Cherokee County NC

Cherokee County Courthouse Cupola

It was over two years ago that Cherokee County officials noticed the cuploa (also called lantern) portion of the dome of the courthouse was in disrepair.

A drone was used to inspect the cuploa and the video acquired revealed the precarious condition it was in. For the sake of safety, the county had to remove the feature which had graced the dome of the courthouse since 1926.

Estimates were gathered for the restoration project. One bid came in at almost $679,000.

A long debate begin over whether the county should spend the money to restore the courthouse to its former glory or leave the feature off and save tax payer money.

Gary Westmoreland (better known as Hippie) is one of the Cherokee County Commissioners. He came up with a plan to restore the cuploa and save tax payer dollars at the same time.

Hippie retired from managing the Welding Department at Tri-County Community College. He enlisted the college’s Welding Department to make a rotisserie which would hold the cupola as the restoration work was completed. Hippie and the Cherokee County Maintenance Department (which includes The Deer Hunter) completed most of the steel work themselves.

The cupola is covered in copper so a nation wide search was set in motion to find a coppersmith who could assist with the project.

One day Hippie’s wife Jan was in Murphy Building Supply. She noticed some fence post covers handmade from copper. There was a card beside the covers with the artisan’s information. She immediately called Hippie and said “You need to call this man about your copper issue.”

Rick Day, a resident of Cherokee County, was soon on the job as the coppersmith. The Deer Hunter said Rick was a master craftsman who did a top notch job. The copper itself is complicated to work with, but when one considers having to make exact measurements so that the finished product fits something that’s way up in the sky you can see what a tricky intricate job the coppersmith had on his hands.

Speaking of the way up in the sky part.

To access the dome from inside the courthouse is no easy feat.

In a closet on the third floor of the courthouse there’s a ladder built into the concrete. The ladder leads to roof level.

Once roof level is reached you crawl across a short walkway through a stone opening. Once through the opening you can stand again. This area is the floor of the dome.

The ladder in the wall resumes, but now its built into brick. It leads one floor up to the clock mechanism for the original clock that is still running today.

The next portion of ladder leads you to the floor that holds the actual clock face, bell, and clock hands.

The Deer Hunter looking down through the dome from just under the cupola

On this floor there is a set of permanent scaffolding. Once the scaffolding has been climbed, there’s one more ladder. After forty feet of climbing you can step out onto walk boards where you can almost touch the hatch that opens underneath the cuploa.

Sounds like a real journey doesn’t it? Now imagine you were carrying tools, a welder, rods, drills, drop cords, lights, and other needed items. Toting all the necessary tools and equipment was a job in itself. The Deer Hunter said he went up down that obstacle course more times than he can count.

A huge crane was hired to actually set the cupola. There was also a construction company on site to assist with bolting it in. All the grunt work, as The Deer Hunter says, was conducted by himself, Gary Westmoreland, Justin Hamby, Roy Dickey, and Jason Penley.


Photo taken from the hatch of the dome looking up through the restored cupola

The total cost for the restoration of the historic cupola was a little over $42,000. The cost of the installation hasn’t been tallied up yet, but as you can see the cost of the project is well below the estimates given by outside companies.

man inside a dome

The Deer Hunter said the inside of the dome is a really cool place, that’s if you’re not pulling a welder behind you with a rope. He said you can really see the history of the structure—from old building materials to where the original builders signed their names.


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  • Reply
    December 13, 2020 at 5:52 pm

    Amazing and interesting!
    American ingenuity at its best!

  • Reply
    May 10, 2019 at 8:04 pm

    That’s the way to get it done 🙂 Good job, everyone involved! And thank you for taking the wonderful photographs, Deer Hunter. We all got to see something that no one else had seen for a long time – maybe since 1926! Excellent article, Tipper 🙂

  • Reply
    May 10, 2019 at 12:12 am

    Neat, neat story! We do, indeed, need more of that kind of spirit across our nation, at all levels, from local to the top. Thanks for sharing the story and photos.

  • Reply
    May 9, 2019 at 11:11 pm

    This is so wonderful for your community and everyone involved- Great Job!

  • Reply
    O'Connor Dan
    May 9, 2019 at 8:02 pm

    This was a great story! Neighbors coming together doing the right thing for the good of the community! It’s important to maintain historical features in a community, and this one is special!

  • Reply
    May 9, 2019 at 7:06 pm

    That’s real neat, I imagine it was either hot or cold working up there too.

  • Reply
    Ken Roper
    May 9, 2019 at 3:08 pm

    They picked a good one when they got Matt. Miss Cindy has been trying to tell everyone for years, that Matt could do most anything. Tony and Cindy raised a good one, and Tipper found him.

    He’s a lot like my dad, he could fix anything. Dad done his own plumbing and from the time I started to school, till I graduated, our water wasn’t turned Off. It had a cut-off, but nobody used it. The spring was above the house and was gravity-fed.

    One time I turned the water off, and it was in the dead of winter, and it froze up. Immediately Dad grabbed a Maddock and dug up the line. In a few minutes, he had the water restored. As you can guess, I got chewed out, but that was a learning lesson for me. …Ken

  • Reply
    Ed Ammons
    May 9, 2019 at 1:43 pm

    Katie Ann does some amazing work with copper. Was she part of the project?

  • Reply
    May 9, 2019 at 1:19 pm

    This is a wonderful outcome and a tribute to those who made the plan and carried it out. Great thinking and great work!

  • Reply
    S. Taylor
    May 9, 2019 at 12:01 pm

    This is such a refreshing account. It demonstrates level-headed but creative thinking and true community engagement. If we all just opened our eyes and ears a little more to take stock of the opportunities and possibilities around us, we’d all be much better off. Also, it appears that no one was looking for credit for the project. I just hope that there was a celebration to commemorate the beautiful work, a well-crafted solution and so much saved.

    Tipper, do any of the males in your part of the country go by their given names, or are nicknames the preferred appellation?

    • Reply
      May 20, 2019 at 7:31 am

      S. most go by their given names, but there are lots of nick names too 🙂 Pap had a knack for giving nicknames that stuck-a few of his that stuck for local boys were Rooster, Mud Turtle, and Pickle 🙂

  • Reply
    May 9, 2019 at 10:06 am

    Very impressive. Where there is a will there is a way! Beautiful part of your history. The $$$ saved is also impressive. Good job all the way around.

  • Reply
    May 9, 2019 at 9:49 am

    I call that a work force of ingenuity! That is a beautiful cupola and I am sure generations to come will admire it. Kudos to all who worked on it.

  • Reply
    Osage Bluff Quilter
    May 9, 2019 at 9:32 am

    Your area has so many wonderful artist! So glad it was able to be restored!

  • Reply
    Bob Dalsemer
    May 9, 2019 at 8:38 am

    Great story! And aren’t we lucky to have such a dedicated and skillful maintenance crew! Well done!

  • Reply
    Melissa P. (Misplaced Southerner)
    May 9, 2019 at 8:21 am

    I almost got altitude sickness just reading your description. I’m so glad none of the men had a fear of heights. I’d have been laying on the ground a blubbering mess! Congratulations and thanks to everyone who helped save a piece of history!

  • Reply
    Gayle Larson
    May 9, 2019 at 8:18 am

    Great job done by all. It is beautiful again. Thanks

  • Reply
    Ron Stephens
    May 9, 2019 at 8:17 am

    If only Washington would think and act that way. At the core of this story is the issue of best service to everyone in the county. When that is the guiding light good government results.

    I hope this whole effort gets memorialized in some long-term way, complete with names. And I hope the coppersmith gets all the work he wants as a consequence.

  • Reply
    Ed Karshner
    May 9, 2019 at 8:16 am

    I love crawling around in old buildings. That all looks so fun. Although, I bet the Deer Hunter got tired of hauling his gear up and around all that. The original builders didn’t make it easy!

    I hope all the people involved in the restoration get to sign their names in the cupola. They are part of the history, now.

    Great post this morning.

  • Reply
    Susan C
    May 9, 2019 at 7:26 am

    That is an amazing story! Love how the talent was found locally. They should be proud of their work and their contribution to the county plus restoration of an historical site.

  • Reply
    Miss Cindy
    May 9, 2019 at 7:10 am

    Wow, is the only word for it! I was there and watched the cupola go up. It took two cranes to get it upright then one big crane to lift it and set it. It was quite a dramatic thing to watch and I’m sure even more dramatic for the Deer Hunter and the other guys who worked on it. With the eagle mounted it’s about 20 feet tall.
    I so wanted to get up inside the dome and look around but I didn’t dare ask because I knew there would be all kinds of liability involved. I did get to see the cupola when it was down and being worked on. It’s was huge laying there in the shop and a beautiful piece of art!
    Congratulations and a big thank you to all the guys who worked so hard to make this happen!

  • Reply
    May 9, 2019 at 7:08 am

    it shows how things get done in your part of the woods, teamwork! my admiration to everyone that pitched in. they should all be very proud of what they did!

  • Reply
    May 9, 2019 at 6:34 am

    Wow, that was a massive amount of savings and it’s all good as new, good for yall. That’s what I call looking out for the taxpayers’ money.

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