111-year-old flagpole returns to its place at Augusta State

A 111-year-old piece of local history has been restored to its place of honor at Augusta State University.

A 110-foot-tall flagstaff that was erected at the Augusta Arsenal in 1900 was returned to its place on the old Arsenal square this week after it was repaired and restored by an Augusta firm.

Michael Grenz of 2KM Architects said the cast-iron flagstaff, constructed by the N.O. Nelson Factories in Leclaire, Ill., is thought to be one of the few remaining Nelson staffs in use today.

“This particular design was patented in 1887,” said Grenz, who spent weeks on the restoration. “This replaced a wooden one in the middle of the quad that was rotting in 1893.”

Fred Ricketson, Augusta State’s campus architect, said the pole was damaged in a thunderstorm last year when a falling limb snapped one of the guy-wires.

The stress broke one of the cast-iron couplings and left the 7,500-pound pole listing dangerously to one side.

Ricketson said it was taken down because another storm could have toppled it altogether.

“There was a danger it could hurt somebody,” he said.

Grenz said a lot of painstaking
research went into studying the old truck – the mechanical structure at the top of the pole that raises and lowers the flag.

Bill Wells, a local historian, authored a 40-page history of the flagstaff in 2003. His research, including locating the original blueprints in the U.S. National Archives, contributed to Grenz’s own research and restoration.

Wells said that the top of the flagstaff was the highest point in Augusta for many years.

Grenz said when he began the disassembling the parts, it was the first time they had been touched in more than a century. Some of the parts had to be remanufactured from the original design. The top finial was gilt in 23-karat gold leaf, Grenz said.

“If we had painted it would have to be done again in five years,” he said. “Gold doesn’t rust or peel.”

One of the final touches was including a small time capsule in the ornamental ball with a few Augusta State mementos and a “shiny new” 2012 penny.

It will be a little surprise for the next restorer 100 years from now, he said.

RESTORATION OF THE POLE’S TOP

The ornamental ball at the top of the flagpole was gilt in 23-karat gold leaf because “gold doesn’t rust or peel,” said architect Michael Grenz, who spent weeks on the restoration. He also placed a small time capsule inside the ball.

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