- Associated Press - Wednesday, April 26, 2017

WACO, Texas (AP) - In a plain room whose location won’t be revealed, 115-year-old zinc relics that originally adorned the historic McLennan County Courthouse roof and dome sit organized in storage as duplicates weather the elements in their place.

The Waco Tribune-Herald (https://bit.ly/2pGeyqA ) reports because the ornaments are irreplaceable and rich in sentimental value, county officials keep the storage location close to the vest. But step into the courthouse rotunda, and a few pieces of the decorative leaves, flames and columns removed during a 2010 renovation are on display behind glass for the public to take in.

The county started roof repairs on the courthouse in 2010.

Once workers started their ascent, they began to grasp the scale of deterioration the century-old building had suffered, County Administrator Dustin Chapman said. The project started as an effort to waterproof parts of the roof and quickly became a complete $2.6 million restoration, Chapman said.

From the large statues of eagles to the tiniest bows, each part was labeled, mapped and documented as it was removed.

Building Facilities Director Herschel Miller said he led inmate crews in carrying each decorative piece to the storage location by hand. The Texas Historical Commission required that no part be left behind and keeps its own a copy of the map that details each piece’s original location, Miller said.

“They can tell you exactly where this goes. It’s completely mapped,” he said. “The historical committee mapped every single one of these pieces. It’s pretty neat. We could not leave anything, anything on the roof or ground anywhere.”

Many of the ornaments are fragile, Purchasing Director Ken Bass said.

Removal and safe storage was the only way to ensure the zinc works of art didn’t continue to deteriorate, Bass said. Preservation also allowed for the use of molds and patterns to create replacements for the originals, he said.

The original eagles lay in the room among stacks of other organized and labeled pieces.

“You see why we replaced them,” Bass said, surrounded by the relics. “Every one of them, the wings were about to fall off.”

The original glow of the eagle’s eyes is visible in varying levels as time has scratched off the paint.

The eagle’s eyes once glowed red from a light inside, but after enough complaints about the concerning look, the eyes were painted over to match the look of the rest of the statue, Miller said.

The county is in the process of reviewing how to display one of the eagles in a glass case in the courthouse rotunda, Miller said. He said he would like to get the eyes lit back up to show off their original appearance.

“Someone went to a lot of detail on these. Back in the day, people took pride in their craftsmanship,” Miller said. “Think about back in the day when they did this. The details are so intricate. I’m a history buff, so I love this stuff.”

Even once the workers replacing the roof had made their way to the top of the main roof, it was a while before they recognized the deterioration of the dome, Bass said.

“Even when you were up on the roof, it’s still a long way up to the dome,” he said.

From the ground to the top of the Themis statue crowning the dome is about 130 feet, he said.

Whether the Greek goddess of divine law’s future will be spent in the storage room remains undecided. County leaders have decided to replace the 5,900-pound Themis statue with a duplicate after a storm ripped her left arm off June 22, 2014.

County commissioners in March agreed to take bids for the project to remove the 18-foot-tall statue and have her duplicated and reinstalled on her perch on top of the courthouse.

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Information from: Waco Tribune-Herald, https://www.wacotrib.com

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