County keeps one local architectural treasure aliveWhen many city leaders are spending hundreds of thousands of dollars to rip out, tear down and dump their area’s iconic architectural treasures, Jamestown’s leaders have shown the mature sense to keep, repair and maintain the county’s 130-year- old courthouse.
By: Sharon Cox, The Jamestown Sun
When many city leaders are spending hundreds of thousands of dollars to rip out, tear down and dump their area’s iconic architectural treasures, Jamestown’s leaders have shown the mature sense to keep, repair and maintain the county’s 130-year- old courthouse.
Thanks to the 1883 Courthouse Committee, work has been done to make the brick structure safe for people to walk through or work in. That’s an amazing feat, first of all, and thanks to the State Historical Society of North Dakota, funding didn’t make a deep dent in the community’s pocket book.
Barb Lang, treasurer for the committee, said in a Jan. 10 Sun article that the building is now safe for tours. She said the SHSND in June received $60,000 in emergency funds and was added to the $58,900 from the courthouse committee.
MAVO Systems of Mandan was hired to bring the courthouse basement up to use standards set by the SHSND, which owns the building.
The historic building has remained unusable due to asbestos, lead and mold in its lowest level. The SHSND started outside in October, when it had the water system rerouted away from the building. Since then, the remaining mold, lead paint and asbestos have been removed and the air is now safe for people to breathe.
The building is on the state registry for historic preservation. Its status was controversial in the 1980s. Decisions to destroy it or preserve it were volleyed back and forth for years, until the SHSND took the building under its wings to stop the potential destruction of the Gothic Revival beauty. It is after all, the oldest standing courthouse in the state of North Dakota. That it is a beautiful and substantially-built jewel is an added asset.
Jamestown has many natural treasures. That we know by observation. But some of its man-made treasures are less publicized. It has one of the oldest protected ancient burial sites in the state. It hasn’t become a tourist draw because it needs some more work on it in order to protect it from vandals and to interpret it for researchers and visitors. The SHSND sent an excavation crew to determine its origins and contents back in the 1980s. And just north of that treasure, paralleling the James River in its southward flow, is Fort Seward.
Fort Seward stands on the western bluff overlooking Jamestown’s lovely valley, where members of the 20th Infantry’s Reconstruction Committee handled visitors and repairs as needed. Lang and her husband Art Todd are members of that committee and among those responsible for erecting the tallest flag pole in the state, right up there on that bluff. They have had a hand in protecting it as well as the burial mound and the courthouse.
Preserving any work of art means someone has to care about and be knowledgeable of its value. And Jamestown is not alone in preservation problems and successes.
A Valley City businessman was in the midst of renovating that city’s 76-year-old auditorium into an upscale apartment complex, but state laws prohibit doing more than 50 percent of a property’s value when it’s located in a flood plain. And it is. So, according to WDAY-TV’s Jan. 18 report, renovation and repurposing that structure is at a standstill. But they are working on keeping it intact and repurposing it.
Works of art hang in museums because people know to protect and collect them. Everyone seems to agree some sculptures and paintings have intrinsic value and people are willing to part with millions of dollars in order to own them. But architecture is an older form of art than painting or sculpture. And buildings need care and upkeep and can serve additional purposes outside of being collected: they can be inhabited as well as appreciated for their beauty. To replace them is usually more costly than repairing. Once repaired, a well-constructed old building will usually outlast recent constructions. And art, regardless of the medium, warrants care and preservation. Bravo to the 1883 Committee.
If anyone has an item for this column, please send to Sharon Cox, PO Box 1559, Jamestown, ND 58402-1559.