The Van Wert County courthouse restoration effort started with a fund setting aside court fees that could be used for building improvements. Above is one of the medallions in the courthouse.
VAN WERT, Ohio — At a divorce hearing Thursday morning in Van Wert County Common Pleas Court, Court Reporter Mike Kirkendall looked out and saw the husband, wife, and their attorneys all leaning back, staring upward.
Sixty-one years after county commissioners installed a dropped tile ceiling in the county’s main courtroom, the original stained-glass dome has been uncovered and refurbished. It is, in a word, stunning.
“It’s exceeded our expectations,” beamed Common Pleas Judge Charles Steele. “It looks great.”
County officials are inviting the public to see the restored courtroom during an open house at the 1874 courthouse from 1 to 3 p.m. Sunday.
“No long speeches or programs,” said Larry Clouse, county clerk/administrator. “Just a beautiful courtroom.”
You can say that again. Mr. Kirkendall said everyone who walks through the doors is in awe.
“At 12:30 p.m., a group of third graders came in for a tour, and all the kids even went, ‘Look at that,’” he said.
Among those expected to be in attendance on Sunday is retired Van Wert County Common Pleas Judge Sumner Walters, who first proposed restoring the ornate ceiling and dome in his courtroom back in 1994. A committee was formed to look into it, but no money was available.
That changed in 2005 when Judge Steele established a Special Projects Fund, setting aside court fees that could be used for building improvements. County commissioners got on board when the fund reached $365,000 — almost enough to cover the ceiling and dome restoration.
Commissioner Gary Adams said he is glad they did.
“It’s beautiful. It was a long time coming,” he said. “Courtrooms really make the courthouse.”
With the ceiling torn out and the courtroom out of commission for several months, commissioners used the opportunity to update the electrical wiring and lighting in the courtroom, install a new heating and central air-conditioning unit on the third floor of the courthouse, and invest in a new sound system. Total renovations came to $875,000.
The massive dome adds a majestic, Old World feel to the courtroom, which was painted in its original colors.
Judge Steele said the dome contained 14,000 pieces of colored glass, all of which were individually cleaned. Nearly a third of the pieces had to be replaced, he said, because workers over the years had punched holes in the stained glass to put duct work and wiring through the dome after the dropped ceiling was installed.
Judge Steele said Window Creations LLC, of Ottoville, Ohio, did an incredible job reproducing the damaged glass and reassembling the dome. He got his courtroom back last month and held his first jury trial there last week.
“We were wondering about the acoustics, but we have carpeting and acoustic tiles around the outside of the dome,” he said. “We’re real happy. It came out perfect.”
Contact Jennifer Feehan at: email@example.com or 419-724-6129.