Phoenixville Crane 

Phoenixville Area Economic Development Corporation

HISTORIC OVERVIEW

After Treatment: The Phoenixville CraneThe Phoenixville Iron Works was founded in 1790 to produce nails. In 1812, the foundry was purchased by Robert Waln, an industrialist from New Jersey, who expanded into the production of pig iron, wrought iron, and other iron related products. Eventually, the operation grew to include a huge blast furnace, puddling furnace, and iron foundry. In 1825, the company was the first to generate steam through the burning of anthracite coal to heat water. Soon after, Phoenixville engineers invented a steam driven rolling method to weld and forge wrought iron. That process allowed the foundry to produce an extremely durable smooth bore artillery piece, much more resistant to bursting when fired than the competitor's cast iron barrels. These artillery pieces were known as Griffin Guns after their inventor, John Griffin. Phoenixville Iron Works produced more than 1000 of the 1400 guns produced for the U.S. Army during the Civil War. In 1882, the current foundry building was constructed, housing six furnaces and three large wooden cranes to move the molten iron used in the casting of the “Phoenix Column” used worldwide in the late 19th century. The crane stands 20' tall, spans more than 30' long, and pivots from the furnace to the casting floor. Only one of the three cranes remains and it stands in its original location within the foundry building, now housing the Schuylkill River Heritage Center. The crane was conserved by B.R. Howard & Associates, Inc. in 2006, as part of the building's renovation and restoration.

 

PRE-TREATMENT CONDITION

Before Treatment: Crane GearingUpon inspection, the crane was found to be structurally sound; however, individual components had severely deteriorated since the foundry closed in 1984. While structurally stable, nearly all painted and unpainted iron components had areas of active corrosion causing the formation of scale and large areas of flaking paint. All horizontal surfaces had heavy accumulations of ash and debris from the underside of the roof, grime laden lubricants, and bird guano. The crane retained elements of the steam driven mechanicals and the in-service modifications made with the advent of electrification. Many early 20th century modifications had been moved, removed, and repainted as part of the crane's operation. Electrical cables had been cut and asbestos brake lining materials, used to slow the pulley system, was exposed after the foundry's closing.

 

TREATMENT

After Treatment: Crane MotorIn 2005, the contract for the conservation of the 1882 Phoenixville crane was released and awarded to B.R. Howard & Associates, Inc. as part of an on-going preservation plan for adaptive reuse of the historic foundry building. The focus of treatment included structural stabilization of all wooden components, reduction and / or encapsulation of active iron corrosion, preservation of historic finishes, and the retention of historic “in use modifications” to the crane and controls. After thorough documentation, the debris was removed from the recessed area surrounding the operator's platform to access and assess damage to the wooden elements. Extensive reconstruction was required to structurally stabilize the proper right side of the platform using wood matching the species and dimension of the original components. Heavy accumulations of dust, dirt and grime laden lubricants were removed using aqueous and solvent based cleaning systems. Actively flaking paint was consolidated using reversible thermoplastic resins, and where possible, set down using heated spatulas. Frayed electrical cables were stabilized and the friable asbestos brake band was consolidated / encapsulated using synthetic resins. It must be noted that while the long term preservation of the crane was the primary concern of the Schuylkill River Heritage Center, they also recognized the need to consider the aesthetic impact of the object as part of the adaptive reuse of the Foundry Building and subsequently our treatment was tailored to address these issues.