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Date published: 1/29/2013
Telegram & Gazette
ATHOL, Mass.--If wood could talk, the old beams in Thomas Mann's lumber yard would sound like a chatty ship's bosun.
They are gnarly, tough and interesting.
"They are nearly bulletproof," Mann said.
Mann, owner of Mann Lumber Co., has a big pile of dark-colored beams in his yard that are unlike other salvaged materials he has collected for resale. First, these beams are not his. They belong to Partners HealthCare, the parent company of Spaulding Rehabilitation Hospital.
A SAILING CONNECTION?
The beams are special in part because they are probably at least 300 years old and were buried in the former Charlestown Naval Yard before the Civil War, possibly to preserve them for use in repairing sailing vessels. They were discovered when the company started construction on a new Spaulding Rehabilitation Hospital on one of the parcels at the former naval yard.
Mann has had the timbers for two years, waiting for Partners HealthCare to decide what to do with them.
"When they went to build a new waterfront hospital, they discovered lots and lots of them buried in the former naval yard," he said.
Once the company figured out that the large logs were for building and repairing old sailing vessels, the company gave three-quarters of them to Mystic Seaport: The Museum of America and the Sea, which is in the middle of restoring the world's last surviving wooden whaling vessel, the Charles W. Morgan. The vessel is undergoing a $10 million restoration.
The timbers, which are in remarkably good condition, considering they have been buried since the mid-1800s, are the same type of wood used to build the Morgan in 1841.
"The hospital kept 25 percent of the wood so it could be put to some reuse," Mann said.
Finding the eventual reuse involved two years of the hospital building project's architects accepting and rejecting designs that would not work in some way with the overall design or would be a problem to create out of the wood. Mann said the wood is live oak, an evergreen oak found in the South. For wooden ships the wood was much sought after, because the unusual grain makes the wood extremely hard.
"It also grows curved, which makes it good for ship building," Mann said.