Historical Lightning Protection Lessons

The J.A. Belt Building in Gaithersburg, MD was built in 1903 and is listed on National Register of Historic Places. It offers two lessons about lightning protection systems.

  • Lightning protection systems help buildings withstand the test of time: John A. Belt understood the destructive power of fire; the Masonic Lodge to which he belonged was destroyed in 1898 by a lightning-ignited fire. And, even though he had helped establish Gaithersburg fire department, his first store there was also consumed by fire. The historical record does not make clear when the lightning protection system was installed. Given Belt’s experiences, however, it would have been reasonable for him to install lightning protection when he rebuilt the building in 1903.
  • Lightning protection may need updating when buildings are remodeled: Belt liquidated his business in 1914 and the property has gone through several owners and uses since then. The lightning protection system has not been maintained, as evidenced by the missing air terminal at the left corner of the parapet. When the building was reroofed, the lightning protection system was not reinstalled on the pitched metal roof nor on the rooftop equipment. This leaves the entire building vulnerable to lightning damage.

While Gaithersburg has grown to a sprawling suburb, its historic downtown is still vital to the town’s identity. Lightning is still a hazard in Gaithersburg; lightning destroyed a home there in 2016 so installing lightning protection on the Belt Building will help preserve it for another century.

Photo (c) East Coast Lightning Equipment, Inc.