Preserving light: Greene County ships off stained glass for repairs
By REBECCA MCKINSEY
The century-old, stained-glass domes at the Greene County Courthouse are a treasure, Marty Grund says.
Now, that treasure will be preserved for centuries to come, after Grund and his team at The Stained Glass Store, Inc. in Des Moines finish refurbishing the smaller dome.
The stained glass, which hung over the witness chair in the courtroom, is taking on new life in Des Moines.
“We’re talking about original architectural and decorative integrity to the courthouse,” Grund said. “(County officials) saw they must do something, and here we are, blessedly entrusted to restore an Iowa treasure.”
Grund and his team have completed stained-glass work at the Iowa State Capitol, the Salisbury House and the Hoyt Sherman Place in Des Moines, and Beardshear Hall at Iowa State University, as well as nationally. They are taking apart the dome piece by piece, cleaning each individual piece of glass and replacing those that are broken with new pieces from Kokomo Opalescent Glass in Indiana, which Grund believes supplied the original glass for the dome.
Constructed with the courthouse between 1915 and 1917, the stained-glass domes are showing their age.
The small dome is keeping Grund’s team busy, said Don Van Gilder, assistant to the Greene County engineer — it has old, cracked and sagging glass, rust, lead that has gone brittle, and pieces that, over the years, have absorbed the scent of tobacco.
Much of the problem is that the domes were constructed using pure lead, rather than today’s restoration-quality lead, Van Gilder said. The original lead had a life expectancy of only about 60–80 years.
“With it having been there and just precariously hanging there for 100 years, knowing it has brittle lead and rusted rebar and deflection, we didn’t just want to ignore that situation,” Van Gilder said.
Grund estimated the new lead, which expands and contracts with temperature and air pressure changes, could keep the stained-glass dome together for several centuries. He has all hands on deck at his shop for the project, which is expected to be completed soon.
The stained glass is an important part of the courthouse, Van Gilder said.
“I give courthouse tours to people that come in on buses from other towns, and they are in awe at how beautiful this structure is and especially with the stained-glass dome,” Van Gilder said.
The restoration of the first dome is expected to cost more than $30,000.
The other stained-glass dome in the courthouse, located above its rotunda and looming over the structure’s center, needs repairs as well, but because of its larger size, it would be a more costly project. Although a Main Street Iowa grant didn’t come through, the county will seek out other grants to fund the second repair, said John Muir, chairman of the Greene County Board of Supervisors.
The century-old courthouse is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
“In 2017, it will be the 100-year anniversary of the courthouse, and we’re thinking we want to have our best face on for that,” Muir said. “We have a small period of time here in the 100 years of the history of the courthouse we’re responsible for, and I don’t want to be the one to let it fall into disrepair.”