By JEANNIE WILEY WOLF
UPPER SANDUSKY — The stained glass dome in the ceiling of the Wyandot County Courthouse’s third-floor courtroom now has a brighter, more brilliant appearance.
The 14-foot round dome has been restored via a year-long effort by Bigelow Glass of Findlay.
“It took some time to find the right glass,” said Andrea Knight, glass artist for Bigelow Glass.
But the results were worth the wait, Wyandot County Commissioner Steve Seitz said.
“It’s awesome,” he said. “There’s a lot of good history. I’m pretty proud of this place, that we were able to save it.”
This is Wyandot County’s third courthouse, according to Ronald Marvin, curator of the Wyandot County Museum who wrote the book “A Brief History of Wyandot County Ohio.”
Once Wyandot County was established in 1845, the first courthouse was actually the old Wyandotte Council House that dated back to about 1830 on the Grand Reserve, he said. The building stood on a lot near the old Wyandotte burial grounds near the present day Harrison Smith Park in Upper Sandusky.
Limitations of the building prompted officials to recognize the need for a larger, more permanent courthouse that was completed near the end of 1849 and stood until 1897. The current courthouse, located at 109 S. Sandusky Ave. in Upper Sandusky, was built in 1899.
Remnants of the second courthouse can still be seen, Seitz said. Bases of the front pillars have been incorporated into a centerpiece in the front square, while a large wooden plaque that displays a patriotic shield and once hung in the courthouse is now located inside the front entrance. There are also two walking canes on display that were crafted from wood that came from the staircase in the second courthouse.
“That’s about all we have left,” said Seitz. “If the walls could talk.”
The current courthouse was designed by architects Joseph W. Yost and Frank L. Packard of Columbus, said Marvin. (The firm also designed the Wood County Courthouse and jail in Bowling Green.) Marvin said the fresco work and stained glass windows were produced by William G. Andrews of Clinton, Iowa. The stained glass cost was $1,050.
Seitz said because the current courthouse is more than 120 years old, maintenance is frequently needed. In 2013, Wyandot County voters approved a 1-mill, six-year bond issue that generated $2.25 million to fund improvements to the dome, clock tower and roof of the courthouse.
Once the dome work was completed, the commissioners began working on the jobs inside, said Seitz. One of those included restoring the stained glass dome in the third-floor courtroom that was made “famous,” he noted, when it was used for scenes in the 1994 movie “The Shawshank Redemption.”
Knight said the dome, which features eight petal-shaped panels, was in rough shape. Years of dirt and grime had dulled the colored pieces of glass. Many of the pieces were also broken, she said. In some cases, repairs were made using mismatched replacement pieces.
The original window was created using glass from the Kokomo Opalescent Glass Works of Kokomo, Indiana, which is still in operation.
“One of the things that held us up so much on this project was waiting to get the glass from Kokomo, Indiana, because they didn’t have a few of the colors that we needed in stock. And we knew that we had to do better than the prior glass matches,” she said.
Scaffolding was built to remove the glass from the dome in sections. These were taken back to the Findlay workshop and rebuilt.
“We totally disassembled the panels,” Knight said, adding that about half of the pieces were broken and had to be replaced with new glass.
With any restoration project, she said, it’s important to keep a window in its true form.
“You don’t want to put a color match in that’s not as close to perfect as you can get, because that really compromises the original design of the window,” Knight said. “And we want to keep the integrity of the original design, the aesthetics of the original artist intact.”
Each of the sections has a very slight curve, she added. “So we had to build a wooden frame, like a cradle, and build it in a curve.”
Reinforcement bars were added to the back of each panel.
The cost of the restoration was about $33,000, said Seitz. The next step will be to replace the florescent bulbs behind the dome with diffused LED lighting.
“Because it cleaned it up so much, the florescent lights look terrible. So we’re in the process of working out some LEDs so it looks more natural. But other than that, isn’t that awesome?” he asked.
The commissioners hope to eventually restore the main stained glass dome along with two smaller stained glass windows. Mismatched pieces of glass can also be seen in the main glass dome that contains 13 panels — one for each township in Wyandot County, said Seitz.
The courthouse and the adjacent jail, built in 1888, were listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1973.