Mike Whittier and Troy Spencer of the Bay State Elevator Co. work Thursday on the elevator at the Bennington Monument. The mechanical components of the original Otis Elevator, installed in 1956, are being replaced. (Holly Pelczynski Bennington Banner)

By Edward Damon

BENNINGTON, VT. — Visitors to the Bennington Battle Monument will be lifted to the observation deck on a new elevator when it opens for the season next month. New components have replaced the monument’s original Otis Elevator, which was installed in 1956. The project has been underway since late February and is expected to take a few more weeks, according to Marylou Chicote, the site’s administrator.”It’s literally a monumental job,” Chicote said on Thursday.

The original elevator isn’t being replaced because something was wrong, she said.”But the parts are no longer made,” Chicote said. “When something goes wrong, we need to have parts fabricated.” Mike Whittier and Troy Spencer, of Bay State Elevator, Co. of Agawam, Mass., are on the job. “When we do a project like this, we get all of our equipment upstairs and then take all the materials up the elevator while we work,” Whittier said during a tour of the progress. There were about three days when the elevator wasn’t working and they had to use the stairs. “That got old pretty quick,” he said with a laugh.

The existing elevator shaft in the center of the monument will remain. The bulk of the work is on the elevator’s mechanical components, Whittier said. That includes the wiring, switches and call buttons, as well as a new motor. Bay State Elevator Co. was awarded the contract through the state bidding process. The cost is about $120,000, according to Chicote.

Commemorating the Battle of Bennington — which took place Aug. 16, 1777, across the state border in Walloomsac, N.Y. — the monument stands on the ground of a Continental military storehouse that was the objective of the British attack. Made of magnesian limestone from present-day Hudson Falls, N.Y., it’s the tallest man-made structure in the state at 306 feet. It took two years of construction before it was finished in 1891. For years, visitors climbed a spiral staircase with 412 iron steps to the observation deck. But circa 1956, an Otis Elevator was installed in the middle of the obelisk. The original staircase, based on a design from Michelangelo, still hugs the elevator shaft, but is only open to the public for guided tours.

About 205 feet above the ground is the observation deck, where thousands of visitors have taken in mountain views of three states. A short climb up a metal ladder brings you to the machine room floor. The original traction elevator‘s direct-current motor and generator have been replaced with a 12.5 horsepower, 208 volt Imperial brushless electric motor, Whittier said. It still has a capacity of 2,000 pounds and can move 200 feet per minute. But it’s a more energy-efficient system that will require less maintenance and service — there are no brushes inside the motor that will have to be replaced. The new traction system also includes a new safety brake. The elevator always had a brake to prevent the elevator cab from falling, but lacked one to stop it from rushing to the ceiling. That could happen because of simple mechanics: The elevator cab is suspended by cables from pulleys and on the opposite end of the pulley is a counterweight, which weighs more than the cab itself. If something went wrong in the mechanical system, the cab could rocket to the top by the force of the counterweight. That type of failure very rarely happens, Whittier noted.

The Bennington Battle Monument opens for its 125th season on April 16, Chicote said. The monument is the first state historic site to open each year and will remain open daily, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., through Oct. 31. Admission is $5 for adults and $1 for children. For more information visit www.benningtonbattlemonument.com or call 802-447-0550.

Contact Edward Damon at 413-770-6979.