Archived Story

Grant County still needs courthouse restoration funding

Published 6:37am Thursday, October 18, 2012 Updated 8:41am Thursday, October 18, 2012

The historic Grant County Courthouse has been undergoing renovation since 2011, but needs more funding for restoration of interior decorative elements — some of which were uncovered during recent construction.

Decorative elements include stencils, cornices, medallions, murals, the rotunda art glass skylight; original opera chairs in the courtroom; and original golden oak woodwork throughout the building.

Historic documents pointed renovation researcher Eileen Grogan towards uncovering murals and graphic elements that had been concealed or painted over, including a large mural on the ceiling of the courtroom.

“Initially it was thought the mural would be too fragile to uncover and restore,” County Coordinator James Standish said. “Concerns that the panels covering the mural contained asbestos prompted their removal, revealing a painting about 18 by 25 feet in size.” The colorful scene depicts “rent in the clouds, revealing a vision of ‘Justice and Power of the Law.’”

Among other surprises was the discovery of original stencils used to paint decorative scroll work, found in a crumbling box in the courthouse attic. New stencils can be created with contemporary materials to exactly match the pattern of the original templates.

Grant County applied for and received $86,950 in grant funds for work on decorative elements and woodwork, with an additional $174,100 slated to come from the county. A recent Minnesota Legacy Grant application for $270,000 needed to finish the project was rejected, sending county officials back to the drawing board to re-evaluate the project, focusing more on restoration than renovation.

The circa 1905 courthouse contains murals by renowned Midwest artist Odin J. Oyen. The most visible paintings are the four panels in the ceiling of the rotunda representing life in the early 1900s in Grant County, titled “Sowing,” “Agriculture,” “Milling,” and “Dairying.” Like all of the interior decorative elements, these panels have suffered the fate of time, a former leaky ceiling and other environmental conditions. Without restoration, they will continue to deteriorate and potentially be lost.

The landmark building is on the National Register of Historic Places, with the interior artwork connecting the community to its past.

“The Grant County Courthouse is one of most significant historical sites in the area,” Standish said. “Residents and visitors are attracted to the grand building architecture and local history depicted by the murals.”

Standish, who has done the grant writing for the project, is working on plans with commissioners to apply for a more modest Minnesota Legacy Grant of $7,000 by the end of the year. The purpose of the grant is to create a detailed plan for the restoration of interior decorative elements utilizing a professional certified by the American Institute for Restoration, and incorporate public participation in fundraising and enjoyment of the completed building. With a new plan in place, a campaign to raise funds for remainder of the interior restoration project will be initiated.

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