HOLMBERG: Hanover contractor accepts blame for demolition of historic canal wall

Posted at 12:54 AM, Oct 23, 2012
and last updated 2012-10-23 07:02:35-04

HANOVER COUNTY, Va. (WTVR)--A Hanover County excavation contractor has accepted the blame for the unauthorized demotion of a historic brick wall built before the Civil War, part of George Washington’s dream to link the Atlantic Ocean with the Mississippi River.

Preservationists sounded the alarm last week when it was discovered the 150 foot-section of the Kanawha Canal’s towpath wall was knocked down. There was some question last week about who was responsible for the property and who tore the wall down.

“It’s currently under investigation,” city spokesman Mike Wallace said Monday. “The wall that was taken down on city property was, we believe, constructed a little before the start of the Civil War. So we take this very seriously with the destruction of public property.” Wallace said no permit was issued for the demolition of that section of the wall.

Joseph E. Lisefield Jr., the founder of the 40-year old Liesfield Contractor Inc. of Rockville, told CBS-6 Monday that they were to blame.

He said they had been given the contract to remove the section of the canal wall where the 2nd Street connector is being built to intersect with Tredegar Street.

When they tore that section of the wall down, Liesfield, the other section fell “like a domino.” There were isolated sections of the woods that were still standing, and they leveled those for safety’s sake, he said.

Liesfield said he’s a strong believer in historic preservation. He said his firm hasn’t removed any of the bricks from that section of that wall.

Those antique bricks can be very valuable, worth at least 25 cents each.

Bill Bayliss, an attorney representing the contracting firm issued this statement to CBS-6:

“The City of Richmond issued a demolition permit in connection with the Second Street Connector project and J. E. Liesfeld Contracting, Inc. was to remove 28 lineal feet of brick from the existing wall. In the course of removing the 28 lineal feet of brick, apparently due to the age and condition of the wall, the entire wall collapsed. Liesfeld certainly recognizes and appreciates the historic significance of this wall and intends to cooperate and work with all the necessary parties to resolve all issues relating to this unfortunate incident.”

Slaves toiled for 66 years starting in 1785 to dig a canal that would link the Atlantic with the Mississippi right through Richmond, bypassing the James River fall line and rapids. That brick wall separated the canal and towpath from the nearby Tredegar Iron Works property.

The canal project died during the Civil War with the advent of moving freight by rail.

Some parts of the canal have been restored, but other sections have been lost to time and growth in the city.