Building history at Colonial Williamsburg

It’s no secret that Williamsburg is a special place: a cross section of history encompassing the birth of the American Colonies and the birth of the United States of America.

That’s what makes being a part of this historic community so great. At Henderson, Inc. we’ve been fortunate enough to work with Colonial Williamsburg over the years to help give life to our nation’s history. In our latest endeavor with the living history museum, we got the chance to help give visitors a first-hand experience of the raw power of Revolutionary weaponry at the new Colonial Williamsburg Musket Range.

As General Contractor for the musket range project, Henderson, Inc.’s Special Projects team managed building the bullet trap designed to strict safety parameters.

Mac McFerrin, project superintendent for Henderson, said creating a bullet trap requires precise construction to ensure safety. A 90-foot long by 20-foot high by 4-foot deep wall of ballistic material made to absorb and retain bullet rounds was a critical element to the project. But safety didn’t stop there. A large three sided high density dirt berm acts as another barrier to capture stray rounds.

“If the bullet misses the ballistics material, the three sloped angles to the left, right and in front of the shooter have specific slope grades that are designed for bullet deflection away from the firing line,” McFerrin said.
The range officially opened to visitors on March 19. Colonial Williamsburg guests can purchase tickets to the range, located on South England Street across from the Golden Horseshoe Golf Club Gold Course, where they will have a chance to shoot two 18th-century weapons – a Brown Bess musket and a fowling piece. Trained range staff clad in period clothing offer instruction and historical context about the two firearms. The range can accommodate up to six shooters at once, with one range officer working with a set of two shooters.

One of the most important elements of the project was not under estimating the velocity and capability of the 1700s-era weapons. That meant creating a range designed for low and high caliber rounds.

There’s something else that made the project challenging for us. At the bullet range, there were large and small holes all around the site where cannon balls had hit during the Revolutionary War. We worked with Colonial Williamsburg to place the range in such a way as to not disturb even one of these holes.

Maybe the most humbling aspect of this build was watching the foundation’s tradesmen construct the shooting structure to 18th-century specifications with historically accurate materials. So much has changed in the world of construction and yet at the end of the day, quality and craftsmanship stands the test of time.

“Observing their tradesmen building the shooting structure as it was done in the old days gives you the thought that it looks simple, but has and will last just as long as modern day materials and design,” McFerrin said.

It’s a powerful thought to consider that our work on a site where cannon balls were fired during the Revolutionary War will give people today the chance to hold such powerful pieces of history in their hands once more.



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