Historic Ship Stabilization: Ship Ponding

This project includes the stabilization and storage of three historic ship remnants excavated at the Robinson Landing Site (archaeological site 44AX235).

Page updated on Nov 11, 2021 at 8:42 AM

Historic Ship Stabilization: Ship Ponding

This project includes the stabilization and storage of three historic ship remnants excavated at the Robinson Landing Site (archaeological site 44AX235).  The overall goal of the project is to transport and store the timbers in Ben Brenman Pond (4800 Brenman Park Dr.) in a manner that preserves the possibility of future study and conservation when adequate funding and/or a location for permanent storage or display is available. Planning for the longer-term storage of the historic ship timbers began shortly after the ships were discovered in 2018.


Project Background

In 2018, Thunderbird Archeology, a division on Wetlands Studies and Solutions, Inc., in coordination with the City of Alexandria and the Maryland Archaeological Conservation Laboratory (MAC Lab), excavated three ship hull remnants from EYA’s development site called Robinson Landing. The discovery of the massive hull remnants resulted from implementation of the Alexandria Archaeological Protection Code. Passed by City Council in 1989, the code requires developers to hire archaeological consultants to conduct investigations prior to construction on land with the potential to contain buried sites of historical significance. Alexandria Archaeology, a division of the City’s Office of Historic Alexandria, oversees the code.

Early Alexandrians used these wooden ship remnants in a ca. late 18th century effort to make new land, extending the shoreline to the deeper channel of the Potomac River and creating a viable international port. These artifacts are tangible pieces of Alexandria’s maritime heritage, representing the City’s transformation to a bustling post-Revolutionary War harbor. The ships provide an important and unparalleled data source for understanding 18th century ship building and the land-making process.

Archaeologists, conservators, and EYA worked together to record and dismantle the hull remnants from 44AX235 into individual timbers. The City of Alexandria transported those timbers to a warehouse where they have been temporarily stored in large pools of water and kept wet and stable. A team from the Conservation Research Lab (CRL) at Texas A&M University, documented each of the over 1,000 timbers using a 3D laser scanner. From these individual scans they created physical and digital models of the three ship remnants. 

A team from several city departments, archaeologists, and a Maryland Archaeological Conservation Lab conservator began developing a medium-term solution for storing the timbers shortly after they were excavated. After carefully considering several alternative solutions and locations, the team decided that Ben Brenman Pond was the most feasible option. The timbers will be wrapped and transported to the pond site. Once there, a contracted archaeological consulting firm with scientific divers will place the timbers in the pond and record their location and site. Three interpretive signs located around Ben Brenman Pond will explain how the ship remnants were excavated, documented, and preserved. A future goal outside the scope of the current project is the selective conservation of some timbers that will not be placed in the pond. These will be retained and kept stable in a large pool of water for ease of access. 

Learn more about Archaeology on the Waterfront.

Ship Ponding Location Map (2021)

Construction Impacts

This project will impact the south side of Ben Brenman Pond in the third stormwater cell. The relocation process is expected to take about two months and is designed to cause minimal disruption in regular services.

Updates on impacts will be provided here. 

Timeline and Project Updates

  • Spring-Fall 2018: Excavation of three ship remnants at the Robinson Landing Site. Transfer of timbers to a city facility
  • Spring 2018 (April):  Alexandria Archaeological Commission (AAC) convenes the Ships’ Committee to discuss and develop recommendations for the ships’ storage, exhibition, and interpretation within the context of the Waterfront Plan. 
  • Summer/Fall 2018:  Planning begins with help of the Department of Project Implementation (DPI) and Maryland Archaeological Conservation Lab.
  • Winter 2019/2020:  Community engagement efforts begin
  • June/July 2020:  Project approved in FY21 CIP budget
  • January 2021:  Request for Proposals for the Historic Ship Stabilization Project posted
  • Fall 2021: Ship Stabilization project slated to start
  • TBD:  Public event
  • Winter 2021/2022:  Relocation portion of project completed
  • TBD: Three interpretive panels installed at Ben Brenman Pond
  • Future Monitoring schedule
    • Part of this project requires that the timbers’ condition is regularly monitored.
    • One year after the relocation is complete, divers will visit the site to assess any issues with timber storage including drift and sediment accumulation. They will pull timbers to the surface of the pond and City staff and conservators examine the timbers’ state of preservation. Divers will report below water condition of timbers, geotextile, and geogrid to City of Alexandria
    • Monitoring inspections will be carried out every five years following the first annual inspection
  • Future:  Selective conservation of timbers that are not ponded

Community Meetings