Cape County Courthouse

Don McQuay with Cape County Courthouse bell 07-13-2012I posted photos and a video of the clock in the Jackson Courthouse this summer, but forgot that I was holding another stack of other photos. Thanks to IT director Eric McGowen and public works director Don McQuay for taking the time to let me poke around in the recesses of the Cape County Courthouse. It was one hot day when these pictures were taken, but I’d rather have done them in the summer than when the windchill was in the teens.

Earlier stories about the Courthouse

Courthouse photo gallery

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Jackson Courthouse Clock

One of the coolest things Friend Shari and I got to see – and hear – when we were given courthouse tours by IT director Eric McGowen and public works director Don McQuay was the clock that lives in the dome of the Jackson Courthouse.

The outside view is pretty neat (even though a Dec. 17, 1934, Missourian story said that the workmen had to remove the dial on the south side of the courthouse to repaint the numerals because they had faded to the point where they were unreadable).

Tick Tock Tick Tock

The sound of the ancient mechanism ticking away is relaxing. Here’s a short video that shows what it looks and sounds like.

Concessions to modern times

There have been two changes in modern times. The clock was originally wound by hand. Now it’s done by an electric motor. At one time, the clock struck the time on a huge bell in the tower. The huge tolling hammer is still there (you’ll see if when I do the next story on the courthouse), and there’s a cable running up to the clock, but it looked disconnected.

Earlier stories about the Courthouse

Photo gallery of courthouse clock

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Common Pleas from Dome to Dungeon

Eric McGowen and Don McQuay led Friend Shari and me on a tour of the Common Pleas Courthouse. Like everyone else, we had heard the stories of the dungeon in the basement and the secret tunnels leading to the river. So, let’s get to the bottom of this, if you’ll pardon the pun.

The basement is semi-finished in one area and used for record storage, phone and networks equipment, Christmas decorations, miscellaneous junk and three framed aerial photographs, one of which was of Pfisters and Central High School in the early 1950s.

“Dungeon” has dirt floor

I’m still trying to figure out this room, which is located north of the storage room. It contains a heavy steel door and an iron lattice opening that must have been for ventilation.The dirt floor is just as it was during the Civil War.

Which side is the lockup?

The passageway through the door doesn’t lead anywhere today.

The locking mechanism had to be on the “outside”, making this room the secured area. The only problem is, we couldn’t figure out how you would get to it unless it once opened to the outside.

Forget about the tunnels

Let’s get rid of the tunnel theory first off: The Common Pleas Courthouse is located on one of the tallest hills in Cape. If you tunneled out from the basement, you’d come out in thin air. Digging straight down would take more work than anyone would have undertaken.

An excellent resource for history buffs interested in the courthouse is the National Register of Historic Places registration form. It’s an interesting read, but it doesn’t mention tunnels. (It’s a large file, so it might take awhile to download.)

Rebel guerrilla lynched

It does have the background of a grave marker I spotted at the Bloomfield’s Stoddard County Confederate Memorial.:

An infamous case centering on the Court of Common Pleas occurred in February of 1864 when a notorious guerilla, John Fugate Bolin, was captured by Union forces near Bloomfield, Missouri. He was brought back to Cape Girardeau and according to local tradition was kept in the basement of the courthouse. Army telegraph messages back and forth to St. Louis discuss whether to hold Bolin for trial or to just kill him outright. General Clinton Fisk in St. Louis advised Colonel J. B. Rogers, the regimental commander stationed in Cape Girardeau, to hold him for trial. However, on the night of February 5th a large crowd of citizens and soldiers took Bolin from the courthouse, placed him on a wagon, rode him to a tollgate on the Bloomfield Road south of Cape Girardeau and hung him. Fisk afterwards commented that it would “hardly be necessary” to give Bolin a trial. Suggesting Fisk’s reply might be seen as “winking” at the illicit act and to allow him to “better be able to restrain my men” in the future, Rogers requested, and received, a reprimand for allowing mob rule to govern the day. This is one of the few situations in Missouri where the impromptu execution of a guerilla leader was discussed in official correspondence.

Stairway gets narrow, twisty

The stairway to the dome felt solid, but it got narrower and more twisty the higher I walked. This is the level where I shot photos of the courthouse grounds and surrounding neighborhood.

I’m glad I hadn’t read up on bird droppings and histoplasmosis when I made this journey.

County seeking grant

The Missourian had a story July 24, 2012, reporting that the county commission will seek a historic preservation grant from the Missouri Department of Natural Resources to support repairs to the building. I don’t know if the money will go for replacing charred timbers in the dome.

Iconic landmark

I’d have to say that the courthouse, Mississippi River bridge (old and new) and Academic Hall are Cape’s most iconic landmarks.

Common Pleas Courthouse photo gallery

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Civil War Soldier

When IT director Eric McGowen, Friend Shari and I were on our way up to the Jackson County Courthouse’s bell tower, public works director Don McQuay mentioned something about a figure standing in a dark corner. To be honest, I was more interested in getting up to the dome where the neat stuff was before it got too hot, so I didn’t stop to look at it. (I’ll show you the neat stuff later.)

On the way back down, Don pointed him out again, prompting me to take a closer look. “Know who he is?” Don asked.

Sounded like a trick question to me, so I said, “Not a clue.”

“He’s the Union soldier who used to on the fountain at the Common Pleas Courthouse.” Don said.

A tree limb hit the statue May 12,2003, and broke it into more than 200 pieces. “I picked up most of them in a five-gallon bucket, he said.” At first it looked like the old soldier, erected by the Women’s Relief Corps, and dedicated on Memorial Day 1911, was a goner.

Alan Gibson to the rescue

Alan Gibson, a Dexter sculptor, said he’d try to put the martial Humpty Dumpty back together. Once he did that, he made a mold of the original and recast it with polyester resin and bronze.

Here is a Fred Lynch gallery of photos of the soldier being lifted back up on the fountain.

Shari and I were amazed at the job Gibson did. We couldn’t feel a single joint or seam where the pieces had been put back together.

Tree shadowed statue

When I shot the statue as part of a story on Common Pleas memorials in October 2011, there was a large tree behind the statue. It might have even been the Killer Tree itself (not to be confused with Jackson’s Hanging Tree).

Grounds look naked

When I shot this photo July 13, 2012, the tree was gone, leaving a gap like a missing tooth. You wouldn’t think a missing tree would cause the grounds to feel out of balance, but it did. I guess I just got used to seeing it there even if I never really noticed it until it was gone.