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.
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.