Thursday, August 02, 2012

A Romanesque pile: Third courthouse

This probably is the first formal portrait of the current Lucas County Courthouse, most likely taken soon after it was completed in February, 1904, from the roof or a window of the Rose photographic studio, then located on the second floor of the Mallory Block.

This post continues the saga of Lucas County's courthouses, which in many ways is similar to the histories of other Iowa seats of county government. First, there was the log courthouse; then something larger in brick; and finally a far grander structure, often built in stone.

Of all the people involved in design and construction of Lucas County's landmark 1894 Richardson Romanesque centerpiece, the architects --- the Des Moines-based partnership of William Foster (1842-1909) and Henry F. Liebbe (1851-1927) --- are the most often overlooked.

Of the two, Foster was the most widely known in Chariton at the time. He had been designing buildings here since the 1870s, when he first opened his practice in Des Moines. Liebbe, sometimes styled the "father of Iowa architecture," probably was the more prominent of the two, however. He went on to be named state architect, Iowa's first, in 1900.

One court-house related bit of history also often overlooked is the fact that Lucas County's courthouse has a bigger sister --- the Wapello County Courthouse in Ottumwa (left), also a Foster & Liebbe product, also dedicated during 1894.

The similarities are obvious --- and both shared a design flaw. The extreme height and weight of their clock towers proved to be structural problems and both were modified in the 1950s. Wapello County's courthouse lost all of its tower, leaving behind a somewhat peculiar looking stub. In Chariton, only the peaked roof and a portion of the stonework surrounding it came down.

In Chariton, only a few years had passed after completion before the tower began to settle to the west, pulling apart from the rest of the structure and threatening to become the leaning tower of Lucas. The foundation, sunk into shfting Iowa soil, wasn't sufficient to support its concentrated weight, even though according to some reports original courthouse plans had called for it to be nine feet taller. After various solutions were tried, the top of the tower was removed to stabilize it.

Other than that, the courthouse is remarkably intact although various energy effeciencies and quick fixes have been introduced over the years that really do it no favors --- altered windows, lowered ceilings and a major attack by the plastic paneling monster. Much of that could be reversed should the money and the interest appear. A good deal of furniture also has been cast out over the years that most likely would be retained now. At the museum, for example, we have two ranks of fold-up wooden "theater seats" now used for seating in the barn that were original equipment in the courtroom. In addition, the Mallory clock has been electrified; it's original weight brought to the museum, too.

This brief history of the courthouse is taken from the May 22, 1894, courthouse dedication issue of The Chariton Patriot.

The building of the new and permanent Court House marked very appropriately the rounding out of nearly half a century of County history. With the removal of the old brick Court House, Lucas County found herself houseless, and it soon became necessary to make adequate provisions for the safety of County records and the transaction of public business.

At the June, 1892, session of the Board of Supervisors, a resolution was passed, calling a special election to be held the 9th day of August, 1892, for the purpose of voting on a proposition to build a new Court House, in the public square, on the site of the former brick structure, and to issue bonds to the amount of sixty thousand dollars therefore. The canvass of the vote made by the board, August 19th, 1892, showed that 2,149 votes had been cast at the special election, 1,286 votes for, and 873 against, giving a majority of 413 in favor of the proposition.

All questions of dispute relating thereto having been disposed of and bids for the construction of the building having been received, were opened October 4th, 1892. Eikenberry & Co., of Chariton, were awarded the contract, their bid of $50,000 being the lowest. The firm consisted of Daniel Eikenberry and G.J. Stewart. Mr. Eikenberry, then in poor health, did not live to see the fine building finished, his death occurring October 11th, 1893. The entire supervision of the business naturally rested with Mr. Stewart.

the building is seventy by ninety feet, two stories and basement, with height of tower one hundred and forty feet. It is built of Berea (Ohio) stone, backed with brick and elaborately finished throughout.

The contract for the stone work was sublet to W.J. Connor of Council Bluffs. D.A. Enslow was foreman of the mason work, and E.H. Best, of the carpenter work. David Clouser, contractor for digging the foundation, began work Oct. 14th, 1892, G.J. Stewart throwing the first spade full of earth. The corner stone was laid May 25th, 1893, with appropriate ceremonies. The building was completed and accepted by the Board of Supervisors Feb. 24th, 1894, and occupied by the county officers Feb. 26th, 1894.

The officers who have the honor to first occupy the new Court House are: H.G. Curtis, county Treasurer; P.O. Sheller, Auditor; Henry Blous, Clerk of the district court: C.F. Gartia, Sheriff; Miss Carrie Allen, Superintendent of schools; F.M. Coffman, Recorder; O.A. Bartholomew, county Attorney; H.M. Finch, A.M. Wheeler, and P.V. Van Arsdale, members of the board of Supervisors, the first named being chairman thereof; Seth Lewis, Janitor.

Thomas Caton of Ottumwa was the contractor for steam heating and L. Harback of Des Moines for furnishing offices and court room. The cost of the entire building, complete and as you see it today is as follows:

Foster & Liebbe, architects, $2,104; Eikenberry & Co., building, $50,000; Thomas Caton, steam heating, $2,000; L. Harbach, furnishing court room and offices, $2,467; Additional furniture, $358.60; chairs and fixtures for all offices, $465.31; electric light fixtures and line connections, $962.54; sewerage, $600; Freight, pumps, etc., $113.41; total, $59,670.86.

The elegant new clock in the Court House tower was presented to Lucas County January 1,st, 1894, by S.H. Mallory. It was manufactured by the Seth Thomas Clock Company, at Thomaston, Conn., and is the finest of its kind made. Mr. Mallory also has had a dust proof case built, seven feet square and ten feet high with large plate glass on three sides. The engraed plate will bear the following inscription: "Presented to Lucas County By S.H. Mallory, January 1st, 1894. Started running May 22, 1894.

This is a fine offering which all the people can use and enjoy, and bespeaks the liberal and catholic spirit of the generous donor.

It is a matter of great satisfaction to the people as well as an evidence of faithful and honest performance of a responsible duty by the Board that the entire cost of the building has been kept fully within the limit of the amount provided by the people, and that no extra cost has been incurred. The Court House is substantially built and finished perfectly throughout, and is worth all it cost. It is an honor to Lucas County.

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