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Speed is not primary goal of courthouse dome restoration

The restoration currently underway of the roof and copper dome of the Union County Courthouse will cost over half-a-million dollars. The courthouse building is 106 years old, its construction having been completed in 1909.

We have not been able to confirm a figure about the 1909 construction cost, but those willing to guess seem sure that restoration of the dome will cost more than the entire original building. (Anyone with solid information about the 1909 construction cost, send us an e-mail at news@nanewsweb.com.)

Before restoration began, the dome's oxidized copper was green.

Before restoration began, the dome’s oxidized copper was light green.

William Howard Taft, all 300 pounds and walrus mustache, was president of the United States when our county courthouse was finished in 1909. The colorful and equally rotund Edward VII was the king of England and emperor of the British Empire.  Wilhelm II, Edward VII’s foul-tempered and not-favorite nephew, was the German emperor.

These photos are from the collection of C. E. Manning as published in the "History of Union County," published in 1989 and compiled by the Union County Historical Committee. These photos were taken early in the 20th century when the present courthouse was new and the streets around it had not yet been paved.

These photos are from the collection of C. E. Manning as published in the “History of Union County,” published in 1989 and compiled by the Union County Historical Committee.
These photos were taken early in the 20th century when the present courthouse was new and the streets around it had not yet been paved.

These photos are from the collection of C. E. Manning as published in the "History of Union County," published in 1989 and compiled by the Union County Historical Committee. These photos were taken early in the 20th century when the present courthouse was new and the streets around it had not yet been paved.

These photos are from the collection of C. E. Manning as published in the “History of Union County,” published in 1989 and compiled by the Union County Historical Committee.
These photos were taken early in the 20th century when the present courthouse was new and the streets around it had not yet been paved.

 

During the intervening 106 years, wars involving the U.S., the U.K. and Germany have killed 77-million people, a million more than the official count of the U.S. population in 1908, based upon the 1900 census total of 76-million.

The Mississippi Department of Archives and History gave Union County a grant of $245,000 for restoration of the copper dome and roof of the courthouse. The cost is contracted to total $504,000, with the county picking up the other $259,000 of the tab from its own tax revenue.

The most obvious feature of the restoration thus far is the removal, by mechanical and chemical means, of a century’s worth of light green copper oxide. The copper oxide had to be removed so sheet metal craftsmen could see the damage that needed to be repaired. Violent weather, normal-wear-and-tear and, perhaps, mischief had created enough damage over time that the copper of the cupola was leaking in a number of places.

Several round holes in the copper have been blamed variously on young boys with air rifles and bored lawmen with handguns; speculation is that they may have been trying to shoot pigeons. However, we have seen no hard evidence to support such slander, certainly none that would implicate any living person.

It’s a slow process, cleaning and then soldering new copper to repair the damage, and it has been slowed further by weather. Heavy rains have interrupted work several times and daytime temperatures in the upper 90s have forced some of the work to be done at night with floodlights.

Removing the oxidzed copper is slow work, even without weather complications.

Removing the oxidzed copper is slow work, even without weather complications.

We have heard no solid predictions about when the work will be finished. County officials and their consulting architects and contractors are more concerned that the work be done right and are not pushing for a speedy completion.

When the repairs are completed the copper will be allowed to reacquire its patina of pale green copper oxide

Although the town of New Albany was founded in 1840, Union County did not exist until after the Civil War, when it was formed in 1870 from parts of Pontotoc, Tippah and Lee counties. For any official business such as marriage licenses, recording land titles, dealing with civil and criminal jurisprudence, etc., it was necessary for those involved to travel to either Pontotoc or Ripley.

Local leaders decided they wanted a county and county seat of their own. An article by Edgar J. Stephen, Jr.  in the 1989 “History of Union County Mississippi” says, “Three-thousand-dollars was collected and a man was selected to carry the money to Jackson, where the carpetbag legislature was in session. It was not said how the money was spent; however Union County was established July 7, 1870.”

According to the 1989 history, the grand old Union County Courthouse being repaired in 2015 is the fourth building to house the county government.

For two years county business was done in a wood-frame building located about where the Cine Theatre is today.

A two-story brick building was completed on the current courthouse square in 1872 and county officials moved southeast to the other side of the street.

The dome is being cleaned during half-million-dollar restoration July, 2015

The dome is being cleaned during a half-million-dollar restoration.

Just nine years later, on October 28, 1881, the 1872 courthouse was destroyed by fire. The fire was said to have been started by an arsonist who wanted to destroy his own prior criminal record.

A new courthouse was completed in 1882, but just 26 years later in 1908 it was judged to be too small for the work then being done by county officials. It was demolished and the cornerstone for a new building on the same site was laid on September 5, 1908.

Contractor for the present courthouse building was F. M. Dobson of Montgomery, Alabama. Union County officials accepted it as having been completed on June 22, 1909.

 

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