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Commissioner’s House reopens after six-month restoration project

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The freshly restored veranda and railings at the Commissioner’s House at the National Museum of Bermuda. (Photograph supplied)

The upper veranda of the historic Commissioner’s House in Dockyard has been reopened to the public after six months of restoration work.

Work on the almost 200-year-old building — a part of the National Museum of Bermuda — was required to address rust and weathering on a series of cast-iron columns.

Elena Strong, NMB executive director, said: “With a new veranda floor and freshly restored cast ironwork framing the glorious views from the veranda, Commissioner’s House is ready for the summer season and to welcome local and overseas visitors.

“It is also well prepared to endure the next few decades of salt spray and hurricane winds.”

A spokeswoman for the museum said the historic nature of the building meant that it required constant monitoring, care and conservation.

“Bermuda’s salt-laden and humid air provides prime rust conditions and takes a toll on the historic cast-iron elements,” the spokeswoman added.

“To ensure the long-term preservation and ongoing public enjoyment, the house’s dark red columns — 78 in number — were sand blasted and treated with a rust-inhibiting coating and repaired as necessary.”

Workers restore the veranda at the historic Commissioner’s House in Dockyard. (Photograph supplied)

She said 300ft of cast-iron fascia and railings, along with modern steel beams supporting the non-historic veranda floor, all underwent the same treatment.

At the same time, workers replaced the non-historic concrete veranda.

“The 36 prefabricated concrete slabs with stretched steel — which were installed in the early 1990s — were no match for Bermuda’s environment,” the spokeswoman said.

“The failing slabs were replaced with 95 cubic yards of concrete, completing the renovation.”

Commissioner’s House was originally built between 1823 and 1827 by a combination of free and enslaved local labour, along with British and Irish convicts.

The spokeswoman said the building was constructed from hard Bermuda stone, along with an unusual prefabricated iron frame.

“Designed around a central light well to maximise cooling air circulation, the enormous structure served as the residence of the commissioner managing the Dockyard for only ten years before conversion to a barracks for the Royal Marines,” the spokeswoman said.

Commissioner’s House in Dockyard in the 1940s (Photograph supplied)

“During the 20th century, the house was taken over by the Royal Navy as a ‘stone frigate’ or shore establishment, and formally commissioned as a ship — HMS Malabar.

“From 1939 to 1945 it was the Allied headquarters for North Atlantic submarine radio interception, playing a vital role in Allied victory in the Battle of the Atlantic.

“After the war it fell into disrepair and was rescued by the museum, which undertook an award-winning restoration and reopened the house to the public in 2000.”

The building now hosts a range of exhibits about Bermuda’s history and culture including Bermuda’s defence history and the rise of the island’s tourism economy.

The most recent installation was the Traces and Pastimes exhibit created by Gherdai Hassell, a local artist, as part of the museum’s Tracing Our Roots/Routes educational programme, which gives the public tools to track and document their family histories.

The National Museum of Bermuda is open every day except Christmas Day between 9.30am and 5pm with the last admission at 4pm.

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Published June 14, 2022 at 8:01 am (Updated June 14, 2022 at 8:01 am)

Commissioner’s House reopens after six-month restoration project

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