St. Augustine wasn’t the first place to offer Jeremy Patterson’s crews a job to move a Confederate memorial, but it was the first he took.
Other areas that sought the expertise of Progressive Construction, a New York firm of which Patterson is vice president. But those clients wanted to move a monument in the middle of the night to avoid controversy.
That was a deal-breaker for Patterson because he wants to be transparent with people, he said.
“We’ve turned down a lot of work,” he said.
Progressive Construction has extensive experience in moving structures. Patterson’s family has been in the business for four generations.
Patterson’s commitment to transparency lined up with what the city of St. Augustine wanted: a careful process that would relocate and preserve the Confederate memorial.
But it hasn’t been easy. The crew has faced screaming protesters and death threats.
“It’s back to people having passion and what they believe in, right,” Patterson said. “And I’m not trying to take that away from anybody, right. I think there’s better ways to handle it than that. I think people just, they get mad at that moment and they say stuff … do I think there — somebody’s actually going to hurt us? No.”
Most people are civil, though, Patterson said. And he tries to talk with people who come by to look at the work if they have questions and are respectful.
“The people that care about the monument, they care about the monument,” Patterson said. “They want to see us succeed and do the best job we can, and we’re going to do that for them. I can promise you that.”
A complex move
Patterson’s background includes helping to move the Hoyt-Barnum house in Stamford, Connecticut, which was built in 1699.
Another highlight for Patterson is moving the National Czech & Slovak Museum in Cedar Rapids, Iowa.
The St. Augustine City Commission voted in June to remove the city’s Confederate memorial, which lists names of local men who died serving the Confederacy, from the Plaza de la Constitucion. The move prompted lawsuits and protests.
The Commission voted this month on the destination. The Commission decided to move the memorial to Trout Creek Fish Camp after Randy Ringhaver offered to build a new foundation for it and maintain public access to the structure through a park at the camp.
The city of St. Augustine agreed to pay Progressive Construction $236,000 to move the memorial directly from the Plaza to the fish camp, which is on State Road 13 on the west side of St. Johns County. The city wants to have the move done by the end of this month.
On Tuesday, a crew with Progressive Construction worked at the obelisk to create tunnels so beams can be placed under the memorial.
There have been some discoveries already.
“What we thought was concrete at the bottom is actually 16 inches of solid granite. … We’ve got to move it with it. We can’t abandon it,” Patterson said.
The discovery meant the crew has to dig lower because the plan is still to put beams underneath the base and lift it out.
The city’s archaeology team was on site.
Next steps include drilling 1-inch holes into the obelisk as part of a steel frame and support system.
Patterson said in his opinion there’s no way to avoid that. If it were just lifted from the sides, there would be a risk of structure failure, he said.
“We’re doing the least amount of physical cutting that we could possibly do,” he said.
The memorial’s obelisk will also be cut from the base so that the pieces can be moved separately, and both pieces will have protective frames.
The memorial is well over 100 years old. It was first built in 1872 and moved to the Plaza in 1879, according to the University of North Florida.
“So we have to hold this thing from every direction: from the sides, the bottom, and we just literally squeeze it,” he said.
The crew will also insert Styrofoam next to the memorial before it’s moved.
“Like I tell everybody, it’s like shipping a UPS box. We’re packing it all up in there nice with Styrofoam and everything so we can have it protected, and that will probably take us about a week to do that,” he said.
Once the memorial is ready to go, machines will lift the obelisk on steel beams to dollies for transport. Steel beams will be inserted under the base to lit it.
“So once you set the pressure, it picks all four jacks up at the same time, so it’s even up, even down,” Patterson said.
Patterson has a combination of hydraulic dollies and other vehicles to help with the move.
The two commissioners who voted against moving the memorial, Commissioners Roxanne Horvath and John Valdes, have both raised concerns about the memorial being damaged in the process.
Patterson said he believes that won’t happen. But his biggest concern is that the people who are shouting at the crew will cause confusion.
“They’re not wrong for wanting to protest and do what they want to do. That’s their belief, right. That’s their right. What I do ask everybody is, is the yelling and the screaming — we’re trying to communicate with each other on an operation to protect one of the most historic pieces in the country. What I do want everybody to understand is, look, just be polite to us,” he said.