Thursday, January 12, 2012

The view from Lucas County's attic

Frank Mitchell examines the bound 1875 property tax lists from three Lucas County townships. These volumes, in addition to containing historic records, are works of bookbinding art well into the 20th century.

The alternate Frank and I had an opportunity Wednesday afternoon to climb into the attic of the Lucas County Courthouse and look around a little. This is an area not often see by the general public, although it's hardly a secret and by no means off-limits. But safety issues have ended what once were routine visits by students touring the courthouse and the area's a little too dark and dusty for the tastes of many.

We were there for the historical society at the invitation of County Treasurer Phyllis Baker to take a look at the contents of her storage room, filled to overflowing with bound property tax lists dating from the 1860s through the 20th century marching in ranks around its walls as well as other records, ancient and modern.

Bound tax lists from the earliest years of Lucas County march in consecutive order on the lowest storage shelves in the treasurer's room.

While tax records of historical value are not endangered, they are affected by three issues: limited storage space, the fact county treasurers are no longer required by state law to retain more than 10 years of lists and the deteriorating condition of some early volumes.

The latter issue actually may be the less significant in Lucas County, which has done an excellent job of maintaining the integrity of these volumes. The calfskin bindings of only perhaps the earliest few years have deteriorated seriously and appear to need conservation or archival storage.

In any case, these records are likely to be the topic of continuing conversation this winter among such groups as the historical society, genealogical society, historical preservation commission as well as county officials.

I couldn't resist looking around a little while in the attic just because it's an interesting place. Presumably entirely open with basic wooden flooring when the courthouse was built in 1893, the attic was never intended for anything other than storage. The builders certainly didn't foresee the need for energy efficiency, nor did they most likely anticipate just how many records would be accumulated by courthouse departments as the years rolled by.

At some point, enclosed and locked storage rooms have been built around the perimeter of the area not involved in the raised courtroom ceiling and insulation has been added, leaving a series of floor-level walkways between storage rooms.

Looking at the courthouse from the outside, it's not evident that this actually is a brick building encased in stone. But that brickwork is evident in the attic.

This is the insider view of the four arched windows high above the main entrance on the courthouse's north front (below). The original windows have been removed and their tops filled with insulated panels.

And the view from those windows offers kind of a unique perspective on the north side of the Chariton square, too.

As it looks from the most westerly window.

And from the second window.

The third.

and finally, the most easterly.


Winter finally came in overnight on a cold wind with perhaps an inch of snow here and a "blustery" forecast for the day.

Late yesterday morning, 50 or more family members, old friends and neighbors gathered on a hilltop in the Chariton Cemetery for cousin Verle (Johnson) Reynolds' graveside service (she died late Sunday afternoon, age 100). It was a beautiful, warm and sunny time --- high near 50 --- and winter coats seemed too much. The perfect day for a sendoff for someone who had lived life so fully and so long.

The temperature outside now is 12, the wind is fierce and a nearly full moon in the western sky looks like ice. I wouldn't want to stand on that hilltop today.

We're scheduled to head out after lunch for the oral presentation segment of Chariton's Main Street Application in Des Moines, providing weather elsewhere in the state doesn't result in its postponement for a day. There will be more than 25 of us, including our senator, Paul McKinley, and representative, Richard Arnold, who plan to meet us there.

Practice sessions last night demonstrated just how effective those who have been working hard on this aspect of the application have been. We're one of five applicants. Now if we can all just get to Des Moines to wrap up the application process, leaving everything finally in the hands of the decision-makers.

1 comment:

Debbie said...

That is wonderful! Thank you for sharing. Since I know my great, great grandparents and great, great, great grandparents were likely at one time or another *IN* that courthouse, it brings special joy to my California morning.