Historic Site Scanning

Direct Dimensions Walks in Washington's Footsteps

Projects - Williamsburg Coffee House

Over the years, Direct Dimensions has applied our innovative 3D digital technologies and capabilities to aid in the documentation and restoration of several of our nation's most historic sites and artifacts. As we reviewed the list of our projects with historic significance, we noticed that several had a common link: George Washington.

Given the current events of the day, with the election and inauguration of a new U.S. President, we thought it fitting to present some of the projects we’ve performed that have a tie to George Washington.

Williamsburg Coffee House

In the summer of 2008, Direct Dimensions visited Williamsburg, Virginia to document the condition of the existing remains of an original ‘coffee house’ that George Washington was known to frequent. This particular coffee house, owned by Richard Charlton during the 1760's, was one of several that had flourished in the area due to their popularity in London and abroad. Coffee houses of that time were known for more than their coffee, tea, and chocolate served to the colonials - they also hosted informal and spirited intellectual conversation. This activity made Charlton's coffee house one of Williamsburg's political and business ‘hotspots’ of the time. In addition to Washington, Thomas Jefferson and Francis Fauquier were often in attendance.

DDI worked with the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation to laser capture what remains of the coffee house’s stone foundation. Of the original structure, only part of the brick foundation and some wooden fragments are still intact. We scanned the exposed foundation and the earthen floor with our Surphaser HSX spherical scanner. This unique scanner captures extremely accurate and high resolution data over a medium-range (2-10 meters). The Surphaser is a non-contact laser scanner so none of the delicate centuries-old foundation was harmed during the data capture process.

The raw 3D ‘point cloud’ data gathered in Williamsburg was then digitally modeled back at the Direct Dimensions facility in Baltimore, Maryland. The final surface mesh model can be used to analyze the archaeological features found at the site. The data will also be used to help plan the reconstruction of the Charlton coffee house, which is to be rebuilt and furnished in the style of an accurate 18th century structure. Once completed, the coffee house will host educational programming and will have the distinction of being the only establishment of the kind in the country.

Valley Forge, PA

Another Washington-related project we have worked on is the scanning of a river bank in Valley Forge, Pennsylvania - the site of the American Continental Army's camp during the American Revolutionary War. George Washington and his men occupied Valley Forge over the winter of 1777, which marked some of the direst times for the colonial army. Washington's men were cold, poorly-fed, ill-equipped, and worn out from a series of long engagements. However, during Washington's time at Valley Forge, the tide of the war began to turn, eventually leading to American independence. Due to its immense historical significance, the site was designated as the Valley Forge National Historical Park in 1976, under management by the U.S. Park Service.

Direct Dimensions was called to Valley Forge in fall 2005 in order to document an approximately one acre site which had begun to erode along a river bank. Over the course of a single day, we took approximately 20 different outdoor scans of the area using the Faro LS laser scanner, which is optimal for large-scale, long-range projects. The river bank was captured using our 3D technology, as well as several high-resolution scans of what was left of a previously undocumented building foundation. The scan data was digitally modeled to create an accurate ‘watertight’ 3D surface mesh. This data was then used to fabricate a physical scale via rapid prototype 3D printing of the foundation. This model was then finished by model makers and displayed at the visitor’s center. Additionally, the data supplied by Direct Dimensions was used by Park Service officials to aid in the excavation of the Valley Forge site.

Maryland State House

Also related to George Washington, in summer 2008, Direct Dimensions performed digital archival work at the Maryland State House in Annapolis, MD. It was in the room known as the “Old Senate Chamber” within the Maryland State House that George Washington submitted his resignation as the Commander of the Continental Army on December 23, 1783. In tribute, a mannequin of George Washington stands at the head of the room, dressed in period clothing and a bronze plaque commemorates the exact spot of this famous transition of power.

The Maryland State House, built during the Revolutionary War, was built in the Georgian Style that was very popular during the late colonial period. It still functions today as the oldest continuously used State House in the nation. Clearly, given the significance of this structure, Direct Dimensions was quite willing to demonstrate the 3D digital capabilities that can be used to document, analyze, and restore its original design.

DDI business development manager Harry Abramson was very enthusiastic about this project. “The archivist’s had employed a fairly high-tech program so we were excited to show them our 3D imaging technologies to help them stay ahead of the curve,” he said.

In one day on-site in Annapolis, DDI laser scanned the entire Old Senate Chamber room, which included its exposed original brick walls, plaster ceiling, wood plank flooring, a small 2nd story balcony, and the architectural ornamental elements. Again the Surphaser mid-range scanner was used as it was the perfect tool to capture all these fine details of the approximate 35-ft square room. In addition, DDI performed several test scans on the State House's unique and famous dome, so significant that it was featured on Maryland’s commemorative state quarter.

The raw laser data, digitally modeled by DDI’s technicians using PolyWorks software, was provided for the Historical Structure Archive for the State. Given its resolution and accuracy, it could also be used to replicate historical elements in exact detail, should the need arise.

As you can see, Direct Dimensions highly values the work we do in the area of historical preservation. We believe that we have all the right tools to aid in the documentation, conservation, and reconstruction of our nation's most dear historical treasures, and we hope to lend our services to more historic preservation projects in 2009.