New York Man Playing Pivotal Role in Resurrecting Notre Dame
A Central New York woodworker has the rare skills needed to help rebuild the world-famous cathedral.
Cooperstown native Jackson DuBois is part of the international effort to restore Notre Dame after a fire ravaged the cathedral four years ago.
He serves as president of the Timber Framers Guild and is also part of a brotherhood called "companions of duty," which is a group of volunteer craftsmen who specialize in restoring historical monuments using centuries-old methods.
As part of the team, DuBois has restored historic landmarks in places like Wales, Poland, Estonia and more. Now, he's in France working on what he says is his biggest job yet.
According to OSV News, DuBois and his team were tasked with carving and assembling the wooden steps of Notre Dame's spire. There is just one other American working on this project - Boston native Michael Burrey.
The stairs, once completed, will then be assembled at the spire's base, which will then be flanked by the 16 statues of the apostles and Evangelists on the cathedral's roof.
Thankfully, the original statues survived the 2019 fire because they were removed for restoration a few days before it happened.
And while the woodworkers are using the same tools that were used to construct the original cathedral over 800 years ago, they only have three months to complete their assignment.
It took 200 years to build Notre Dame, with construction taking place between 1163 and 1345.
With such a tight deadline, DuBois and crew are sparingly using a few modern elements, like 3D rendering and power tools, to "quicken the pace of work."
Still, they're heavily relying on 12th century tools to get the job done because they want to honor the people who originally constructed Notre Dame.
More about DuBois
DuBois describes himself as "a journeyman timber framer with the Timber Framers’ Guild of America,"
Also, the Cooperstown native's last name literally translates to "of wood" in French. DuBois revealed he is a descendent of French Protestants who migrated to New York in the 1700's.
Despite his strong ancestral ties to France, he admits he is not great at speaking French - but he's getting there.
He's committed to learning "one new French word useful in the shop" every day.
Thankfully, the language barrier isn't stopping him from communicating with his colleagues.
In the shop, we all wear heavy hearing protection anyway so we communicate through a universal carpentry language. Also, (translation software) is quite useful for smaller details.
As for how he and his group came to France, he says they were discovered in 2021 after completing the Handshouse Truss project, where they hand-built a replica of Notre Dame Cathedral's "truss No. 6."
They hand-raised the truss several times across Washington, D.C. and Atlanta, Georgia, to honor of the cathedral.
The display attracted the attention of Philippe Villeneuve, the cathedral's leading architect.
Villeneuve was so touched and impressed by the work, he invited DuBois and his colleagues to help rebuild Notre Dame.
At the time, the Handshouse project was about raising awareness, showing solidarity with France and showing that the skills still existed to rebuild the cathedral identically.
Now, he says he's working on the "construction site of the century."
Notre Dame reopens next year
The 2019 fire severely damaged Notre Dame, but the nation's president, Emmanuel Macron, vowed to have the cathedral rise from the ashes by 2025.
In order to quickly repair Europe's most famous cathedral, only the best of the best were invited to take part in reconstruction efforts.
While there are some boots on the ground in Paris, DuBois and his team are stationed in a medieval city called Thouars, which is located roughly 220 miles southwest of the nation's capital.
DuBois is savoring his time in France. While this project has deepened his appreciation for the original architects of the cathedral, it also let him see Notre Dame in a new light.
He said, "It is the celebration of humanity that it represents, which is constantly surprising and gratifying."
At the moment, Notre Dame is scheduled to reopen in December 2024.