier – a solid 23 foot tall tower of steel reinforced concrete.

In the cold of November 2011 in Lowville, NY, MMG Industrial set up to cut through at locations least likely to show a loss of metal identified by McKay Lodge, Inc. The sections were then hoisted down and taken to MMG’s facility outside of Buffalo, New York. There holes were bored into the concrete to install loops of diamond coated “wire”. These were turned and pulled, gradually slicing out a core of concrete from each section.Concrete remaining in place against the inside surfaces of the zinc was removed by powered chisels.

The metal sections now free of concrete were picked up by McKay Lodge company truck and taken to its facilities. There all cracks were welded and lost metal was molded, cast in zinc and installed. An internal stainless steel armature was fabricated. The erection of the monument with the armature sections, which bolt to one another was trialed.
We re-erected the monument in November 2012.

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